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‘She Was A Conniving Woman’: Colorado Wife Conspired To Have 2 Husbands Killed For Life Insurance
A Colorado woman who had two husbands killed, served up a shocking confession in a Pizza Hut.
Why were multiple men dying after marrying one woman?
In the late 1980s, detectives faced that disturbing mystery while investigating Sharon Nelson Harrelson, according to “Black Widow Murders,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
Suspicions first arose when Glen Harrelson, a Denver fire dispatcher, was killed. In 1988, his charred body was found by firefighters who responded to a blaze at his home in Thornton, Colorado, according to a 1988 AP report.
An autopsy revealed that Harrelson had been shot twice in the face before being incinerated. Detectives determined that an accelerant had been used to feed the fire that consumed the house.
“This was no accident,” said Gregg Olsen, author of “The Confessions of an American Black Widow.” “It was a murder."
Investigators looked closely at Harrelson’s intimates. Harrelson, 45, had two children from his first marriage, which ended in divorce. In 1987, he met then-43-year-old Sharon through a Lonely Hearts Club.
Born in 1945, Sharon Douglas came from strict Seventh Day Adventist roots in North Carolina. She was a widow who’d been married twice before. Sharon’s first husband, Mike Fuller, was a pastor. The couple had two daughters. Sharon grew bored after a while and started having affairs. The family relocated to Trinidad, Colorado, but Sharon and Fuller divorced in 1976. He took the children and moved to Denver, while she eventually remarried.
Sharon’s second husband, Perry Nelson, tragically died in 1983. Four years later, she met Harrelson. Sharon and Harrelson were married just six months before he was killed.
Based on Sharon’s appearance, “you would think she was just anybody’s neighbor,” said Elaine Tygart Kuehne, a retired Thornton Police Detective.
Detectives searched to see if Harrelson had any enemies. His ex-wife said that he didn’t, but she told investigators he had told her he suspected that someone had been in his house because he’d found soda cans and a door unlocked. That intruder turned out to be Harrelson’s teenage son, who was eliminated by police as a suspect.
Sharon, however, was a different story.
As investigators dug into her history, they learned how Sharon had met her previous husband, Nelson. She began working as an administrative assistant in 1976 for him (he was an optometrist) while married to Fuller. Nelson was married as well, but she set sights on him as her next affair, according to “Black Widow Murders.”
“It wasn't long after those two got together that tongues were wagging. People said that there was an affair happening between the doctor and his assistant,” said Olsen.
This affair is what compelled Mike Fuller to file for divorce from Sharon and move away with the couple’s children. Nelson and his first wife also divorced.
Sharon and Dr. Nelson married in 1977. By 1980, they had two children, and life for the family appeared to be happy. But in July 1983, Nelson went missing after leaving home for an optometry convention.
His car was eventually found in Clear Creek, suggesting that he’d had an accident. His body wasn’t in the car, though.
An insurance investigation concluded that the death was an accident. Others weren’t convinced of that.
“We became aware that Sharon was trying to get my dad declared legally dead before they found a body,” said Perry Nelson’s daughter, Tammi Hallock.
About 18 months later, the doctor’s body was found. The coroner found that he’d suffered a head injury but could not say that was due to foul play. Sharon collected a $250,000 life insurance payout.
For investigators digging into Harrelson’s murder, the fact that Sharon had two husbands die under mysterious circumstances set off alarm bells.
Reports that Sharon was having an affair at the time Dr. Nelson died raised more red flags. The other man Sharon was said to be involved with was Gary Adams, her handyman.
Kuehne and Glen Trainor, Winter Park Chief of Police, initially interviewed Sharon about Harrelson less than 24 hours after he was found dead.
“She was very cool and collected,” said Kuehne.
Trainor’s gut instinct told him “she knew way more about Glen’s death than she was letting on to us,” he told producers.
Investigators arranged to interview Sharon again the following day. On this occasion Sharon was much more emotional. “She just broke down,” said Kuehne.
Sharon insisted that they not speak in her home. Along with her two young children, Sharon and the detectives went to Pizza Hut.
At the restaurant, Sharon told investigators how Gary Adams had plotted to murder Dr. Nelson for the insurance money, claimed that she didn’t know his plan until it was over.
She said Adams hitched a ride from the doctor and along the way said he needed to get out to relieve himself. Adams, she claimed, then made up a story that he’d dropped his wallet to get Nelson out of the car. He bludgeoned Nelson with a rock, dragged him back into the car, and pushed the vehicle into the creek.
Life went on for the conspirators, who ended up going their separate ways. But when Sharon got involved with Glen Harrelson, Adams came back into her life. A plot was eventually hatched to kill Harrelson, she said.
Sharon told investigators that Adams shot Harrelson and then torched his house to hide the murder. She had him bring back Harrelson’s wedding ring as proof that the job was done.
“This entire conversation is just surreal,” said Trainor. “It's not like it's happening in a police interview. It's in a Pizza Hut.”
On November 20, 1988, the two co-conspirators were arrested. Gary Adams and Sharon Nelson were charged with two counts of first-degree murder as well as conspiracy and solicitation to commit first degree murder.
Both defendants pled guilty to both homicides as a way of avoiding the death penalty. As part of her plea agreement, Sharon confessed to her role in the planning of the murders, admitting she paid Gary Adams $50,000.
“She was a conniving woman,” said Kuehne.
Sharon Nelson Harrelson and Gary Adams received two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole, according to court documents. He remains behind bars. She died in prison in 2017.
To learn more about the case, watch “Black Widow Murders,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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