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Slaying confounds townsfolk

MacGregor man charged with murder

On May 25, RCMP responded to the death of Niels Nielsen, 96, in MacGregor.

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On May 25, RCMP responded to the death of Niels Nielsen, 96, in MacGregor.

MACGREGOR -- People living in this sleepy town say a murder happens here once in a generation — if that.


An RCMP forensics team member works inside Nielsen's house.

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An RCMP forensics team member works inside Nielsen's house. (COLIN CORNEAU/BRANDON SUN FILES)


The home of Niels 'Arne' Nielsen in MacGregor.

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The home of Niels 'Arne' Nielsen in MacGregor. (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

But no matter when it happens or who is involved, residents agree: Murder allegations in MacGregor take their toll.

Today, the community of about 1,100 located about 130 kilometres west of Winnipeg is reeling from the homicide of 96-year-old Niels "Arne" Nielsen, who was found dead in his home around 5 p.m. on May 25.

Neighbours believe Nielson's body was discovered by someone checking on him. That person called RCMP.

Nielsen, a longtime and devout Jehovah's Witness, had lived in his tiny home on Talbot Street east since 2006.

He mostly kept to himself but loved to sit outside on his lawn, neighbours said.

"He wouldn't do anyone any harm," one told the Free Press on Monday.

"He just seemed like a lonely old man," said another. "Who would want to kill him?"

RCMP believe Neilsen was killed the day before he was found.

Mounties have yet to reveal how he died, saying the homicide investigation continues.

That's despite charging a fellow MacGregor resident with first-degree murder.

Jason Conway, 21, remained in custody Monday, accused of the most serious offence in the Criminal Code.

He was arrested Sunday, two days after police swore the charge in provincial court.

Sheriffs officers brought a reed-thin, bespectacled Conway in handcuffs to his first court date in Portage la Prairie Monday. He didn't make a formal appearance before Judge Brian Corrin though, and his case was put over until later this month.

Residents of MacGregor knew little about Conway, only that he wasn't a familiar face and may have been in town a short time.

One said she believed he originally hailed from the Treherne area.

Conway has no criminal record in Manitoba and is presumed innocent.

Plainclothes detectives remained in the community and in the area of Nielsen's home Monday.

Its windows and rear door had been covered with plywood. Neighbours said officers were seen combing the street looking for physical evidence shortly after the discovery of Nielsen's body.

The first-degree murder charge suggests police believe the killing was planned and premeditated.

The charge, however, can also be laid in cases in which a victim was being illegally confined when he or she died. Nielsen's obituary describes him as a hard-working man of faith who, despite his advanced age, remained in good health.

Born in Denmark in 1917, he came to Canada in his 30s. He initially settled in Ontario and cut wood for a living.

Nielsen was baptized a Jehovah's Witness in 1965 and always remained a "faithful servant" to his religion.

He'd had lived in other Manitoba communities and formed a deep bond with a family in Carberry.

"Arne was a quiet, mild-natured man who loved the simple things in life," the obituary said.

"His little garden, which he tended meticulously; to bask in the hot summer sun; a good Louis L'Amour western; and just learning about history and wildlife in the old National Geographic magazines that he read and reread over and over... He will truly be missed by all his good friends who loved him so much."

Messages left by the Free Press for a Carberry friend of Nielsen's and the Jehovah's Witnesses in Portage were not returned.

As might be expected in a small town -- and in the absence of much official information from RCMP -- the rumour mill has been running overtime.

"It's a small town, so there's lots of stories," said one woman.

Speculation included a theory that Nielsen kept money inside his house and was killed during a robbery. Another suggested RCMP arrested someone else initially, released him, and then arrested Conway.

RCMP asked the public for help. Anyone with information is asked to call Portage la Prairie RCMP at 204-857-4445 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

The last homicide in MacGregor was in August 1995 when Aaron Molodowic shot his 72-year-old grandfather to death. A jury found Molodowic guilty of second-degree murder, but the verdict was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The top court declared him not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder. Molodowic suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

 

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Comments are not accepted on this story because they might prejudice a case before the courts.

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