Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Al Tom and Ricky Nelson

Real Names: Al Tom Nelson and Richard Nelson
Aliases: Larry Jones, Jim Hill, Jim Hall.(Al Tom); Ricky Nelson (Richard)
Wanted For: Mail Fraud
Missing Since: 1988


Details: Al Tom Nelson, his son Ricky, and their friend Danny Marino were con-artists with a specialty, duping elderly victims into various home improvement projects and then vanishing with their money. It is suspected that they target the elderly because they believe they will not be prosecuted if the victim dies.
In the Fall of 1988, they targeted eighty-one-year-old Harlan Nelson (no relation to the Nelson father/son duo) who lived alone in Eagle Rock, California. He was supported by a pension fund and his $100,000 life savings. Marino pulled up to his house and told him that it needed several repairs. He claimed that there were problems with his roof and that it needed fixed. Harlan agreed to let Marino and the Nelsons work on the roof. However, he noticed that they were using bizarre methods to "work" on the roof - such as spraying it with a garden hose and cleaning it with a mop. Afterwards, they gave him a bill for $6,000, which he paid.
Soon, Marino recruited several others to be involved with his scheme, people he claimed were his family and friends. He told Harlan that his house was in desperate need for major structural work. Marino and the Nelsons pressured Harlan into one repair after another. The crew virtually took control of his life, answering his phone and driving him around. One day, he noticed that only a few of the people were working. The rest, including Marino and Al Tom Nelson, were sitting around and eating. One of the female workers even brought Harlan's mail to Marino and Nelson.
Finally, Harlan was contacted by the police. They had been alerted to the situation by his personal physician. Investigators discovered that over a five-month period, Marino and his co-horts had systematically looted almost all of his life savings. In reality, the team of con artists had done nothing except slap some paint on the porch. While pretending to work, the swindlers had ransacked Harlan's personal papers and found his bank books. Marino and Al Tom Nelson then tailored their fees to his account balance sheets. They even accompanied Harlan to his bank, forcing him to draw cashier's checks to pay their bogus charges. They also threatened to have a lien put on his house and have it taken away if he didn't comply. In the end, the con-men stole $95,000 from his life savings.
When Marino learned that police were involved, he dropped from sight. He was later charged with extortion and grand larceny. A few weeks later, officers noticed an advertisement in the paper, run by Al Tom Nelson. A sting operation was set up, where an officer pretended to be a homeowner interested in Nelson's work. Al Tom and Ricky claimed that there were problems with the home's roof that needed fixed. At that same time, an officer pulled up with a previous victim of the scam. She identified the Nelsons as the men involved in the scam. The officer, who had also been a roofer for several years, asked the Nelsons about their familiarity with roofing. He asked them about a "C-39" which they claimed was a special machine used to clean the roof. The officer then told them that a "C-39" is actually a contractor's license for a roofing contractor.
The Nelsons were arrested and charged with felony grand larceny. Bail was set at $100,000 each; however, it was later reduced by half. The Nelsons then posted bail and vanished. Nearly four years later, Marino surfaced 3000 miles away in Monroeville, Pennsylvania. In October of 1992, a tip led authorities to the fugitive; he was using the alias John Dean. His bail was set to $1 million. A few weeks later, it was inadvertently reduced to $100,000. The con-man's friends and family helped him post bond. He promptly disappeared and hasn't been seen since.
Sadly, as Marino and the Nelsons had hoped, their victim Harlan Nelson passed away in 1993. However, the authorities have stated that they are so confident in their case, they do not plan to drop a single charge.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the November 24, 1993 episode.
Results: Wanted. Marino was arrested in Philadelphia due to a viewer's tip. He later pleaded guilty to grand theft. However, Al Tom and Ricky Nelson are still at large. They are believed to be in the Los Angeles area.
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