Readers: Sometimes we need to swallow our collective pride and do a reboot!
For our July 26 column, marking the 50th anniversary of the death of “Trapper Nelson,” we used a 1997 article written for the “Our Century” project on the history of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.
Our column prompted an email from Cyndy Celmer Tomassetti.
“I am Trapper’s grandniece,” she said. She went on to refute facts that were in that 1997 article and which, frankly, this newspaper has repeated over the years.
“Uncle Vince was born and baptized Vincent Natulkiewicz, not ever Victor Nostokovich. He was named after his uncle, of the same name,” Cyndy told us, adding, “For the record, no one in my family ever suspected foul play in Vince’s death. He was quite ill the last time I saw him, which was shortly before his death.”
Cyndy’s note prompted us to reach out to Josh Liller, historian and collections manager for the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, to see what other aspects of the story need fixing and updating. Here’s some of what he wrote:
“The name change was just Anglicization of his given name. His brother and at least four of his first cousins also changed their last name from Natulkiewicz to Nelson.”
There’s no evidence he shot at trespassers; “His only ‘run-ins with townsfolk’ were that he said some teenage hoodlums had harassed him on a few occasions and angrily telling people who showed up at his property to get lost.”
The 90-page transcript of the coroner’s jury “makes a very compelling case for suicide as a reasonable ruling. Some people who knew him and some of the longtime park rangers at JDSP (Jonathan Dickinson State Park) were of the opinion the death was an accident (which is what I subscribe to as the most likely explanation).
“The problem with the murder theory is a lack of any evidence of murder or any suspects connected by more than very circumstantial evidence, even after 50 years. Also, some misreporting of the facts of the case, including the trajectory of the bullet.
“The coroner ruled Trapper had been dead at least 5 days based on the condition of the body (not 2-3 days as sometimes reported). He had a large flock of chickens and guineafowl which combined with laying outside in the Florida summer were not conductive to a useful crime scene. In particular, the birds had been all over Trapper’s body and the surrounding area.
“Trapper’s cabin was locked with the keys on the table next to him and no signs of struggle or theft. All the theft and vandalism happened after word got out that Trapper was dead. The coroner was confident Trapper had been shot at point blank range with his own shotgun.”
Submit your questions to Post Time, The Palm Beach Post, 2751 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, FL 33405. Include your full name and hometown. Call 561-820-4418. EK@pbpost.com. Sorry; no personal replies.