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Missoula’s Serial Killer

Serial Killer Wayne Nance operated for 12 years in Missoula, Montana.

A Fascination with Serial Killers

I don’t want to be fascinated by serial killers. Why should they get the weird “glory” that comes with murdering a ton of people? Blame it on a desire to know that we are not like the monsters who kill other humans for sport or pleasure or whatever messed up reasons. Whatever it may be, I’m not alone in my fascination. Serial killer fiction is consistently one of the bestselling genres on Amazon.

A Serial Killer Close to Home

And one serial killer who disturbs the hell out of me is Wayne Nance. Nance was a killer who operated out of the very town I’ve lived in for the last 16 years: Missoula, Montana.

I’ve been in the halls of the high school where he went to school. I purchased a mattress from the furniture store where he worked as a deliveryman, which allowed him access to at least one of his victim’s homes. I’ve driven past the bar he frequented. I’ve walked in the park where a victim’s body was found. I’ve gone to the cemetery where he’s buried.

And, yes, I even know 2 people who were in some way affected by Nance’s crimes.

Who Was Wayne Nance?

Wayne Nance was a serial killer who murdered at least 6 people between 1974 and 1986. He was born and raised in Missoula. A lot of the following information comes from the overly dramatic and maybe-not-that-factual book To Kill & Kill Again by John Coston. This is the only book on Nance, but I’d suggest you take it with a grain of salt.

Nance had a rough childhood, allowed to roam the trailer park where he lived with little to no supervision. His parents were working class and not exactly the cream of the crop: his dad was arrested and jailed for armed robbery and assault, and his mom seemed pretty checked out, brushing off Nance’s strange behavior with the stupid phrase “boys will be boys.”

Nance was smart but odd. And, yes, he even murdered kittens. In high school, Nance became obsessed with the occult and the idea of murdering someone as an initiation into satanism.  At 18, he snuck into a deacon’s house where he tied up, raped, and then murdered the deacon’s wife.

While there were plenty of reasons to suspect Nance, from an alleged confession (“it’s been done”) to witnesses, the police had nothing solid, so the case eventually went cold.

Perhaps to let the heat cool, Nance joined the Navy, and while traveling for his military service, he’s suspected of having committed other murders that may never be linked back to him.
When Nance returned to Missoula, bodies began to pile up once again.

First there was a 15 year-old runaway from Seattle whose body was dumped in Beavertail Hill State Park. Then there was a 16 year-old drifter who Nance dated. He told people they were leaving town, except the girl’s body was found 3 months later. And then a third decomposed body was found. All three victims had been shot in the head.

A return to home invasions.

In 1985 Nance was working for a local furniture store, delivering furniture to homes throughout Missoula and the surrounding area. On December 12, 1985, a father of 4 went to answer a knock on the door. When he opened it, he was stabbed to death with a butcher knife. Nance then raped and stabbed the wife, and set fire to the house. Nance’s intention was to kill all four children, but luckily, they survived. There was no evidence at the time linking Nance to the crime, but by now, the police were becoming suspicious of the charismatic deliveryman.

The Wrong House

In September 1986, Nance arrived at his boss’s house. He engaged in casual conversation and then asked to borrow a flashlight. When Doug Wells invited Nance inside, Nance struck Wells in the head, stabbed him, and tied him up in the basement, leaving him to die. Nance then raped Wells’ wife.

Although wounded, Wells managed to free himself, loaded a single bullet into a rifle he’d been repairing in his basement, and proceeded upstairs. Nance and Wells fought, and Wells fired at Nance, killing him. Wells and his wife survived.  It was only after his death that police were able to link him to his crimes–not only through similarities in M.O. but also thanks to trinkets Nance kept of his victims.

A Fitting End?

Nance is one of the few serial killers murdered by their own would-be victims. Is this the only fitting end for a serial killer? Or perhaps the better legacy for a shitty person like Nance is that he’s all but lost to history. The only accounting of his doings is one overly dramatic and maybe-not-even-that-factual book. Yes, it’s not lost on me that I’m writing about him, but I hope if you take nothing else away from this post, it’s that Wayne Nance was a cliche of a serial killer who deserved got what he deserved.

books, murder