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St. Petersburg man set fire that killed him and his wife, police say

Neighbors say Charles Nelson, 67, may have warned his wife earlier in the day that he planned to burn down the house on 14th Avenue North.

ST. PETERSBURG — A house fire Friday night that killed a St. Petersburg couple was deliberately set by the husband, police said Monday.

Charles Nelson, 67, used an accelerant to start the fire at 5495 14th Ave N. His wife Janet Nelson, 75, called 911 for help, but was unable to get out of the home, police said.

Charles Nelson, 67, set the fire that killed him and his wife, St. Petersburg police said. [ Florida Department of Law Enforcement ]

St. Pete Fire and Rescue crews pulled the two from the home as they battled the fire Friday night. Charles Nelson was dead. His wife died in a hospital Sunday.

Police have been called to the home twice for domestic quarrels, once in 2014 and again in 2019, but no one was arrested.

Neighbor Pat Ditto, 76, said she was in her home next door when the fire started. Police escorted her out.

“I heard a big boom and thought people were still shooting fireworks,” she said.

Charles Nelson owned a large brown dog that also died in the fire, Ditto said.

Neighbor Alvin Moran, 57, said Charles Nelson sometimes helped him with yard work. Moran’s girlfriend, Kim Russell, 56, said Janet Nelson sat on the porch of the couple’s home every day and would always ask how she and her son were doing.

“I’m just shocked and sad,” Russell said. “Janet usually feeds the birds and squirrels so they would all be on her yard. So it’s different that all the animals aren’t there.”

Charles Nelson used an accelerant to burn down his house at 5495 14th Ave N. in St. Petersburg, killing himself and his wife, police said. [ ROSE WONG | Times ]

Charles Nelson had a temper and a drinking problem, Moran said, and would look for a drink any time of day. Russell remembers an argument the couple had about four months ago that was so loud Russell could hear it across the street, where she and Moran live.

Janet Nelson may have been warned about her husband’s intentions, Russell said. A neighbor from down the street ran up to her after the fire broke out about 9:30 p.m. Friday, asking, “Is it Janet? Is it Janet?”

Janet Nelson had called the woman earlier in the day saying her husband was threatening to burn down the house, the woman told Russell.

The Nelsons met while working together at a Winn-Dixie supermarket, their neighbors said. Janet Nelson inherited the house from her mother and Charles Nelson moved in after they were married, around 2005.

The couple did not work outside the home and were living on Social Security payments, Russell said.

Charles Nelson appears on the web page of the Florida Sexual Offender Predator system. He served 13 years in state prison after pleading no contest in Polk County in 1993 to charges including sexual battery on a victim under 12. Neighbors knew of his crime, Moran said. The only other arrest on his record was in Lakeland in 1971, for being away without leave from the military.

In a conversation with Ditto outside the burned home Monday, a representative from First Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg said Janet Nelson was a member and asked for help locating her son about taking care of her remains. Ditto said Janet Nelson and her son have been estranged for years.

Church Pastor Dawn Conti said she was a “beloved and faithful member of the church and she will be missed by many.”

Beside a tree in the front yard of the burned house, people have placed a couple of vases with flowers and a handwritten message: “Rest in Peace Charlie and Janet, Your Neighbors.”

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