Update: Garland Nelson entered his plea in court on Friday. That story is posted here.
Garland J. Nelson, a northwestern Missouri farmer accused of murdering two brothers from Wisconsin over a cattle contract and trying to cover up their disappearance, is expected to enter a guilty plea in the state’s murder case.
Court records filed this week in the Johnson County, Missouri, case show a newly-scheduled plea hearing set for Friday. It is scheduled to be held at 10 a.m. in Cass County Circuit Court.
The Missouri Public Defender’s Office declined comment on the upcoming hearing. But a motion filed this week by federal prosecutors in a related criminal case says Nelson is anticipated to plead guilty on two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of Nicholas and Justin Diemel.
The long-running investigation began with a missing persons report in 2019 after the Diemel brothers, cattle ranchers from the Green Bay, Wisconsin area, abruptly disappeared. Both boarded a flight to Kansas City and rented a pickup truck for the purpose of a face-to-face meeting with Nelson over a raw business deal, authorities have said, and neither made the return flight home.
Nine days after they were reported missing, Clinton County Sheriff Larry Fish announced that human remains had been discovered on Nelson’s family farm in Braymer, Missouri. The remains had been burned and buried under a manure pile.
A DNA analysis would later show that remains matched one of the missing men. Months later, remains of the other brother were discovered in a livestock trailer in Lincoln County, Nebraska that had been purchased from a Missouri seller.
Nelson was initially charged with motor vehicle tampering in connection with the Diemels’ recovered rental truck, which was found running with the keys in the ignition in a parking lot off Interstate 35 in Holt. Suspicions centered on Nelson as investigators learned that he owed about $250,000 to the Diemels through a business arrangement where Nelson was supposed to raise livestock for them.
Authorities have said Nelson made certain admissions about his role in covering up the disappearances, but also offered a series of “misleading explanations’‘ that were believed to be intended to thwart the investigation.
During a police interview, Nelson allegedly told detectives two bodies were put inside a 55-gallon barrel under a pole barn on the family property. He also said they were moved with a skid loader to a nearby pasture and set aflame.
Authorities have also alleged Nelson admitted to moving the rental vehicle to Holt, and that he disposed of the Diemels’ cell phones.
Cattle fraud schemes
Over the past three years, Nelson has been investigated by state, county and federal law enforcement in connection with the case. In May 2021, Nelson was also charged separately under a federal indictment on one count of mail fraud stemming from his business with the Diemels.
Under the business arrangement, Nelson was entrusted with hundreds of heads of livestock. Witnesses later told investigators Nelson did a poor job with that, as dozens of calves died under his care due to starvation and other neglect.
Authorities say Nelson faked documents to keep up appearances with the Diemels. For example, Nelson intentionally damaged a $215,000 check made payable to the Diemels, which served as a “lulling technique” to have the men meet him personally as part of a plot to kill them, federal authorities allege.
In 2015, Nelson pleaded guilty to a separate cattle fraud involving the sale of livestock that did not belong to him. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison and was released in March 2018.