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State police make arrest in 20-year-old Somerset County kidnapping

January 10, 2019

Pennsylvania State Police believe they have solved a 20-year-old Somerset County kidnapping case that sparked a four-state manhunt and gained national attention on the crime-fighting television show “America’s Most Wanted.”

State police arrested 50-year-old Timothy David Nelson, of Cumberland, Maryland, at the Cumberland Police Department Tuesday morning. Police said Nelson was named as a suspect through fingerprint identification following a decades-long investigation.

According to police, on the afternoon of Sept. 19, 1999, Nelson grabbed a 10-year-old girl who was walking with two friends along a street in Cairnbrook. He placed the girl in his vehicle and traveled to a remote location in West Virginia, where he assaulted her, police said.

The girl was released the same day near Markleysburg, Fayette County, just north of the West Virginia line. She was found walking along a road.

The kidnapping prompted a multistate search for the driver of a teal-green Geo Metro, the vehicle used to commit the crime. In the weeks thereafter, Metro drivers were stopped, some as many as 20 or 30 times, by authorities looking for the kidnapper.

The kidnapper, a white man in his 20s or 30s, wore an unusual moss green T-shirt featuring a cartoon alien reading a newspaper in front of a fireplace with human heads mounted on a wall. A $10,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest. The crime was also featured on the Oct. 30, 1999, episode of “America’s Most Wanted,” garnering about two dozen tips.

Trooper Jeff Brock led an extensive investigation involving numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, but no leads were able to be developed.

In 2004, with DNA analysis, police determined that Nelson was linked to two other unsolved kidnappings in 1988 in Hagerstown, Maryland. No further leads developed, however, police said.

“Through ongoing investigation, a suspect was established in late 2018 through fingerprint identification and an arrest was made by the PA. State Police on the morning of January 8, 2019 at the Cumberland City Police Department,” police wrote in a press release.

Nelson has been charged with 23 counts, including 16 felonies, in Somerset County. The charges include kidnapping, rape, unlawful restraint, aggravated indecent assault and terroristic threats. He is being held without bond and has waived extradition to Pennsylvania, according to online Maryland court documents.

Police believed at the time of the kidnapping that the suspect may also have been responsible for attempted abductions of children in Central City and Richland Township. No other charges have been filed against Nelson in Pennsylvania, according to the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania Web Portal.

State police at the Troop A headquarters in Greensburg did not respond to requests for additional comment Wednesday. A news conference is planned Thursday morning at the Somerset state police barracks.

The arrest was welcome news for many Somerset County residents, some of whom feared to leave their children alone outside following the abduction.

Former Somerset County 911 dispatcher Geraldine Budzina took the emergency call from the missing girl’s parents in 1999.

“It’s one of those calls that sticks with you,” she said Wednesday. “I kept thinking after I went home, ‘What if they don’t find her?’”

Luckily, the girl was found later that day.

“It’s one of those things where you don’t hear nothing for 20 years. You don’t think it’ll come up.”

“I’m amazed that they found him, and I’m really glad that, even though it’s been 20 years, he’s going to pay for what he did.”

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