Tanya Jaime Nelson, 46, of Roanoke Rapids, NC, was given death for the murder of two Asian women, fortune teller Ha Smith and her daughter Anita Vo.
The case caused quite a stir when the heads and hands of the victims were found coated in white paint. The details are so bizarre the case was featured in season 4 of Wicked Attraction. (Watch it below)
Ha Jade Smith, 52, and her daughter Anita Nhi Vo, a 23-year-old college student, were found dead in Mrs. Smith's Little Saigon home on April 22, 2005. They died of hideous multiple stab wounds to their faces and necks. Both also had cuts on their hands, suggesting that they had attempted to resist their attacks. What most baffled officers was why nearly a gallon of white paint had been poured over their heads and hands.
"I haven't come across anybody else who has had a case in which the victim's heads and hands were covered in paint," police Det. Tim Vu said at the time. "I've had calls from colleagues in other departments, too. They feel kind of fascinated by that. It's just not something that happens. . . . This is by far the most bizarre thing I've seen."
"Many theories have been put forward to attempt to the explain the significance of the paint," New Criminologist, an online journal of criminology professionals, posted two weeks after the crime. "White is traditionally worn at Vietnamese funerals, the color is symbolic of mourning and rites of passage. Actors in traditional Vietnamese theater painted their faces white for performances, or maybe an unhappy client used paint to ward off evil spirits."
As New Criminologist pointed out, Smith was a respected figure among the 30,000 Vietnamese who live in the area and she took in clients from as far away as New York, "desperate for her words of wisdom on love, business, spell-casting and what the future held." Most clients would have gone to Smith's home and paid up to $15,000 for her services in cash.
Police discovered Smith's home had been ransacked. "[D]rawers had been turned out, furniture had been tipped over, and papers were scattered throughout the location," according to New Criminologist. "However, hidden stockpiles of money and jewelery were undiscovered and untouched."
She'd been victimized before, having been tied up and robbed of $372,000 in jewelry and money in 2001. She'd apparently changed the locks and placed iron bars over the windows of her home. But police investigating the murder scene saw no signs of forced entry, the bars were in place, and all the doors were locked. That would indicate the killer(s) knew the victims, allowing them inside. Which, despite the bizarre white paint, prompted this from New Criminologist: "Another possibility could be that the paint is simply a red-herring; implying a cultural significance to what essentially could be a straight forward murder-robbery."
That's exactly what the jury found, that Tanya Jaime Nelson, 45, of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., killed the mother and daughter to rob the fortune teller and get her hands on Smith's expensive jewelry. The exact verdict was guilty of first-degree murder with special circumstances including murder of multiple victims, murder during the commission of robbery, and murder by lying in wait.
UPDATE: Nelson's formal sentencing is scheduled for March 26.
Her co-defendant, Phillipe Zamora, 55, also of Roanoke Rapids, pleaded guilty April 14, 2009, to two felony counts of first degree murder.