Gruesome O.C. Slaying Victim Lived Risky Life


He had a knack for landing old DC-3s and C-46s in the dead of night on remote airstrips lit with smudge pots. Once, the Mexican air force shot down one of his planes on a run back to the U.S. border. Red was his favorite color, and he was known for telling whoppers as big as his adopted state of Texas.

William E. Nelson, 56, was a rogue and an adventurer who made a lucrative cash business by smuggling electronic goods south of the border aboard an aging fleet of transport planes he kept at the international airport in Laredo, Tex. Until Mexico eased its trade restrictions a few years ago, Nelson profited handsomely and soon owned a small ranch outside of town, a big motor home, fast cars and fancy cowboy boots.

It made him Omayma Aref Stainbrook’s kind of guy.

Stainbrook appeared to have genuine affection for Nelson, said some of his friends and Tustin co-workers. But according to her acquaintances and former boyfriends, Stainbrook, 23, sought out older, more financially secure men who fell for the charms of an exotic-looking, younger woman.


Less than four weeks after Stainbrook and Nelson were reportedly married, officers found his dismembered body Sunday in several plastic trash bags inside their Costa Mesa apartment and his red 1975 Corvette.

Stainbrook, an Egyptian immigrant, is accused of stabbing Nelson to death, then cutting up his corpse in one of the most macabre spousal murder cases in local history. She is being held without bail in Orange County Jail.

To her former boyfriends and at the bars she frequented, she was known as Ishta or Nadia. She had a reputation as an aggressive flirt. At Ray and Sandy’s Hideaway in Chino, owner Ray Morash said he thought she was a prostitute.

“It was just the way that she acted,” he said. “She would go out of the bar with different people (men) and come back later.”

A 61-year-old man from Huntington Beach who rented her a room said Stainbrook “was looking for guys to take care of her. She was a con artist. . . . She’d come around every time she needed something--every time she got thrown out of some other guy’s home.”

The former housemate, who requested anonymity, said he loaned Stainbrook money to pay her bills.


Once, he said, he jokingly wrote out a check for $2,000--instead of the $200 he promised to lend her--then threw the check in the trash without ripping it up. Later, he said, he found out that she had cashed the check.

He recalled that Stainbrook has a bad temper and often went to nightclubs on her own, looking for men. She once came home drunk and pointed a gun at him when he threatened to throw her out.

San Bernardino County Deputy Dist. Atty. James Weintre, who helped prosecute Stainbrook for auto theft this year, said: “She likes to do bad things to people she shacks up with.”

Another San Bernardino prosecutor, Kent Williams, described her as “almost hooker-like,” based on the short skirts she wore to court.

Stainbrook pleaded guilty in San Bernardino County Superior Court to stealing a rental car leased to Jack Huston, 38, of Chino, with whom she was having a sporadic romance. She is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday.

“She’s bad news,” said Huston’s brother, James. “She met my brother at a bar and took him for everything he had. She took the rental car, and he got stuck with all the hassles.”

According to the brother, Stainbrook at one time brought a red Corvette, which he thought belonged to another man, to Huston’s condominium for his brother to fix. Nelson owned a red Corvette.

However, an acquaintance who requested anonymity defended Stainbrook, saying she did not like the way some men treated immigrant women.

“She would often complain that there were a lot of male predators,” he said, “who would . . . manipulate them and set them up in a situation where the women would be completely under (their) control. . . . She did not appear to be a killer to me.”

Acquaintances said Stainbrook met Nelson at a bar about five weeks ago in the Costa Mesa area. After a whirlwind romance, they headed for Laredo on vacation. They told business and social acquaintances that they were to be wed during a stopover in Las Vegas or Phoenix. There is no record of the marriage in either city.

At the time, Nelson was being sued for divorce by Kathy Nelson, his estranged wife, who lives in Santa Maria in Santa Barbara County. She filed in 1990, while Nelson was serving a four-year prison sentence in Lompoc federal penitentiary for drug smuggling.

Nelson had been found guilty of conspiracy to smuggle marijuana into the United States from Central America aboard one of his aircraft. Convicted along with him were his brother, Jerry, several Colombian nationals and a soccer star from Scotland.

The case was highly publicized in Laredo, where Nelson was well known at the local airport, which was the operating base for a group of pilots who smuggled embargoed electronic goods into Mexico. His fleet of well-maintained DC-3s, C-46s and DC-7s were a fixture along the runway.

“He was one smooth pilot. He was damn good,” said John Fitzgibbon Jr. “These guys would fly down to Mexico at night with their lights out, evading radar. Once, when his old DC-3 was shot up by the Mexican air force, he called in his position to the airport. He was as cool as a cucumber over the radio.”

Fitzgibbon’s father, John Sr., who represented Nelson in the drug-smuggling case, said Nelson and Stainbrook visited him a few weeks ago and told him that they had gotten married.

He quoted Stainbrook as saying that she is from Cairo and that she speaks several languages, including French, English and 16 dialects of Arabic.

But, he said, he did not know whether to believe her.

News of the slaying, Fitzgibbon Sr. said, troubled Nelson’s friends, who do not believe Stainbrook’s contention that Nelson was trying to rape her the night she allegedly killed him.

“He may have been an adventurer and in it for the thrill, but he was never a violent person,” the elder Fitzgibbon said about Nelson. “She is the one who seemed to have a bit of a temper to me.”

Joni Gray, attorney for Nelson’s estranged wife, said her client is not alleging any sexual or physical abuse as a grounds for divorce. As far as Gray said she knows, their relationship had been reasonably cordial.

At Cannon Mortgage Co. in Tustin, where William Nelson was a messenger and part-time computer programmer, co-workers described him with affection. They said he was a hard worker who still found time to josh with them and bring in home-cooked Tex-Mex food. They said he laughed when they chided him for marrying a younger woman.

“He was always talking about what she does and how good she looks and what kind of food she cooked for him,” co-worker Terri Rex said. “He would tell us about these customs from her home country, and he seemed really interested in them.”

Nelson’s co-workers described his new wife as a friendly, talkative woman. The last time they said they saw Nelson’s spouse was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Staff writers Eric Bailey, Lily Dizon and Eric Lichtblau in Orange County contributed to this story, along with correspondent John German in Las Vegas.