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Tanya Jaime NELSON






Fortune teller murder
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: April 21, 2005
Date of arrest: May 30, 2005
Date of birth: 1964
Victim profile: Fortune teller Ha "Jade" Smith, 52, and her daughter Anita Nhi Vo, 23
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Westminster, Orange County, California, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on April 23, 2010

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Tanya Jaime Nelson Gets Death

By Matt Coker -

April 23, 2010

A North Carolina woman received the death penalty today for murdering a Westminster fortune teller and her college-student daughter, whose heads and hands were covered in white paint.

Tanya Jaime Nelson, 46, of Roanoke Rapids, NC, had been found guilty by a jury Feb. 16 of two felony counts of special circumstances murder, the special circumstances being the murder of multiple victims, murder by lying in wait and murder during the commission of robbery. She and an accomplice killed the pair and stole credit cards, expensive jewelry and other items.

The jury had recommended death for Nelson.

Her co-hort, Phillipe Zamora, 55, also of Roanoke Rapids, pleaded guilty April 14 to two felony counts of first degree murder and was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.

Zamora testified against Nelson.

The Orange County District Attorney's Office released a statement today that includes the a recounting of what Smith's older sister, and Vo's aunt, told the court at sentencing.

"No amount of time will ever heal the pain nor erase the memory of the ingrained and horrific images, nor the silence the gut-wrenching testimony that has been exhibited and addressed in this court," she said. "Justice has been served."


The Mystery of the White Paint Coating Heads and Hands of Slain Fortune Teller and Her Daughter

By Matt Coker -

March 3, 2010

Why the heads and hands of a Vietnamese fortune teller and her daughter were covered in white paint when they were found slain in their Westminster home in 2005 confounded observers.

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: Tuesday, a jury in Santa Ana recommended the death penalty for a North Carolina woman the panel had earlier found guilty of the murders.

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.

According to the case presented by the DA:

* Nelson knew the victim because Nelson and Zamora's wife had been clients.

* On April 21, 2005, Nelson went to Smith's home with Zamora under the pretense of visiting and having Nelson's fortune told. Nelson formulated a plan to murder Smith and Vo in order to rob the victim.

* Using knives from the kitchen, Nelson stabbed and murdered Vo as Zamora stabbed and murdered Smith. They left Smith face down on the kitchen floor. Smith bled to death after being stabbed in the head, face, neck, shoulders, and hands. They left Vo on the floor of the laundry room with her head jutting out into the hallway that led to the kitchen. Vo bled to death due to multiple stab wounds to her head, face, and neck.

* After murdering the victims, the pair attempted to wash bloody kitchen knives and wrapping them in plastic bags. Nelson ransacked the victims' home with Zamora and stole personal items including cell phones, purses, jewelry, and credit cards.

* Nelson then drove with Zamora to Walmart to purchase paint, returning to the victims' home, and pouring white paint on Smith and Vo's heads and hands. Zamora covered Vo's face with a black shirt.

On April 22, 2005, the same day the murderers arrived home in North Carolina, the Westminster Police Department received a call from a concerned friend who had not heard from Vo and asked that she be checked on. Police then went to the home and discovered the grisly scene.

Nelson returned to Orange County in May 2005 for a South Coast Plaza shopping spree after purchasing plane tickets with the victims' credit cards. Westminister police detectives arrested her at the Santa Ana Holiday Inn on May 30 of that year. She had the victims' stolen credit cards, identification cards and designer luggage in her possession at the time of her arrest. Zamora was arrested June 1, 2005, at his North Carolina home.

Perhaps a bigger mystery than the white paint was whether the fortune teller saw this coming.


Woman convicted in fortune-teller murders

Prosecutor contended that North Carolina woman targeted the victim and her daughter because her fortune did not come true

By Larry Welborn - The Orange County Register

February 16, 2010

SANTA ANA A North Carolina woman sat motionless in court Tuesday as she was convicted of murdering a Westminster fortune teller and her daughter in April 2005 after she received a fortune that did not come true.

The seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated for about a day before finding Tanya Jaime Nelson, 45, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder for the stabbing deaths of Ha "Jade" Smith, 52, and Anita Vo, 23, plus several "special circumstances" that could lead to a death sentence.

Superior Court Judge Frank F. Fasel scheduled a penalty hearing to begin Tuesday. If the same jury recommends that Nelson be executed for the double murders, she would become only the second woman to get the death penalty in Orange County history.

Smith's sisters, Nicky Phan, of Vancouver, Canada, and Huong Kempf, of St. Louis. Missouri, watched the verdicts in the courtroom gallery with tears brimming in their eyes. Later, they wept as they hugged Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste.

Co-defendant Phillipe Zamora, 55, also of North Carolina, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of first-degree murder and agreed to cooperate with authorities in the prosecution of Nelson. He will be sentenced to 50 years to life in prison later in the year.

He testified for two days through a Vietnamese interpreter and told the jury that he joined Nelson on the murderous mission after Nelson promised to introduce him to potential gay sex partners in Orange County.

Zamora said he was present in Smith's home on April 21, 2005, when Nelson began stabbing Anita Vo, prompting Smith to scream. He testified that he panicked when Nelson yelled at him, "Kill her! Kill her! Don't let her scream!"

He said he picked up a wine bottle and hit Smith in the shoulder to silence her before he wrestled her to the ground and stabbed her repeatedly with two knives.

"It happened so quickly," Zamora told the jury. "I didn't know what to do ... I didn't want her to scream."

Zamora also testified that Nelson told him on the return flight to North Carolina that Smith was targeted for death because she gave Nelson a fortune that did not come true.

Nelson felt cheated because Smith predicted for Nelson that her business would do well if she relocated from Orange County to North Carolina, Zamora said, but instead Nelson ended up her losing her house.

Smith "did the fortune-telling for her and it was not accurate," Zamora testified, and therefore Nelson felt that Smith "deserved to die."

Anita Vo, 23 was stabbed to death with her mother, Zamora added, because Nelson felt she had also "deceived her, cheated her, like her mom."

Defense attorney Ken Reed argued that Zamora made up that story to implicate Nelson and escape a death penalty prosecution.

Reed argued that Zamora was the sole killer, and that his client was not present when the two victims were slashed to death.

Nelson faces the death penalty hearing next week because her jury convicted her of the special circumstances of committing multiple murders, murders during the commission of robbery, and murder by lying in wait.

Balleste contended that Nelson orchestrated the murders with Zamora because of the bad fortune, and that after the two women were slain Nelson ransacked the Westminster house and stole money, jewelry and credit cards.

Jade Smith's body was found in a pool of blood and soaked in white paint inside the home she also used in her fortune-telling business. Vo's body was found about ten feet away also covered in white paint. Both women had been stabbed multiple times.

Nelson was arrested about five weeks later after Westminster detectives followed up on leads that revealed she flew to Orange County for a fortune-telling appointment with Smith on the day of the slayings and that she was using credit-cards stolen from the murder victims.

Westminster detectives also found a day planner in her North Carolina home with two words handwritten in the box for April 21, 2005.

They read "Horrible sin."


Woman could die for fortune teller killing

By Larry Welborn - The Orange County Register

January 13, 2010

SANTA ANA Opening statements are scheduled Thursday in a death penalty trial for a North Carolina woman accused of stabbing and murdering an Orange County fortune teller and her daughter during a home invasion robbery in April 2005.

Tanya Jaime Nelson, 45, of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., could become only the second woman in Orange County history to be sentenced to death if a jury convicts her of murdering Westminster fortune teller Ha Smith, 52, and Anita Vo, Smith's 23-year-old daughter, on April 21, 2005.

Deputy District Attorney Sonia Balleste has charged Nelson with several special circumstances that could lead to a death sentence, including that she committed multiple murders and that she murdered for financial gain, during the commission of a burglary, during the commission of robbery, and by lying in wait.

Balleste and defense attorney Ken Reed are expected to deliver opening statements before Superior Court Judge Frank F. Fasel Thursday at 9:15 a.m.

Philippe Zamora, 55, Nelson's co-defendant, also of North Carolina, pleaded guilty last April to two felony counts of first degree murder and is expected to testify against Nelson. He faces a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in state prison at his sentencing Feb. 26.

Zamora admitted when he pleaded guilty that he traveled with Nelson from North Carolina to Orange County in order to rob Smith, who was known to wear expensive jewelry. Zamora said Nelson has been a longtime friend and fortune-telling client of Smith, and that they gained entrance into the Smith household under the ruse that Nelson needed a fortune reading.

But once inside, Zamora admitted, Nelson stabbed Vo, a college student to death, and then ordered Zamora to do the same to Smith, according to court documents.

Zamora said he hit the fortune-teller over the head with a champagne bottle and stabbed her multiple times with a kitchen knife.

Nelson then ransacked the victims' home with Zamora, stealing personal items including cell phones, purses, jewelry, a laptop computer and credit cards, according to Balleste.

Zamora and Nelson later bought white paint at Wal-Mart, returned to the crime scene and poured the paint over the two victims, Zamora claimed in his guilty plea form.

The bodies were discovered the next day after a friend phoned police after she became alarmed when he did not hear from Vo, according to a news release from the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

Nelson was arrested after she used stolen credit cards to purchase a plane ticket to return to Orange County in May 2005 and during a shopping spree at South Coast Plaza, prosecutors said.

Zamora was arrested June 1, 2005 at his home in North Carolina.

Detectives serving a search warrant at Nelson's North Carolina planner found a checkbook-sized planner on a desk in the dining room, according to court documents. Someone wrote two words inside the box for April 21:

"Horrible sin."

The only other woman to be sentenced to death in Orange County history was Maria del Rosio "Rosie" Alfaro, who received the death penalty in 1992 for stabbing 9-year-old Autumn Wallace multiple times during a home-invasion robbery two years earlier to get money to buy drugs.

Alfaro, who is now 38, remains on Death Row.


Pair to face charges for Westminster fortuneteller killing

N.C. residents could get death penalty if convicted in '05 killings

By Jennifer Muir - The Orange County Register

April 13, 2006

WESTMINSTER - The case of two North Carolina residents accused of fatally stabbing a Westminster fortuneteller and her daughter moved one step closer to trial Wednesday when a judge ordered the pair to face all charges filed against them.

Tanya Nelson, 41, and Phillipe Zamora, 51, both of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., will face murder, robbery and burglary charges in connection with the slayings of Ha Jade Smith, 52, and her daughter, Anita Nhi Hung Vo, 23, in April of last year.

Police found Smith's and Vo's bludgeoned bodies in their ransacked Bird Avenue home on April 22. Zamora later told investigators that he killed Smith the day before, police said.

"Thank God," Smith's sister Loan Ngo whispered after Superior Court Judge Glenda Sanders ruled Wednesday, ending a two-day preliminary hearing. "At least we'll have justice ... it doesn't matter what you do. Nobody deserves to die like this, and no family members should have to suffer like this."

Nelson and Zamora are charged with "lying in wait" and committing the killings in the course of other crimes - circumstances that could bring them the death penalty or life in prison without parole if convicted. Nelson also is charged with fraud.

Nelson became a suspect after she used the women's credit cards to pay for flights from North Carolina to Orange County. She was arrested May 30 outside a Holiday Inn in Santa Ana with Smith's and Vo's credit cards in her purse, police said.

A receipt for a flight for Zamora to Orange County around the time of the slaying - found during a search of Nelson's home - led investigators to their second suspect. Zamora confessed to the slaying during a 5--hour interview and was arrested June 2.

Both are scheduled to appear Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.



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