Crime writer sets up real-life murder attempt on husband
05/10/2016 1:00 pm PDT
Joseph Gelber Junior, better known as "Jody," thought he'd found himself a good wife when he married Nancy Mancuso. It was Jody's fourth marriage, and Nancy's second. And it looked like this one would last.
"Everything was fine for a long time," said Jody.
But after nine years together, Jody says he came down with a belated case of the "seven-year itch."
"She quit working. She stayed at home. She didn't do anything," said Jody.
Except write crime thrillers like Temporary Amnesia, her first published novel.
Jody says that little taste of success went to Nancy's head.
"She just liked to spend a lot of money," said Jody.
And he says she turned into a 54-year-old party girl.
"I was working late at night, and it just got to be where she wanted to party all the time, and she was doing drugs," said Jody.
Their marriage was quickly falling apart. And Jody finally told Nancy he wanted a divorce. He says Nancy didn't take it well.
"She thought I was having affairs," said Jody. "I was not having an affair."
Nancy was reportedly deeply concerned that her life of leisure was coming to an end. Jody, an auto mechanic, didn't make a lot of money. But it had been enough to allow Nancy to write her crime stories from home and party like the local celebrity she thought she was.
And a divorce would also mean Nancy would cease to be the beneficiary of Jody's $180,000 life insurance policy.
So she decided to hire a hit-man to kill her husband.
"She had told him she was going to get $180,000 on the insurance and she was willing to pay $60,000 for someone to do the job," said Brazos County Sheriff's Investigator Ricardo Ledesma.
Nancy turns to her local drug dealer, Jeremy Kidd, in Bryan, Texas. And Kidd immediately snitches on her to the local cops.
"He's one of our local criminals. We were pretty familiar with him," said Ledesma. "He said she wanted him to find somebody to kill her husband."
She said she detested hubby Jody because she thinks he's been cheating on her.
"She says something to the effect that 'If it was up to me I'd tie him up, cut his nipples off and cut his ---- off, and everything else," said Ledesma.
Brazos County sheriff's investigators Ricardo Ledesma and Terry Young then come up with a plot of their own: Getting Kidd to set up an undercover sting, with Young posing as a hit-man named "Dwight."
Nancy agrees to meet Young -- or "Dwight" -- in the parking lot of a hotel.
Young, wired and recording every word, discusses the deal with a nervous and suspicious Nancy in her truck.
"Are you in any way, shape or form affiliated with the law?" she asks Young on the recorded conversation.
"No, are you?" he replies.
"I am not," Nancy says. "I'm a crime novelist and that's why this is the worst thing I've ever done in my life."
Nancy offers Young her wedding ring as down payment on the hit. Young accepts and asks Nancy how she wants the hit carried out.
"He just leaves every night to go to some girl's house. He's got like five or six girlfriends. None of them know about each other," Nancy says on the recording. "He's receiving underwear in the mail from California. This guy is just a ----ing pervert.
"I don't want it to look like a killing. I would like it to look like an accident," Nancy says. "The less I know the better off I am. The spouse is the first one that they go to. Always."
But investigators feel they still need more evidence to arrest Nancy. Then they get an urgent call from Nancy's drug dealer, Jeremy Kidd.
"He's telling me that he was concerned for Jody's safety. He said that she's acting really strange," said Ledesma. "He said 'I'm afraid that she's going to try to go ahead and kill him herself or she's going to find somebody else to do it.'"
"We have to contact Jody and let him know his life is in danger," said Ledesma.
Jody is shown Nancy's Facebook page, where she is already describing herself as a widow. And Jody hears the secretly recorded evidence.
"[Ledesma] started telling me some of the ways that she had talked about having done," said Jody. Including poisoning. "Then I started thinking about how she had been acting, so I believed him."
Jody was living with Nancy in their house for about a month, even though he knew she was plotting his murder.
"We told him that you need to really be careful if you're going to decide to wait," said Ledesma.
"They advised me not to eat or drink at the house, and after that I pretty much didn't," said Jody. "I also still had one of my pistols, and it slept under my pillow with me."
Investigators are even more concerned than Jody.
"The case had gotten to the point where we had to push it along for Jody's safety," said investigator Terry Young.
So they arrange another sting, wiring two investigators with a hidden camera and microphone and arming them with a false story.
The sheriff's office knocked on the door to deliver the news to Nancy that her husband had been killed.
Was hers an authentic reaction?
"I think it was just a front," said Jody.
When she's dressed, Nancy tells the investigators about her marriage to Jody.
"He looks like Santa Claus," Nancy says on the recording. "I told everybody I found my Santa Claus. Everybody that knew us just knew we were perfect. But then he turned into Tiger Woods. He started fooling around with every woman he could find."
"She always said I was having an affair because I was never at home," said Jody Gelber.
Nancy follows the investigators back to the sheriff's office. They show her two photos, and she denies recognizing the person. But, in fact, she does recognize him: They are pictures of Investigator Terry Young posing as "Dwight," the hit-man Nancy hired, and who had deliberately let her see him pretending to be under arrest while she was walking to the interview room.
"And she and I make eye contact. And she just kind of has a look of 'Uh oh' I guess on her face," said Young.
Investigator Ledesma shows Nancy his picture again.
"Is that the guy that y'all just went by?" she asks. "Does he know my husband?"
"We're trying to talk to him," said Ledesma during the recorded interview. "He had these two things in his pocket."
They are employee identification photos of Jody that Nancy gave Young, aka "Dwight," when they arranged the hit on him in a hotel parking lot.
Ledesma then shows her something else he says was found in Dwight's pocket: the wedding ring she gave him as down payment on the hit.
"That's not mine," she says. She says she does not still have hers though. "That card, until we broke up, was in my wallet, and then it went on my dresser. And if Jody took it off and put it with that other card, that other card, to me, I haven't seen it, if I've seen it at all." And she continues to deny the ring is hers.
Nancy tries to find out what the investigators have learned from the man she knows as "Dwight" the hit-man, and they play dumb.
Ledesma allows an obviously very nervous Nancy to leave, and even helps her to the door. But the crime novelist is about to find out how this story ends.
The next day they turn up the heat. A handcuffed Nancy Gelber is dragged back into the Brazos County Sheriff's interrogation room again. And this time she faces more than just a grilling about her plot to have husband Jody murdered.
"You've been placed under arrest for solicitation of capital murder," Ledesma tells Nancy.
Ledesma and another officer in the interview room with him are armed with an array of airtight evidence against the crime novelist, including an audio recording of Nancy hiring undercover investigator Terry Young, as well as the wedding ring she gave him as a down payment on the job.
"We're gonna ask you for the truth, the truth only, that's all we're asking for," Ledesma says.
Then a sudden interruption, and when investigator Ledesma opens the door, Nancy gasps in shock. Nancy sees husband Jody standing there alive and well.
What was her reaction?
"'Oh my God, I should have known,' and she covered her face with her hands," said Jody.
But unbelievably, Nancy immediately regains her cold composure. And she starts asking the cops about the hit-man she hired.
"You told me my husband died, and? Who's the guy?" Nancy asks. "Who's the guy?
"You know who the guy is," one officer says. "Who's the guy?"
"Hold on, this is a setup," she says. "You're not going to do this to me. Never. This is a setup, and he's doing it. Jody."
"Nancy, this ain't a book. This is real life," one officer says.
"Sorry. I'm not complying," says Nancy. "Who's the guy? You said his name was Dwight. How do I know a Dwight? Who is he?"
"If you had to guess right now, who would you think he is?"
"I would think he was somebody that Jody set up," she says. "He could not want me out of the picture that bad, so he's lying and this was an elaborate joke on my part.
"Who set me up?" she says.
"You set yourself up."
"Well then, y'all are just going to have to lock me up," Nancy says.
"We are going to lock you up. Rest comfortably assured that that's going to happen."
"All right. But I did not talk to that man, I don't give a damn what he says," she says.
Then Nancy gets another surprise. "Dwight" walks in and they identify him as sheriff's investigator Terry Young.
Nancy finally realizes she'd been stung hiring that hit-man in the hotel parking lot.
Now Nancy appears to cry, saying she's grateful her husband Jody isn't dead.
"I'm so glad he's alive," Nancy says.
And Jody Gelber is so glad Nancy is now behind bars after being sentenced to 30 years for conspiracy to commit capital murder. She will not be eligible for parole until 2026.
"She thought she could get away with it," said Jody. "She thought she could outsmart the police. She really did."
But the law wrote the last chapter of this crime story.
The judge in the Gelber case says that if she chooses to write a book about this crime, her ex-husband could sue her for a portion of the profits.