Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Hostel Manager is a Pedophile

OCTOBER 24, 2009
Jerusalem, Israel

Article from Ynetnews (October 21, 2009)
US pedophile arrested in Jerusalem after escaping 110 year sentence(,7340,L-3792974,00.html)

“An employee in a Jerusalem hostel turned out to be a fugitive American pedophile. Donald Nelson, 59, who was sentenced to 110 years in prison for pedophilia, was arrested Tuesday in Jerusalem by the Police's Lahav Unit. He will be brought to court to extend his remand on Wednesday and then the extradition process will commence.

A few days ago, the Interpol desk of Israel Police's operational intelligence unit received a request from US authorities to help locate the criminal. Following complex intelligence operations, Nelson was found in the Jaffa Gate Hostel in Jerusalem. " -Reporter for Ynet, Eli Senyor


Hostel managers are like the colors of the rainbow: they come in a variety of types. Some are fun-loving and soccer-obsessed. Some see themselves as Loonette from “The Big Comfy Couch,” constantly cleaning and inspiring children to be productive. Some prefer to keep to themselves.
Usually, this latter inclination is indicative of independence and self-sustainability. But sometimes it's not. Sometimes, it’s a sign that your hostel manger is a pedophile fugitive from America, with a pending 110-year prison sentence for 52 counts of sexual misconduct with minors.

This particular hostel manager was named Donald Nelson. Convicted by a California court in early 2009, Nelson fled U.S. authorities and hid out in Israel – where he remained from February until October of last year. That's when, according to Ynetnews (one of Israel’s top news outlets), “following complex intelligence operations, Nelson was found in the Jaffa Gate Hostel in Jerusalem.”

While working at the hostel – where he received a free room in exchange for part-time management and cleaning duties – Nelson spent much of his time engaging guests in conversation on the gated outdoor patio. There were certain people that he took to. I happened to be one of them.

My first impression of Nelson – or “Ryan Fields” as I knew him – was quite positive. He was incredibly helpful when I checked in, he smiled a lot, and he absolutely radiated friendliness. The only odd thing was his hygiene: with crooked yellow teeth, greasy brown hair that fell slightly above his shoulders, and a bristly beard fit only for the Philadelphia homeless, a brief glimpse at Ryan might easily scare a small child (although his criminal convictions suggest that this may not always have been the case).

On my third night in Jerusalem, I was pounding away on my laptop as I sat on a cushioned bench in a side-lobby of the hostel. Suddenly, my concentration was broken by a voice: “I always see you in that same spot! What are you working on so diligently?” I looked up to see Ryan leaning on a broomstick. “Oh, just research,” I said as I flipped the screen from Facebook to Microsoft Word.
“That’s so interesting! What are you researching?” He took a seat across the table, and settled in for what would evolve into a four hour conversation.

In perfect accordance with Dale Carnegie’s principles of How to Make Friends and Influence People, he started by inquiring about me: who I am, what interests me, what I study, what I want to do with my life. Clearly, Ryan was very practiced in the art of making and maintaining conversation. His voice rung with warmth. It suggested maturity, intelligence, and genuine interest. His laugh, though, left something to be desired. I’d put it somewhere between Killjoy and Chucky Returns. That was the first alarm.

Eventually, I steered the conversation away from myself. Ryan seemed pleased – once he got started, he didn’t stop talking about himself until 3 a.m. He seemed proud of his accomplishments and was eager to describe his life – in vivid detail – to a virtual stranger.

“Where did you go to school?” I asked him. “I actually went to school in Los Angeles. I was an Environmental Studies major at UCLA and later got my masters in Anthropology. It was really quite interesting. I liked it so much I even worked as a professor at various universities over the years.” “That’s awesome!” I exclaimed. “Which universities?” He looked thoughtful. “Oh, just...various universities.” Second alarm.

“So how did you end up in Jerusalem?” I asked, now genuinely curious.

“Yeah, I’ve just been traveling around a lot. I never stay in one place for long. A few years in South Carolina, a few years in New York, a few years in California...and now I’ve been in Jerusalem since January! I like to explore, to learn about new cultures, to experience new people. Ever since I got to Jerusalem I feel like I’ve really connected with my Jewish heritage. Did I tell you that I spent six years as a monk in a Buddhist monastery?”

We discussed the position of Arabs in Israeli society, the water crisis in the Palestinian territories, and the large Orthodox representation in the Knesset.

“You know, I ran for Congress once. South Carolina. I did a lot of that campaign stuff, you know, talked to a lot people, and tried to get my voice heard. I ended up losing, but I feel like it was still worth it. I’m just glad we have a few people in Congress who are still honest and will try to keep our government in check.”

Suddenly, he started giggling uncontrollably. I sat there smiling. “What’s up?”

“You know, you’re not going to believe this – I don’t talk about it a lot. Back when I was young – this would have been the early sixties – I signed up for the military reserves. When Vietnam rolled around, I received this letter saying, “You’ve been drafted.” Of course, by that time, I had become a pacifist. So I went to the base and tried to opt out on moral grounds. And they rejected my application! That’s when I went to the courts. I kept appealing and eventually my case made it to the Supreme Court for review. It was a big scandal, but Justice Scalia wrote me a nice letter, saying I was right and deserved to win.”

Knowing full well that Scalia was a Reagan appointee, I smiled and nodded.

“When my son, Alejandro (he’s half Latino – I adopted him when he was eight), told me he wanted to go into the military, I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew they’d do a background check on me and find out all of my history, which could disqualify him or affect his application.” He went on. “Alejandro was a really nice boy. I was also adopted, and I’d always wanted to adopt. He was a smart kid. He started out getting average grades in school, but managed to get a good enough GPA later to get a $180,000 scholarship to the Naval Academy. Now he is an officer – a lieutenant – stationed somewhere in Spain.”

“Do you two talk a lot?”

He looked sad and distant for a moment. “We talk every now and then.”

Almost every night that I stayed at the Jaffa Gate Hostel, Ryan would find me in my usual “research corner” and we’d talk for several hours before he would go to bed.

I loaned him my book, Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, which he found quite amusing. He would regularly recommend books about religion and the Middle East. He'd write his recommendations down on yellow legal paper.

Anyone familiar with handwriting analysis? This is a list of book recommendations he gave me:

(You'll notice that the book entitled The Ragamuffin Gospel has been written three times. The author's name, Brennan Manning, has been rewritten twice, for no apparent reason. There doesn't appear to be a legability issue, and there were no changes in spelling. Any handwriting experts want to venture a guess?)

Three nights before his arrest, we met by chance in front of the Tower of David. “Hey Laura!” he called. “Where’ve you been? You left so suddenly!” I told him that I had moved to the Citadel Youth Hostel. “I still have your book! I loved reading it. It was hilarious!” he beamed.

“Thank you so much for letting me borrow it!”And that was the last I saw of “Ryan Fields.”

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