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
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
By Matt Coker - OCWeekly.com
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
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
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
* 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
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
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
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
Westminster detectives also found a day planner in her North
Carolina home with two words handwritten in the box for April 21,
They read "Horrible sin."
Woman could die for fortune teller
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
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
Nelson then ransacked the victims' home with
Zamora, stealing personal items including cell phones, purses,
jewelry, a laptop computer and credit cards, according to
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,
Zamora was arrested June 1, 2005 at his home in
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:
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
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
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
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 5-½-hour interview and was
arrested June 2.
Both are scheduled to appear Wednesday in
Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana.