Missing woman's death ruled a homicide, Winter Park police say

Former person of interest Scott Nelson named as suspect

By Adrienne Cutway - Web Editor

WINTER PARK, Fla. - The case of a missing woman who was found dead on Saturday has been ruled a homicide, Winter Park Police Chief Michael Deal said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

Jennifer Lynn Fulford, 56, was reported missing on Wednesday after police said she "vanished under suspicious circumstances." Fulford was supposed to pick up her client's children from school that day but never did.

Her vehicle was found Thursday in the parking lot of a Publix on Colonial Drive in Orange County and her body was found the following day off of Apopka-Vineland Road, according to police.

Authorities could not give exact details surrounding the details of Fulford's death because the police investigation is ongoing.

“We have determined Jennifer is the victim of the homicide,” Deal said, offering few specifics.

Scott Nelson, 53, was named as a person of interest in the case on Thursday. Winter Park police released surveillance photos of him that night, asking for the public's help identifying the then-unknown man.

Police said Nelson took an Amtrak train to Jacksonville, where he was arrested at the Sunshine Inn on New Kings Road Sunday evening.

Loren Korn/WKMG

Sunshine Inn on New King's Road in Jacksonville where a suspect in an Altamonte Springs woman's death was captured Sunday, October 1, 2017.

Deal said authorities had received information that Nelson could be in the Jacksonville area and that he was recognized while checking into the hotel.

“This is an outstanding example of law enforcement working together to solve a terrible crime and get a bad guy off the street," Deal said.

Sunshine Inn co-owner Vijay Patel, 65, said Nelson paid $90.28 in cash for a two-night stay at the motel on Thursday. He paid another $90 on Friday for an additional two nights. He was scheduled tocheck out on Monday.

 Patel said police came Sunday afternoon and showed him a picture of Nelson. Authorities then went through motel records and found Nelson's room.

The motel was evacuated until Nelson arrived back at his room. Patel described Nelson as a "good guest" and "very friendly."

Nelson surrendered peacefully after a brief standoff, according to the arrest report.

"He (Nelson) called me on my phone, my motel phone, and he told me, 'Let me talk with the cops.' So I gave that phone to the cops. They had some conversation between them," Patel said.

He's being held without bond on a charge of violation of federal probation. Nelson was found guilty in 2012 of robbing a bank in Volusia County in 2010, court records show. He was released from prison two months ago.

 As part of his federal probation, Nelson was ordered to participate in a mental health treatment program and a substance abuse treatment program.

He will be taken from Jacksonville to the Winter Park area, although it's unknown when he will arrive in Central Florida.

Deal said Nelson is a suspect in Fulford's death and disappearance, but it's uncertain when or if he will face charges. Deal also said authorities are keeping their minds open to other possibilities as well.

Evidence has been collected from the Winter Park home where Fulford worked, her vehicle, the scene where her body was found and the hotel room where Nelson was arrested, Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent in charge Danny Banks said Monday.

“Now is the time for us to be methodical in regards to this investigation,” Banks said.

He said he anticipates that more evidence will be collected once a search warrant is served in Jacksonville.

The relationship between Fulford and Nelson, if any, has not yet been released to the media.

Fulford was a wife, mother of two, grandmother and property manager. 

Nelson is a transient who was living at a shelter in Orlando prior to the crime.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Winter Park Police Department at 407-644-1313 or Crimeline at 407-423-TIPS.

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