In the realm of true crime tales, there are stories that defy expectations and challenge our understanding of human connection. One such narrative unfolds in the unusual friendship between Kent and Debbie “DJ” Nielsen, a California couple, and the notorious serial killer, Anthony John “Jack” Sully. Sully, a former Millbrae police officer, embarked on a drug-fueled killing spree that claimed the lives of six individuals.
What makes this story even more perplexing is the couple’s 20-year relationship with Sully, marked by visits, letters, and an unexpected emotional bond.
The Unveiling of a Dark Past
Sully’s Killing Spree
Anthony John “Jack” Sully’s criminal history is stained by a gruesome killing spree that shook the San Francisco Bay Area four decades ago. Five young women and one man fell victim to his drug-fueled rampage, marked by torture, rape, and brutal methods of murder. Sully’s actions left a lasting scar on the community, and his notoriety earned him a place on San Quentin’s death row.
Kent and Sully: A Chance Encounter
The roots of this peculiar relationship trace back to 1969 when Kent, a 16-year-old working at a Mobil service station in downtown Millbrae, crossed paths with Sully. The latter, then a 25-year-old police officer, developed a friendship with Kent, working together at the service station and even inviting him to his wedding. Their lives diverged in 1974, and they lost touch until the shocking headlines of Sully’s gruesome murders emerged in 1983.
Reconnection Behind Bars
A True-Crime Revelation
In 2002, Kent and DJ stumbled upon a true-crime TV show featuring Sully’s case, prompting Kent to reach out to his former friend. The unexpected reply from Sully set the stage for a series of in-person visits that spanned two decades. Despite Sully’s heinous crimes, Kent found himself visiting the man he had known as “Jack.”
20 Years of Letters and Visits
Over the years, the couple exchanged hundreds of letters and cards with Sully, numbering a staggering 461 pieces of mail by June 2020. Their conversations delved into the mundane aspects of life—travel, art, food, and prison life. Despite the monstrous acts that led to Sully’s death row sentence, he expressed gratitude after every visit, emphasizing the value of this unconventional friendship.
The Complexity of Emotions
Kent acknowledges the difficulty in understanding his emotional connection to a man responsible for such heinous crimes. His tears at Sully’s death showcase the complexity of their relationship, rooted in a past where Sully was once a trusted friend and mentor.
An Unexplored Dark Past
While Sully offered Kent the chance to delve into the details of his crimes, including motives and circumstances, Kent chose not to pry. The enigma surrounding Sully’s motivations remained untouched, highlighting the depth of Kent’s commitment to the man he considered a friend.
Closure and Farewell
The End of an Era
As Sully’s health deteriorated and the couple moved away, the prison visits became less frequent. Sully, battling cancer, eventually severed ties, ending communication with his only friends. On September 8, 2023, Sully passed away from natural causes at the age of 79, leaving Kent and DJ as the closest semblance of next of kin.
Reflection on an Unlikely Bond
The story of Kent and DJ’s 20-year connection with a serial killer on death row challenges societal norms and prompts reflection on the complexities of human relationships. As they grapple with the aftermath of Sully’s death, the couple’s journey unveils the intricacies of forgiveness, empathy, and the unpredictable nature of emotional ties.