Friends call Arlington Hts. man 'a good person, a good father'
George Nellessen tried everything he could to get his son, Mathew, on the right track, say friends who knew of their troubled relationship.
The 55-year-old Arlington Heights man was bound, gagged, beaten and killed in his home last Tuesday. Authorities have charged Nellessen's 19-year-old son and three other men — Chicago residents Marlon Green, 20; Armon Braden, 20; and Azari Braden, 19 — with first-degree murder and armed robbery.
Nellessen's longtime friend Bob Leprich said he always will be remembered as “a good person, a good father.”
“He tried to do as much as he could for Matt to help him,” Leprich said. “I know he loved his family. He always had a good attitude toward things. He was always trying very hard to do the best that he could for his children.”
Nellessen was a precision machinist and moldmaker. He had worked at the Buffalo Grove division of Rexam, a global consumer packaging group and beverage can maker, since 2003.
Co-workers describe Nellessen as dedicated, an excellent toolmaker, a perfectionist and an overall “great guy.”
“He was an exceptional employee,” said Heather Warechowicz, Rexam human resources manager, who choked up talking about Nellessen. “He was a really good go-getter.”
Nellessen hardly missed a day of work. Co-workers said they were worried when “Nelly,” as they called him, didn't show up for his 7 a.m. shift Wednesday or call to excuse his absence.
Nellessen also didn't make his usual Wednesday “taco night” outing with friends at Sports Page Bar & Grill in Arlington Heights.
Vic Panozzo, a tooling engineer at Rexam, said no one thought anything of it at the time because of the problems Nellessen had with his son.
Nellessen would at times miss a morning shift because Mathew had a court date, and then show up later in the day, Panozzo said.
“He was a very conscientious worker,” Panozzo said.
At about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, Panozzo called Nellessen's cellphone and there was no answer.
“There was actually some discussion with my son and his buddy to possibly go over to his house and see what was going on, which I'm glad they didn't do now,” Panozzo said. “We did not know the situation was this bad.”
When Nellessen again didn't show up for work Thursday morning, Panozzo called Nellessen's ex-girlfriend and asked her to check on him. “I actually thought maybe he had a heart attack or a stroke,” he said.
When she arrived at Nellessen's home, she found Mathew Nellessen there, with his father's brutalized body in the family room. She called 911, authorities say.
Panozzo said he learned from his son about the high-speed police chase involving a suspect later identified as Mathew, and that George Nellessen was dead.
“I got sick to my stomach, as were many people,” Panozzo said. “We couldn't really talk. The shop for the next couple of days, it was like the ‘Night of the Living Dead.' It was like just a bunch of zombies walking around here.”
Grief counselors, a pastor and a priest were called in Friday to help Rexam employees cope with the tragedy.
“It's haunting me,” Panozzo said. “This is all I think about since this happened. You could try to forget about it. At the moment, it's just overwhelming.”
Friends say Nellessen was always concerned about Mathew's future.
“He couldn't figure out how to get him on the right track,” said Mike Ponzio, a buyer at Rexam. “He was thinking about getting him a job with the company.”
The relationship between father and son changed significantly after Nellessen's wife, Laura, died of cancer in 2004, Ponzio said.
“I think (Mathew) really took that hard. He was only 12 when she passed on.”
Ponzio said Mathew was upset that Nellessen would not give him his mother's entire Social Security benefit, which Nellessen had set aside for his college fund.
Yet, Mathew Nellessen's life was hardly on a college trajectory. He was in and out of trouble with the law and had attended both Prospect and St. Viator high schools without finishing either one.
“Once (Mathew) discovered that he wasn't going to college, he expected that money to be in his hand immediately,” Ponzio said. “It was basically over that money.”
Ponzio said even with all the tension at home, George Nellessen was a “happy-go-lucky guy.”
“He just had a really good sense of humor,” he said. “He was an amazing guy, great worker. Always had a smile on his face. He was always beaming about (daughter Lisa) because she was on the right path.”
Lisa Nellessen, a graduate of Prospect High School, studies at an out-of-state college and has not been back home since her father's death. She lives with her maternal grandparents.
George Nellessen's father-in-law is the executor of his estate. Funeral services are pending.