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Happy Birthday: The Mysterious Death of Tracey Waterfield Neilson

Written By: Naomi


Tracey Diane Waterfield was born January 5th, 1960 in Canadian, Texas to James and Sandra Waterfield with an older brother named Rickey Waterfield and younger sister Cindy Young. Growing up she was a happy girl who was succeeding in her school life and was successful in sports. Upon graduating at the top of her class she applied for school at Oklahoma State to study physical therapy and focused on working with those with disabilities. Tracy was described as a fun girl who loved to cook, loved people, she would stay busy and loved life. She had met Jeffrey Neilson on a blind date and they fell in love instantly, they married on July 26th, 1980 and moved in together in Moore, Oklahoma. On January 5th, 1981, 5 months after her wedding, Tracey Neilson was turning 21. This day would not be filled with joy, presents, and cake however.

This was the day Tracey Neilson was brutally murdered in her home.

On the morning of January 5th, Tracey’s husband Jeffrey left the home to attend classes at the university since he was studying to become an orthopedic surgeon and Tracey started her day as usual, running errands and neighbors could see her doing chores around noon. Her family started to call her in the afternoon to wish her a happy birthday but their calls went unanswered. After classes had completed Jeffrey went to Oklahoma City to search for a gift for his wife’s birthday. Upon buying her a bottle of expensive perfume he returned home to surprise Tracey and make them a lobster dinner around 5PM. When he arrived at the home the TV had been left on, an ironing board and iron remained set up in the living room, but there was no sign of his wife. He called out for her and still received no response and started looking around for her, as he went back to the bedroom he found her lying face up on their bed, barefoot with a pair of blue jeans and a plaid shirt on, her throat was slit and she had multiple stab wounds to her upper body. Jefferey would talk about this moment decades later and describe it as, “... a horrible day, During (his) first years at medical school, (he dissected) cadavers, but nothing prepar(ed him) for that … it was absolutely horrible.” He then describes going, “crazy for a minute”with grief before running from the home and down the street to his friends home to call the police. An autopsy would later show that she had been stabbed over 20 times but not been sexually assaulted.

The apartment had no signs of forced entry but Jeffrey had noticed that the front door had been left unlocked when he arrived that evening. There were no signs of a robbery or struggle in the home and crime scene photos of this case look eerily normal.

Police were able to rule out Jeffrey quickly as they had proof he had been at the university and stores all day so they started the investigation by interviewing the neighbors, two of which reported seeing a man in the neighborhood. One neighbor described him as being in his late 20’s, 5ft 9in, around 155 lbs with curly dark brown hair and, “ a day’s growth of beard”. The other neighbor described the man as being in his early 30’s, 5ft 10 in, 150-170 lbs, with military short hair and sideburns. A man meeting either of these descriptions has never been arrested or found tied to this case and the murder weapon has never been recovered either. The only evidence that has turned up was a single fingerprint that has never been identified and a receipt that had been left with Tracey for cable work that had been done at the house on the day of the murder. It indicated that the work had been scheduled around 11:51 AM and the initials of the worker were haphazardly scribbled onto the form, not resembling anything useful either. But with this, police felt they had a lead and checked with companies to see who had been scheduled to go to the Neilson’s home. The cable and telephone companies confirmed however that they had not sent anyone to their home and that the ticket book the receipt had come from belonged to workers with the Bell Telephone Company that is a subsidiary to AT&T. These ticket books do not have any identifying codes or markings on them so there was no way to identify who the receipt had come from.

34 years later the police went public with the few theories this presented, either the suspect was a worker for the Bell Telephone company, or the ticket book had been stolen and was used by the murderer to gain entry into people’s homes. During this announcement in 2015 police also revealed what is their final hope to finding Tracey Neilson’s murderer, a keychain.

Tracey had a tortoise shell colored keychain that was one inch wide by four inches long and had her name inscribed on it in golden color lettering. Police revealed that the keychain had been the only thing missing from the crime scene and believe that the killer might have taken it as a prize. They felt that this keychain was the key to finding the killer and offered a $100,000 reward raised by the families for anyone with information on the case. However over the years police have tracked down 1,600 leads and still have not gotten anywhere.

Jeffrey Neilson’s family assisted the police even years after the murder to pass a law that would implement the fingerprint identification system that later helped solve hundreds of other violent crimes across Oklahoma, but when the fingerprint that had been found at the crime scene had been compared to the database no match was found. The family still mourns this tragedy and Jeffrey feels that this crime had likely been random since no one would target Tracey. This leaves the family terrified and questioning where such rage could come from. Jeffery feels that, “time dampens the severity of the pain” but that he does not know what closure would mean for him or his family and that perhaps knowing what happened to Tracey would help them heal psychologically. Jeffrey is now around 60 and has since moved away from Oklahoma to pursue his career in Texas.

If anyone has any information on this case they are encouraged to call the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation:


Sources: Sleuths Investigate, Morbidology, People Magazine’s interview w/ Jeffery Neilson, NBC News

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