West Bank’s Chester experienced early trauma as a child

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More details are emerging about the background of the late squatter known in the West Bank and environs as Chester, who grew up on a farm in central Minnesota as Bruce Nelson and suffered family trauma early in life.

According to people who lived in the area outside Zimmerman, Minn., the world of the boy born as Bruce Nelson was shattered as a boy by an auto accident in Iowa during a family trip. The crash stripped him of his mother and younger sister, who died. His brother and his father were left severely injured when a truck pulled out in front of the family car.

Nelson was the only one conscious when police arrived, according to a relative who asked not to be identified. Another woman who went to a Methodist church with the family recalls it taking months for Bruce’s legs to heal.

His father, Arthur, eventually remarried but Bruce didn’t get along well with his stepmother, according to Lona DeMars, a slightly older neighbor who went to school with Bruce. “He was very smart. He was almost too smart,” she said.

At one point, the relative said, Bruce confided during a 4H tour of his father’s Christmas tree farm that he’d been made to sleep in the barn. Those who knew him as a boy said they considered him odd or a loner. “Nobody knew him well. He was different,” DeMars said. He left home at an early age.

The man known as Chester to people in the University of Minnesota area for decades sported a top hat and lived under the Tenth Avenue Bridge in a squatter’s compound with a wooden shed and metal crate for shelter.  He was found dead on Saturday evening by his longtime female companion. He was in his mid-60s.

(Photo above: Chester on the Stone Arch Bridge by Stefan Presslein; photo below: Chester in downtown Minneapolis by A. Carl Photography)

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