Lincoln Journal Star from Lincoln, Nebraska on August 24, 2003 · 6
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Lincoln Journal Star from Lincoln, Nebraska · 6

Lincoln, Nebraska
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 24, 2003
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(2 Lincoln Journal Star SUNDAY SPECIAL Sunday, August 24, 2003 The Gothenburg home where Mark and Christi Jo Nichols lived. Investigators found blood matching Christi Jo's type in the bedroom, but not enough to build a credible case for murder. t A v T,, ..,.. - - .'...v . ' . .... mc:" ' ,,...".fii ' "V . ' ' LEAH THORSENLincoln Journal Star Christi Jo Continued from Page 1A "I felt real uneasy the day before she left because I felt a lot of anger coming from her," he said in an "Unsolved Mysteries" television interview that aired 11 months after she disappeared. In April 1990, Mark Nichols divorced his wife. He has said she abandoned him and their children, 3-year-old Lindsey and 1 -year-old Preston, on that winter night in 1987. He left Gothenburg in the early 1990s, remarried and has lived in Missouri and Arkansas, according to one Internet research service. Efforts to contact him by letter, telephone, Internet database searches and through family members were unsuccessful. Investigators say they don't know where he is either, but nearly 1 6 years after his wife's disappearance, he remains their only suspect. In newspaper and television interviews, Mark Nichols has denied allegations of abuse and involvement in Christi Jo's disappearance. He consistently has said he became the lone suspect simply because investigators couldn't find anyone else to blame. "They can't solve a case and they've got to find a guinea pig. They've got to find somebody to roast in this fire and it's me cause I have no alibi I really don't," he said in a 1989 Lincoln Journal Star interview. "If they find her (body) a couple miles west or north or south of here, hey, they'd come and get me no problem. But I am guilty of nothing." Sgt. Robert Frank, the State Patrol's cold case investigator, said he is 99.9 percent sure Christi Jo is 'dead. "This is a case that's waiting for something to happen," he said. But traces of her blood in the house and in Mark Nichols' 1 977 Mercury Cougar aren't enough to prove she is dead. The small amounts that were found indicate she could have survived her injuries, said Frank. "We can't get on the stand and say, 'Yes, this woman is dead.'" Patrol investigators Mel Messersmith and Terry Ahrens were assigned to the case three months after Christi Jo vanished. At that point, the missing-person case became a homicide investigation. And by that time, Messersmith said, many leads had gone cold. A spot of dried blood about the sb of a half-dollar in the Nicholses' bedroom had been overlooked by Gothenburg police, Messersmith said. Mark Nichols told investigators it was menstrual blood, and that he awoke the night his wife disappeared and saw her standing over the blood stain, Frank said. Tests proved the blood was Christi Jo's, and that it was not menstrual blood, he said. "It's disappointing we couldn't bring the case to a close, mainly for Connie's family," Messersmith said. Ahrens declined to be interviewed. According to Frank, the Patrol investigator, Nichols remains a suspect because no new evidence has been found that would clear him. Results from a December 1987 polygraph test were inconclusive, Frank said. Still, Frank insists, "his story isn't right" Investigators found it odd that Mark Nichols knew almost the exact contents of his wife's suitcase, which was found, along with her purse, at a rest stop near Maxwell in March 1988. The Patrol suspected that the suitcase had been left there for investigators to find. Also, Frank said, it's unlikely a woman who planned to leave her family would not take her diamond jewelry, which she could have pawned. Christi Jo's mother said Mark Nichols told her he was glad Christi Jo left. He said she was a bad mother who wanted a new life with a new man, Connie Stan-leysaid. "She was a very good mother," Stanley said. "There is no way she would have ever left those children." Even harder to believe, Stanley says, is that Christi Jo would have left without her driver's license or the paycheck and tip money from her part-time job at a local bar. "That's not somebody that's running off," she said. Investigators say it's likely Christi Jo had met another man. They point to a note they say she had written to him. "I want you to know I will probably be leaving town after Christmas and I will try not to see or talk to you until then," she wrote. In the note, which was found in the Nicholses' car, Christi Jo promised she would call the man in a couple of months. "It will all work out somehow. I'm really sorry." The man, whom authorities declined to identify, was questioned and ruled out as a suspect, Frank said, f Time has slowed the rumor mill in Gothenburg, but people here still think about Christi Jo. "Everybody still remembers it," said Larry Peterson, who lived on Mark and Christi Jo's block "Everybody's got a theory on where she's at, too." But Gothenburg Police Chief Randy Olson said the number of people who remember Christi Jo is dwindling. "I think, unfortunately, that a lot of people have forgotten," Olson said. Diane Wahlgren hasn't. She was 17 in 1987, and baby-sat lindsey and I'reston Nichols the last night their mother was seen alive. Wahlgren, now 33, said Mark and Christi Jo had gone out for the night, but when Mark came home around midnight he alone. "I didn't ever see her or hear her," said Wahlgren, Tvyo others who still are missing A murder trial without a body? Christi Jo Nichols isn't the only missing person in the state who authorities believe to be dead. Brendan Gonzalez, a 4-year-old Plattsmouth boy, has been missing since Jan. 6. He is presumed dead. His father, Ivan Henk, is suspected of killing the boy and putting his body in a Bellevue trash bin, where Brendan's blood was found. Local authorities have led the search for Brendan. : Intense efforts to find his body in a Sarpy County landfill have been unsuccessful. The case has raised the question of holding a murder trial without a body, which is relatively uncharted territory in Nebraska. The same question has been asked about Christi Jo Nichols' case. But drastic differences separate the stories of Brendan and Christi Jo: The only suspect in Christi Jo's disappearance has always maintained his innocence. The only suspect in Brendan's homicide i. i r 1 !'V1 vx I L- Jj GONZALEZ screamed in front of a crowd- y,!",V eo" courtroom, "The reason I killed Brendan is that he was uic ruiunii tat. i ic iiau uuu uii his forehead." Christi Jo was a 22-year- ij - j .i i i i it ii oiu aauil, wno Dy several ac--1 ': Z4 j counts felt trapped in an un- iiafijjy, jwaaiuiy uuuaivi. marriage. Certainly, she could have fled during the night to start a newule. Brendan was a child. In the first three months after Christi Jo vanished a critical time for gathering and processing clues her disappearance was treated as a missing person case and state investigators say police missed critical evidence, including a blood-stained piece of carpet. One day after Brendan disappeared, authorities shifted from searching for a missing child to investigating a homicide. A mother of three vanishes Almost a year has passed since any promising lead in the search for Regina Bos has made its way to Lincoln police. Nonetheless, police continue to treat Bos' disappearance as a search for a missing person, not a homicide investigation, said Lincoln Assistant Police Chief Jim Peschong. "It's kind of a strange case," he said. Bos, then a 40-year-old mother of three, was last seen leaving Duggans Pub, 440 S. 1 1th St., at closing time on Oct. 17, 2000. An avid musician, she had performed at BOS the 475-3600. bar's open microphone night. Her car was found across the street, the trunk slightly open, her beloved gui-tar inside. Bos was supposed to stop at her boyfriend's house that night She never showed up. She is described as 5-foot-6, 105 pounds, with auburn hair and brown eyes. Anyone with information about her disappearance should call Lincoln po lice at 441-7204 or CrimeStoppers at who is married with children of her own and lives in a neighboring county. Typically, she said, Christi Jo would pay her with a check and ask about the kids. That night, Wahlgren says, Mark Nichols paid her in cash. Wahlgren was watching television, but she says she has no doubt she would have noticed Christi Jo entering the house. "He came back alone," she said. . , In an interview with the Journal Star in 1989, Mark Nichols said Christi Jo walked in the house five feet ahead of him, which is why the babysitter didn't see . her. He said she went to the bathroom and stayed there for 15 minutes, according to the article. Wahlgren said she has been questioned by police and the FBI, but not since 1988. Connie Stanley has watched friends deal with the deaths of children. She envies them. "At least they know what happened and where they're at. There are a lot worse things than losing someone." She wants her daughter to have a proper grave, in a cemetery, with a tombstone. She wants to be able to go to that grave and put flowers on it, she says. If Christi Jo's body had been dumped in a field or in the woods, it would have been discovered by now, probably by a hunter, investigator Frank said. "Somebody would have found something," he said. - Christi Jo Nichols' granddaughter, Serenity, was born a year and a half ago. The baby's 19-year-old mother, Lindsey, writes periodically to Grandmother Stanley. Lindsey was married to a car salesman in Pea Ridge, Ark, but the couple was having marital problems, said Stanley, who had legal custody of Lindsey and her brother Preston for almost a year after their mother disappeared. They were in a foster home in Brady for awhile, too, before Mark Nichols got them back, Stanley said. She doesn't know what Lindsey has been told about Christi Jo. She said she doesn't want to seem like she's prying and scare her away. "What she knows is what (Mark) wants her to know," Stanley said. ' She wants a relationship with the granddaughter she hasn't spoken to since the early 1990s. She hasn't had any contact with Preston, now 17, since then, either. She sent packages to Christi Jo's children over the years. Each was returned, unopened, she says. She sent one package three times, and each time, it was returned. On Dec. 9, 1987, Christi lo Nichols visited the office of Cozad attorney Claude Berreckman Sr. He said she was stressed and appeared to have been beaten. Among other injuries, he said, her right thumb had been bent back to touch her forearm. In the 1989 "Unsolved Mysteries" interview, Mark Nichols said Christi Jo had hit, kicked and burned his neck with a cigarette when he asked her to stay home one night. "I tossed her onto the waterbed and she landed wrong and kind of twisted up her thumb under her," he said. Berreckman, now 70, said Christi Jo told him she wanted a divorce and custody of her kids. He said he urged her not to go back to Gothenburg and to let him call her mother. Christi Jo refused, but promised to return to the office. She didn't. He said Christi Jo has stayed close to his heart, and that he and two private investigators with whom he has worked want to see justice. Berreckman said he and Herb Compton of Kearney and Dennis Whalen of Omaha have amassed 23 items of evidence, and that he has pleaded with county attorneys through the years to convene a grand jury. Dawson County Attorney Elizabeth Waterman did not return repeated calls from the Journal Star to discuss the case. "We need to do something on this before us old-timers pass away," Berreckman said. "I want to see Mark Nichols tried and convicted of Christi Jo's murder." Christi Jo was a quiet, timid woman who was shy around strangers. "(She was) pretty and smart as a whip," her mother said, but Christi Jo always looked at the ground when she talked to people. She was terrified of speaking in front of groups. "I thought she would faint every Christmas program," Stanley said. It wasn't until she disappeared that Christi Jo became famous. Besides being featured on "Unsolved Mysteries," her disappearance was covered extensively by newspapers and television stations in Nebraska. But as the years passed, Stanley said, calls requesting interviews and photos of her daughter have dwindled, coming mostly near the anniversary of her disappearance. Sometimes, Stanley said, she has a hard time remembering dates and facts surrounding her daughter's disappearance. Facts and dates she once could rattle off without hesitation. Five years ago, Stanley thought about having a memorial service for her daughter. She decided against it "I don't want a memorial service. I want to lay her to rest" Stanley, 56, doesn't think she'll ever talk to Christi Jo agaia "At this point, I've put it in the Lord's hands because you'll lose your sanity," Stanley said. "I love my daughter, but you go on." Reach Leah Thonm at 472-7246 or Rhonenjoumalstar.coni Her mother believes Christi Jo, seen in this undated photo, never would have left her children. Hints of a marriage in trouble, a sudden disappearance: A timeline Dec. 9, 1987: Christi Jo Nichols visits a Cozad attorney and tells him she wants a divorce. She tells her husband, Mark Nichols, she wants a divorce and he takes their two children to his parents' home, where he and his wife argue and police are summoned.. Dec. 10, 1987: Christi Jo is seen alive at a Gothenburg bar with her husband. Dec. 11, 1987: Mark Nichols gets home after midnight and pays the baby sitter, who says he came home alone. Later, he will tell investigators Christi Jo came home with him and the two argued until 2 a.m. and that he woke later to see her "covered in blood" and sleeping on the bedroom floor. When he is awakened at 7 a.m. by the kids, Christi Jo is gone. Later that morning, he tells her mother she is sleeping and tells a counselor she is shopping. Later that morning, he drops the kids off at Christi Jo's paternal grandmother, telling her Christi Jo has run off with another man. A few hours later, he reports her missing to the Gothenburg Police Department. February 1988: The Nebraska State Patrol rules Christi Jo most likely is :-..dead. v: ' March 1988: A suitcase with two pairs of Christi Jo's jeans, a sweatshirt, bra and jacket and her purse with hair brush, pen, lighter, matchbook, lipstick, Neutrogena cream, lipstick, nail file, mirror, one piece of gum and one coin are found at Interstate 80 rest stop near Maxwell. Mark Nichols had described the exact contents to police. Christi Jo's mother, Connie Stanley, who has been caring for Lindsey and Preston Nichols since Feb. 13, gets temporary custody of them. May 1988: Mark Nichols says a Denver doctor calls to ask for Christi Jo's medical records. October 1988: Nearly 300 volunteers comb a 15-mile radius around Gothenburg; nothing useful is found. A piece of blood-soaked carpet and carpet pad and blood samples from Christi Jo's parents are sent to a New . York lab for analysis; results are inconclusive because the samples are too small. Several years later, testing will show the stain was Christi Jo's blood and that it was not menstrual blood. November 1988: "Unsolved Mysteries" airs a segment on Christi Jo's disappearance; the production company gets 150 calls and the Nebraska State Patrol office in North Platte gets 15. May 1989: Evidence is found near Brady during a search conducted by 100 volunteers; investigators won't say what it is. July 1989: A dog drags three bones to a farmer's house seven miles north of Cozad. Investigators say they could be Christi Jo's, but analysis shows they belong to either a pig or a deer. August 1989: Newly appointed Dawson County Attorney John Marsh says he plans to review Christi Jo's case file. A dog trained to find odor of decaying flesh makes a hit at a campground between Gothenburg and Cozad, but it's a dead end. April 1990: Mark Nichols divorces Christi Jo. May 1990: A judge dismisses a federal lawsuit filed by Mark Nichols against Connie Stanley in which he says she illegally taped phone calls he made to his children while they lived with her. December 1992: State Patrol Investigator Steve Mueller says a person questioned about Chnsti Jo's disappearance in recent weeks leads to a dead end. December 1994: Christi Jo's aunt Joanne Kniss and grandmother Violet Williams call for a grand jury investigation. State Patrol Sgt. Dave Elliott says the case is still open but that no officer is following leads full-time. From investigation reports, interviews and Journal Star archives

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