Vietnam veteran Gregory Dahl Nickell was just 21 years old when he was brutally murdered at a scenic overlook over Thanksgiving weekend in 1972. Now, nearly 50 years later — and after a high-profile, costly phony arrest — law enforcement this time insist they’ve finally found the elusive killer.
The tragedy happened on the evening of November 26, 1972. Nickell and his date were parked in a car when the attacker approached with a ruse.
“A man knocked on the window and Greg rolled it down,” the woman testified in a 1992 arraignment on behalf of the falsely accused man Deseret News. “He told him there had been an accident and they needed help. Greg said “sure” and started rolling up the window, then started shooting. Greg fell into the seat on the first shot, but then sat up. The man fired again. Greg leaned back in the seat and kept spinning.”
According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, the shooter pushed his victim into the front passenger seat and drove away with Nickell’s date. The killer chased another car about 30 miles southwest before dumping Nickell’s vehicle and body in a remote area near Brough Reservoir in Uintah County.
As it turned out, the second car was being driven by an accomplice. Two men then used gasoline to set fire to Nickell’s car and body.
For nearly six hours, the woman, her head mostly covered by a bag or blanket, was driven to multiple locations in Uintah and Duchesne counties. After driving approximately 60 miles from the scene of the kidnapping, the men took turns raping her.
The woman, who was never identified, was eventually left on the side of the road. She made it to a farmhouse and called for help.
A massive manhunt ensued, but the two men were never caught.
1992, then Uintah County Attorney Harry Souvall announced that Utah’s longest unsolved murder has been solved. He said using new forensic techniques – DNA testing – would prove it Willard Dale Taylor was the man who fired the shots that took Nickell’s life.
Instead, DNA acquitted Taylor. He later filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office for false arrest, but it was dismissed. During the seven weeks he was imprisoned, Taylor’s wife divorced him, his reputation was ruined, he was financially ruined and his children were shamed by the community. Even after the charges were dropped, suspicion lingered for Taylor and his children.
“I can’t get it out of my head,” Taylor said Deseret News 1993 after filing the unsuccessful lawsuit. “That’s all I ever think about. I keep looking over my shoulder. When I drive, I always look in the rearview mirror. Even though I’ve been proven innocent, I’m still scared they’ll attack me.”
In 1998, after turning to binge drinking and then drugs following false allegations, Taylor died and was ostracized.
“People were like, ‘I know this guy, I know this guy, his dad killed someone,’ and that just didn’t sit well with me,” says Taylor’s son wes taylor Salt Lake City-based ABC affiliate KTVX said in March 2020.
In September 2020, forensic evidence taken from the woman in 1972 by the receiving hospital was retested by the Utah State Crime Laboratory. Two DNA profiles were developed. These profiles were submitted to various databases. One of the profiles turned out to be a hit.
Daniel Arthur Bell is now suspected of shooting and killing Nickell and then raping the woman with another man. Bell, a former Marine, died and his body was cremated in 2019. He was 87 years old.
Authorities say they are still looking for the younger suspect, who is believed to be several years younger than Bell.
“We are determined to find out the truth, committed to finding the other person responsible for taking Greg from his family and forever changing the life of the woman who was with Greg that night,” he said Sheriff of Uintah County Steve Labrum said. “It is a tragedy that it has taken 50 years to identify a suspect. I hope that with the public’s help, we can identify the other suspect much, much sooner.”
[images via Uintah County Sheriff’s Office]
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