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Utah cops make big break in Army vet murder, rape woman

Uintah County Sheriff's Department

Uintah County Sheriff’s Department

A month after being honorably discharged from the US Army, Greg Dahl Nickell took his sister’s college roommate out on a date.

The couple drove to the top of a scenic overlook near Vernal, Utah, where a man walked over to their car and rapped on the window. The stranger told Nickell there had been an accident and he needed help. He then pulled out a gun and shot the 21-year-old three times.

The gunman climbed into the car and pushed Nickell’s body onto the terrified student. He drove them west until a second vehicle with flashing lights pulled up behind them. It was then, the 18-year-old girl later told police, that she realized her kidnapper had a partner.

The couple, who appeared to be referring to themselves as “Tex” and “Johnny,” took them to a remote corner of the desert, where they doused Nickell’s car in gasoline and set it on fire. The men forced the girl into the second car, took turns driving, and sexually assaulted her. Hours later they stopped and dumped her at the side of the freeway.

One of the men “bent down next to her, he rotated her body with her shoulders and said, ‘Now don’t open your eyes,'” Nickell’s sister, Lynnette Nickell Ray, told ABC4 Utah in 2020. Once the girl heard her car pull away, she was told she was allowed to get up and get help, according to Nickell Ray.

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<p>Greg Dahl Nickell pictured with his mother.</p>
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<div class="inline-image__credit">Uintah County Sheriff</div>
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Greg Dahl Nickell pictured with his mother.

Uintah County Sheriff

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Greg Dahl Nickell pictured with his mother.

Uintah County Sheriff

That was on November 26, 1972. Despite a frantic four-day air and ground search of the surrounding mountain range, police were unable to locate the woman’s attackers, whose faces they could not get a good look at. The trail went cold.

“Greg was good and kind and easygoing,” Nickell Ray wrote in a Facebook memorial poem earlier this month. “… There wasn’t a bus depot or airport where he didn’t meet someone he knew.”

On Wednesday — nearly 50 years after the day of the murder and rape — Uintah County authorities announced they had made an amazing breakthrough by identifying a suspect in the case: Daniel Arthur Bell.

Bell died in 2019 after long ago relocating from Utah, where he worked as a ranch hand south of Vernal circa 1972. He had settled in Yakima, Wash. after being convicted of a 1988 rape in Oregon after a firing from the Uintah County Sheriff’s Department. Following the reopening of Nickell’s murder case in 2020, Bell emerged as a possible forensic match and detectives were able to locate his family. Investigators compared evidence from the crime scene to that of Bell’s two adult children and found a match.

However, the identity of the other man is still unknown, and the investigation is still open and ongoing, according to Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum. “Greg’s family deserves answers,” he said. “The woman who was sexually abused that night deserves answers.”

In his statement, Labrum asked that anyone with information contact the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office as soon as possible. “It’s a tragedy that it took 50 years to identify a suspect,” he said. “I hope that with the public’s help, we can identify the other suspect much, much sooner.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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