LOCAL NEWS

Utah deputies identify suspect in 1972 murder, rape case; still looking for second suspect

Nov 23, 2022, 11:45 AM | Updated: 7:40 pm

VERNAL, Utah — A suspect in a murder and rape case from 1972 involving an Army veteran and his date has been identified, according to Uintah County deputies.

“Daniel Arthur Bell, who died in 2019, has been identified through extensive DNA testing as one of two men suspected of killing Gregory Dahl Nickell nearly 50 years ago at a scenic overlook west of Vernal,” read a Wednesday morning press release from the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office.

Gregory Dahl Nickell, 21, was shot and killed in Vernal on Nov. 26, 1972. Fifty years later, one of the suspects in the case was identified. (Uintah County Sheriff’s Office)

According to the release, Nickell, who had recently returned to Vernal after being honorably discharged from the Army, drove up to a scenic overlook with a woman on Nov. 26, 1972.

“He was kind and he was extremely friendly and just the sweetest person you’d ever want to know,” his sister Lynnette Ray said.

Just after 1 a.m., a man approached Nickell’s car window, saying there had been a crash and that he should drive into Vernal to report it. Nickell, who was 21 at the time, said he would help, but as the man turned from the window, he shot Nickell with a .22-caliber pistol.

Deputies said the man fired at least three more shots before shoving Nickell’s body onto the 18-year-old woman in the passenger seat. The man then got into the car and started driving on U.S. Highway 40.

Ray said, “To come home and take a girl out on a date and then have that happen to him is just, it’s heinous. There’s just no describing how horrible it was.”

“The woman told investigators the man pointed a gun at her head and threatened her as he drove,” the release stated.

At some point, a second car pulled up behind them, flashed its headlights and then pulled around them. When the man in the first car started to follow, that’s when deputies say the woman realized the attacker had a partner.

The two men, according to the release, eventually came to a stop at a remote area near current day Brough Reservoir.

Deputies said the woman told investigators she was moved to the backseat of the second vehicle, where her head was then covered with a coat or blanket.

Shortly after, the two men used gas from Nickell’s car to set it on fire while his body was still inside.

Ray said, “My mom died at a young age, 62. My dad died at 68. It wore and tore at them until the day they died. And my younger brother passed away a little over a year ago.”

Ray said it’s been tough on her whole family over the years not having answers.

“I haven’t gotten over it. I can’t get over it,” Ray said.

“The men then drove around for several hours with the woman. She told investigators each man raped her once before they left her on the side of the highway near Duchesne, about 60 miles from where she had been abducted,” the release stated.

The woman then walked to a nearby farmhouse for help. While there, she alerted law enforcement to what had happened.

Deputies said she was unable to provide investigators with a good description of her attackers — whom she referred to in interviews as “Tex” and “Johnny” — or where she had been taken to after Nickell was murdered.

“The men kept her head covered for most of her ordeal, she said, so she wasn’t able to see much.”

According to the release, a police officer in Rangely, Colorado, reported seeing a car occupied by two men and a woman that night. The officer said it made a U-turn, then sped away, headed toward the Book Cliffs.

“The sheriff’s office set up roadblocks and conducted a four-day air and ground search of the Book Cliffs, but had no luck finding the men or their vehicle.”

Deputies said sheriff’s investigators also sent more than 30 pieces of evidence to the FBI Crime Lab for analysis, but nothing came of it and the case went cold.

“Forensic evidence collected from the woman at the hospital in Vernal shortly after her kidnappers released her, however, turned out to be the key to identifying Bell as a suspect; even though it took almost five decades for science and technology to make it possible,” the release stated.

That evidence, according to the release, was resubmitted by sheriff’s investigators in Jan. 2020.

Deputies said two “unknown male” DNA profiles came up at the Utah Bureau of Forensic Services, where the evidence had been sent. That information was then submitted to state and national databases.

In Sept. 2020, detectives were told one of the two profiles matched Bell, who they also learned had died in March 2019 in Yakima, Washington, and had been cremated.

After that discovery, two detectives — identified as Vance Norton and Chase Hall — began gathering more information on Bell.

“They learned that Bell lived in the Uintah Basin at the time of the crime. He worked on a ranch in the Book Cliffs south of Vernal and was familiar with the area’s backroads.”

At some point after 1972, Bell moved away from Utah.

According to the release, he was convicted of rape in Oregon in 1988, was paroled in 1999, and moved to Washington state, where he remarried.

“Bell’s widow in Washington has cooperated with sheriff’s investigators, as have members of his family in the Uintah Basin,” the release stated.

Deputies said Norton and Hall obtained samples from two of Bell’s adult children in Utah and submitted them to the crime lab.

According to the lab, when those samples were compared to Bell’s DNA profile, it came back consistent with a parent/child relationship.

Although the second suspect involved in this crime has still not been identified, deputies say they’re hopeful Bell’s identification will bring additional information to light that will lead them to him. In the release, they say the unidentified suspect is believed to be younger than Bell by several years.

Gregory Dahl Nickell pictured with his mother. (Uintah County Sheriff’s Office)

“We are committed to finding 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,” Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum said. “It’s a tragedy that it’s taken 50 years to identify one suspect. It’s my hope that, with the public’s help, we will identify the other suspect much, much sooner.”

“Greg’s family deserves answers. The woman who was sexually assaulted that night deserves answers. If you’re the person who can help us give them answers, please come forward now and talk with our investigators,” Labrum added.

Anyone with information about the case has been asked to call 435-781-6700 or email coldcase@uintah.utah.gov.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Local News

The 6-month-old troublemaker leading first responders on a chase on I-80. (Salt Lake County Animal ...
Michael Houck

Stray dog runs loose at entrance of Parleys Canyon freeway

A stray puppy gave first responders a slow-speed chase on the highway entrance of Parleys Canyon Sunday.
19 hours ago
Lava flowing from Mauna Loa Volcano during the night. (KSL-TV's Carissa Hutchinson)...
Shelby Lofton

‘It’s kind of an eerie feeling;’ Utah man living in Hawaii witnesses Mauna Loa eruption

A Utah man has a front-row seat to the Mauna Loa Volcano eruption happening on the Big Island of Hawaii.
19 hours ago
(FILE) Utah Tech University in St. George is pictured on Friday June 10, 2022. On July 1, what was...
Michael Houck

Utah Tech student dead after accidently falling from balcony

ST. GEORGE, Utah — A freshman Utah Tech University student is dead after accidentally falling from a fifth-floor balcony early Sunday morning. In a Utah Tech statement, student Peyton Hall fell from the fifth-floor balcony at Campus View Suites II at approximately 2:30 a.m. while with roommates and friends. The witnesses called 911, and first […]
19 hours ago
Three men are facing federal charges for allegedly robbing a postal carrier at gunpoint and taking ...
Brooke Williams

Man arrested after lengthy search, one still wanted

A 22-year-old man was arrested early Sunday after fleeing from a traffic stop.
19 hours ago
A West Valley police car. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)...
Brooke Williams

Two dead after crashing into parked truck

Two died in a crash in West Valley.
19 hours ago
Keith Jensen's Christmas home lit up by all the festive lights. (KSL-TV)...
Michael Locklear

Millcreek man lights up neighborhood with the face of Santa

Millcreek man is spreading Christmas cheer through tens of thousands of lights all around his home.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Portrait of smiling practitioner with multi-ethnic senior people...
Summit Vista

How retirement communities help with healthy aging

There are many benefits that retirement communities contribute to healthy aging. Learn more about how it can enhance your life, or the life of your loved ones.
Utah deputies identify suspect in 1972 murder, rape case; still looking for second suspect