The Disappearance of Christi Jo Nichols

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EARLY LIFE:

Christi Jo Nichols was born on September 6, 1965 in Overton, Dawson County, Nebraska to Connie Stanley and Ken Williams. While she was young, her parents divorced, with Connie later marrying a man named Greg Stanley. As a result, her family, which already included two siblings, grew to include three stepbrothers.

Growing up, Christi was very shy and quiet. She placed a great importance on the concept of family and dreamed of one day becoming a mother.

In 1983, she graduated from Overton High School. She later attended a semester at college, but found it wasn’t for her. So she decided to drop out.

During her late teens, Christi moved to Gothenburg, Nebraska to leave with her paternal grandmother, Violet Williams, as she no longer wanted to follow the rules set set in place by her mother and stepfather. The move brought her to a town located within the heart of Nebraska’s farm belt, which had within it a strong sense of community.

Upon moving to Gothenburg, Christi met Mark Nichols, the man who would eventually become her husband. When they married in 1983, Christi was just 19 years old, and the pair soon became the parents of two young children: Lindsey, who was born in December 1984, and Preston, who was born in April 1986.

According to those who knew her, Christi was known for being a dedicated mother, whose life revolved around Mark and her children. However, that didn’t stop rumours spreading, which stated that the pair were having trouble. Connie was aware that something wasn’t quite right in regards to her daughter’s marriage, but she would later state she hadn’t realized just how bad it was, and Mark’s uncle, who owned the bar where Christi worked part-time, could sense the stress between the couple.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

In 1987, the pair’s marital problems began to escalate, as Mark was allegedly physically abusive toward Christi. Rumours began in regards to his abusive tendencies, but Mark denied all accusations, claiming Christi was the instigator and any injuries she suffered were the result of him protecting himself from her.

Christi was very open with her family regarding Mark’s behaviour and had confided that she wanted to leave her husband, but wasn’t sure how. She told Connie about him monitoring her phone calls, and her cousin, Debra Frederickson, would later reveal that Christi had shown her a bruise on her side, which she said was the result of Mark hitting her. Debra also shared that her cousin had told her that Mark had held her up against the wall, while choking her and stabbing the wall directly behind her, all while Lindsey was in the room.

10 days before her disappearance, Christi went to the emergency room for injuries allegedly caused by Mark. According to Mark, the pair had gotten into an argument after he’d asked her to stay home for the night, which resulted in Christi hitting and kicking him and burning his neck with a lit cigarette. After this, he tossed her onto their waterbed in self-defence and she landed on her hand, injuring her thumb. The doctor on duty, Dr. Carol Shackleton, saw her and noted how scared she seemed to be of Mark, speaking low and refusing to make eye contact, as he was just outside the door. This was not the first time Christi had seen Dr. Shackleton.

As a result of the abuse, Christi began seeing an abuse counsellor, which upset her husband. He threatened she’d never see the children again if she kept making appointments and made her promise to never go back. However, she refused to listen and continued to see the counsellor.

On December 9, 1987, Christi visited divorce attorney Claude Berreckman at his office in Cozad, Nebraska, approximately 10 miles outside of Gothenburg. According to Christi, she was afraid of Mark finding out, hence the reason why she’d decided to see an out-of-town lawyer. Due to the couple’s deteriorating marriage, she wanted to divorce Mark and gain full custody of the children. However, she was worried about supporting herself, as she didn’t have any money of her own. Berreckman noted that she seemed stressed and appeared to have been recently beaten, so the pair planned to contact the authorities and press charges against Mark for abuse. He also suggested Christi not return home and instead stay with her mother, but she refused.

Before she left Berreckman’s office, she made a follow-up appointment, at which time they had planned to move forward with the divorce proceedings. At this point, Berreckman contacted the Gothenburg Police Department to report Mark’s abuse. It’s believed that the then-police chief, who was friends with Christi’s husband, had informed Mark of her visit to the divorce lawyer.

When Christi went to his parents’ house, as they were babysitting the children, they refused to hand them back to their mother. Calls to the police department were of no help, as the police chief told her Mark was in his right to withhold the children and that she risked arrest if she didn’t leave the property. This is reportedly one of three times the chief had harassed Christi that day. The first had been while she was at a local Jack & Jill convenience store, while the second occurred in the middle of the street, where he told her she needed to get her act together.

Later that day, Christi made another visit to the abuse counsellor.

On December 10, 1987, the couple went Christmas shopping with Lindsey and Preston, a trip which also involved a visit with Santa Claus and dinner at Pizza Hut. According to Mark, he sensed a lot of anger coming from his wife. Once they completed their shopping, he and Christi left the kids with babysitter Diane Janssen and went to Pete’s Place, the bar where Christi worked. Diane had babysat for the couple numerous times and was surprised to see them going out, given she knew they weren’t getting along.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Just after 12:00am on December 11, 1987, Mark and Christi left the bar and stopped at an all-night convenience store. According to Mark, the pair had a good time that night. Between 12:30am and 1:00am, Mark came home. Diane had been doing her homework in front of the television at the time. The pair spent between five and 10 minutes speaking, and Mark paid her in cash. This struck Diane as odd, as Christi was normally the one to pay her for her services and it was normally done with a cheque.

When she was later spoken to by investigators, she would say she never saw, nor heard Christi enter the house. However, Mark would claim his wife had been five or six yards ahead of him and had gone straight upstairs to see the children, before heading to the main bathroom, which is why Diane hadn’t see her.

At 2:00am, Mark went to bed. This would be the last time he claims he saw Christi.

The children woke Mark up at around 7:00am. When he went to turn to Christi, he noticed she wasn’t in bed, and a subsequent search of the house revealed she was gone and that a suitcase was missing. Despite being alarmed at his wife’s sudden disappearance, Mark acted calm when her mother called around 9:30am that morning, saying Christi was still asleep in bed. According to Mark, he did this, so as to not worry Connie.

At 11:30am, Mark dropped the children off at Violet’s house and asked her to watch them while he looked for Christi. While he didn’t directly tell her of the disappearance, he did appear shaken and had asked if Christi’s grandmother had seen her. After this, he claims to have spent approximately two hours driving around Gothenburg looking for his wife. However, there are no witnesses to corroborate this.

At 1:37pm, Mark filed a missing persons report with the Gothenburg Police Department.

INVESTIGATION:

At the time of Christi’s disappearance, Connie was living 100 miles away in Lodgepole, Nebraska.

The Gothenburg Police Department initially handled the case, but were soon joined by the Nebraska State Patrol and the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office.

On December 12, 1987, Mark moved out of the couple’s home. A few days later, he packed up the family’s belongings and sold both their cars. According to Connie, Mark forged Christi’s signature on the titles in order to sell them.

When he spoke with police, Mark told them that Christi had only taken a purse and suitcase with her. Curiously, he was able to tell them exactly what she’d taken with her, which struck them as odd. According to Mark, the suitcase contained a pair of jeans, a sweatshirt, a bra and a jacket, while the purse held a hairbrush, a pen, a lighter and matchbook, lipstick, a tub of Neutrogena cream, a nail file, a mirror and one piece of gum.

A search of the house revealed that Christi had left behind the majority of her belongings, including diamond jewellery and her driver’s license. She also never picked up her last paycheque from the bar.

Toward the end of 1987, Mark took a polygraph test, but the results are said to have been inconclusive.

Trace amounts of Christi’s blood were found on the floor in the bedroom and in the trunk of Mark’s 1977 Mercury Cougar, but there wasn’t enough to indicate that she was deceased. While Mark tried to tell them it was menstrual blood, later DNA analysis would prove this statement to be false.

Police believe she was seeing another man at the time of her disappearance. A note was found in her car, where she’d written that she would be leaving after Christmas, but had promised to contact the unnamed man within a few months. Mark was seemingly aware of this and had suggested to authorities that she’d run off with him. He was interviewed by police and has been ruled out as a suspect.

Christi’s disappearance received very little media attention, as police suspected she was a runaway wife, as opposed to a victim of foul play. As such, her family spearheaded the search for her, distributing posters and asking people to call in with any information as to her whereabouts. They also hired a private detective named Dennis Whelan, who was given access to Christi and Mark’s home, where he uncovered blood under the laundry basket in the bedroom.

Despite thorough searches of the area in and around Gothenburg, no trace of Christi was found. In March 1988, Christi’s suitcase and purse were located, with everything still with them, at a rest stop on I-80, near Maxwell, Nebraska. The location is approximately 30 miles from Gothenburg. Police shared that it looked like the items had been deliberately placed, as opposed to thrown from a vehicle. It appeared to them that whoever had previously had the items had wanted them to be found.

Rumours began to spread about what Mark had done to Christi, including one that said he’d dismembered her, placed her body in plastic bags and buried her at the local landfill. Townspeople also speculated that she was buried in the local railroad overpass or entombed in one of the various construction projects that were occurring at the time.

In the mid-2000s, the case was one that the Nebraska State Patrol worked on with the help of a $250,000 grant.

Christi’s aunt, Joanne Kniss, moved to Omaha, Nebraska from North Platte, Nebraska to work with Whelan. She would later become a private investigator herself in order to follow up on leads related to the case. Christi’s father, Ken, says that he can’t say for sure if his daughter is dead, as there’s no evidence of foul play, nor any witnesses who saw anything suspicious.

The case has been included in a deck of playing cards that featured photographs of unsolved homicide victims, which were distributed to prisons and jails throughout Nebraska. The hope was that it would help produce leads that could help resolve Christi’s disappearance.

Attempts over the years to get investigators to open a grand jury investigation have been turned down due to a lack of evidence in the case.

On January 3, 2020, the case saw renewed interest after the Nebraska State Patrol released a press release.

While Christi’s case has since stalled, it remains open, with the Patrol’s cold case unit having worked on it on and off throughout the years. It’s currently being investigated as a probable homicide. Christi’s DNA is available for comparison, should a body be found, but her dentals and fingerprints are not on file. Her family has shared their criticism over the way the investigation has been handled, saying they feel it could have been solved if police had taken it more seriously from the beginning.

Currently, Mark is the only suspect in the case. However, he has never been charged.

THEORIES:

1) The primary (and only) theory in the case, and one both investigators and Christi’s family hold, is that she met with foul play, likely at the hands of Mark Nichols. This is due to Mark’s behaviour in the days after her disappearance – moving out of the family home, selling the family’s vehicles – as well as him being able to name everything she’d supposedly taken with her. There’s also his history of abuse, which is said to have been present before his marriage to Christi.

Christi’s family does not believe she would voluntarily leave on her own, given how much she loved her children, and Connie believes Mark beat her daughter to death before disposing of her body.

AFTERMATH:

The case was featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries, which prompted 150 calls to the show’s telecenter and 15 more to the Nebraska State Patrol. However, they didn’t produce anything.

Connie got temporary custody of Lindsey and Preston after her daughter went missing, but a judge placed them in foster care after four months. They were later returned to Mark, and Connie said she hardly got to see them, due to his influence. Lindsey now lives in Georgia, while Preston works in Lexington.

In 1990, Mark filed for divorce on the grounds that Christi had deserted him and the kids. He currently lives in Arkansas with his third wife.

Ken initially lived in Colorado after divorcing Connie, but later moved to Gothenburg after Christi’s disappearance, in order to be closer to the investigation.

In 2013, Claude Berreckman passed away at the age of 80 years old.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Christi Jo Nichols went missing from Gothenburg, Dawson County, Nebraska on December 11, 1987. She was 22 years old, and is believed to have been wearing a pair of blue jeans and hiking boots. At the time of her disappearance, she stood at 5’9″ and weighed approximately 120 pounds. She has brown hair and green eyes, and has a scar above her left eye and on her abdomen. Her ears are pierced.

Currently, the case is classified as a homicide and foul play is suspected. If alive, she would be 54 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the North Platte Office of the Nebraska State Patrol at 308-535-8047. Tips can also be called into the Patrol’s general number at 402-479-4049 or the Nebraska Missing Persons Information Clearinghouse at 1-877-441-5678.

Image Credit: Gothenburg Leader

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