The Abduction of Morgan Nick

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*This article was used as the basis for an episode of John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast.*

EARLY LIFE:

Morgan Chauntel Nick was born the eldest of three children on September 12, 1988. Her parents, Colleen and Morris John Nick, amicably divorced six years later.

Morgan is described as having been a shy girl who was on the quiet side. She didn’t talk to strangers and only interacted with someone after she’d gotten to know them. An active Girl Scout, she loved arts and crafts, as well as her newly-adopted kitten, with whom she slept every night.

When she grew up, she wanted to be both a circus performer and a doctor.

LEAD UP TO DISAPPEARANCE:

Morgan and her mother were invited by a family friend to attend a Little League Baseball game at Wofford Field in Alma, Arkansas on June 9, 1995. The location was approximately 30 minutes from the family home, and wanting to spend some quality time with her daughter, Colleen accepted the invitation.

The baseball game was a late one, starting around 9:00pm. For the majority of it, Morgan sat on the bleachers with her mother, but at around 10:30pm was approached by two friends – a girl and a boy who were a few years older – who asked if she wanted to catch fireflies near the baseball field. At first, Colleen was hesitant about letting her daughter go, as they were unfamiliar with the area, but after being told by other parents that it was a safe area, she eventually agreed.

The trio went to play nearby, close enough that Colleen was able to check on Morgan. She claims to have checked on the children around three or four times prior to her daughter’s disappearance.

DISAPPEARANCE:

Morgan was last seen by her friends around 10:45pm. She’d gone to her mother’s Nissan Stanza to empty sand out of her shoes, while her friends did the same just a few feet away. The baseball game ended not long after. Colleen watched the teams walk off the diamond toward the bleachers, momentarily turning away from her daughter.

The two children approached Morgan’s mother alone. When asked where Morgan was, they appeared unconcerned, saying she was by the car. However, when Colleen walked toward the vehicle, her daughter wasn’t there.

After desperately looking around the parking lot, a coach saw Colleen’s growing panic and contacted the local authorities to report Morgan missing. Deputies arrived within six minutes. While they initially thought the 6-year-old had wandered off and gotten lost, they soon began to suspect something more nefarious had occurred.

Colleen went to the police department that night, where she called her ex-husband to inform him of the situation.

SEARCH:

The Alma Police Department immediately launched an investigation into Morgan’s disappearance, reaching out to the FBI and Arkansas State Police, as well as the media. They turned the town’s courtroom into a call centre to collect tips, and the FBI set up a mobile command centre in the building’s parking lot. The Nick family temporarily moved into the fire station across the street, which later became the headquarters for the volunteer search.

Witnesses came forward to say they’d seen an unidentified White man watching Morgan play in the field earlier that evening and alleged he’d approached her and the other two children. When spoken to by investigators, Morgan’s friends verified the sightings, adding they’d seen a “creepy” man speaking to her as she was putting on her shoes by the Nissan Stanza.

Based on the witness accounts, investigators were able to determine the man was between 23 and 38 years old, with a medium-to-solid build, standing at around 6’0″ and weighing 180 pounds. He had black or salt-and-pepper hair that was combed back and possibly curly, as well as a mustache, a beard with approximately three-to-four days’ growth and a hairy chest. He allegedly spoke with a “hillbilly”-type accent, and was only wearing a pair of cut-off blue jean shorts.

Of particular interest was his vehicle, a red pickup truck – likely a Chevy Silverado or S10 – with a white camper shell. It had a dull paint job, a short wheelbase and possibly an Arkansas license plate. The camper appeared to be around 4”-5” shorter than the truckbed, had damage to its right rear-end and had curtains covering the windows. After reviewing home videos taken at the Little League game, investigators were able to obtain stills of the vehicle. However, the quality was too poor to get a clear image of its driver.

The pickup truck is said to have left the baseball field’s parking lot around the same time Morgan went missing. In the days following her disappearance, the authorities received numerous reports of suspicious activity involving the driver and children in an Alma neighbourhood.

It’s believed the individual may also be responsible for two attempted child abductions in the area on June 9 and 10, 1995. On June 9, a suspect resembling the man tried to entice a four-year-old girl into a red pickup truck, but was interrupted after she began screaming, prompting her mother to come to her aid. The second attempted abduction occurred in Fort Smith, just 15 miles from Alma. An unidentified man tried to lead a nine-year-old girl into the men’s restroom at a convenience store, only for her to resist. According to her, he too resembled the man believed to be involved in Morgan’s disappearance.

At Wofford Field, investigators gathered empty bottles, cigarette butts and other items that may have been used by Morgan’s abductor. DNA was taken from what was collected, but it’s currently unknown if any of the matches are connected to the case.

Both Morgan’s parents have been ruled out as suspects. Later, an investigative report published by Today In Fort Smith in 2006 revealed John Nick’s past encounters with law enforcement, including charges related to drugs and battery.

According to the report, Nick was charged in July 1987 with the following:

  • Battery in the third degree
  • A legacy system criminal violation
  • Criminal mischief in the second degree

Nearly 20 years later, in January 2006, he was charged with:

  • Two charges of possession of a controlled counterfeit substance, a Class C felony
  • Possession of drugs and firearms
  • Endangering the welfare of a minor in the second degree
  • Possession, use, delivery and/or advertising of drug paraphernalia

As part of a plea deal, the charge for endangering the welfare of a child was dropped.

The author of the report, Shirley Boulder, learned through court records that Nick’s involvement in drugs led him to associate with a man named Clifford Joe Pullan. During an undercover investigation, Nick told a confidential informant that Pullan was his drug dealer, and a subsequent search of police records showed he’d previously been arrested for drug trafficking.

Of greater interest, however, was a charge from July 1995 – the violation of a minor in the first degree – just one month after Morgan went missing. The conviction spurred parole revocations for earlier crimes, for which he served no time, other than a six month sentence for harassment. An individual by the name of “Rick” also posted online that Pullan had a history of trading illicit drugs for sex with underage females.

That, paired with his likely access to the Nick home, led Boulder to theorize he may have had some involvement in Morgan’s disappearance. However, it should be noted this is a theory presented by a member of the press and not by law enforcement.

In late June 1995, investigators received a tip from Stuttgart, Arkansas. A man named Albert Harvey called the Alma Police Department to report he’d been working in his yard when he caught a man trying to break into his pickup truck. What struck him as odd was that he had a young girl with him, who he believed resembled Morgan. The tip resulted in an extensive search of the area, which included helicopters and search dogs. Harvey was also given two polygraph tests, which he failed. This prompted him to admit he’d made up the story, saying someone had tried to steal his truck, but that the individual didn’t have a child with him.

For his deception, he was arrested.

On January 15, 2002, state police and the FBI conducted a search of a private property in Booneville, Arkansas after receiving a very “specific” tip that claimed Morgan may have been buried there. A cadaver dog was brought in to assist, but nothing related to the case was uncovered. Following the search, investigators shared they didn’t intend to return to the property.

Federal investigators searched another property, a mobile home in Spiro, Oklahoma, on November 15, 2010. They were hoping to locate DNA evidence to show Morgan was once held in the location, but little was released regarding the results of the search.

The same location was searched just over seven years later, in December 2017, by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation (OSBI), the FBI and local investigators. The renewed search was prompted by a tip that came in through the case task force, though it was not directly related to Morgan’s disappearance. Cadaver dogs were brought in and hit on a well on the property, but the search was called off after one day, as no evidence was uncovered.

According to police, the owner of the property has been a person of interest in the case since the beginning of the investigation. He is currently incarcerated on unrelated child molestation and rape charges.

In August 2012, Tonya Smith and James Monhart, convicted felons, were arrested after Smith was caught trying to purchase personal documents belonging to Morgan, including her birth certificate. It’s also alleged she used her social security number. Despite their actions, the pair aren’t thought to be connected to the case.

At one point, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children launched a statewide campaign aimed at generating more tips about the case. This involved the construction of billboards along I-40, in the Alma and Fort Smith areas, as well as in Little Rock and northwest Arkansas. Each featured an age-progression image of Morgan, as well as a number people could call with any information they might have.

In 2019, the OSBI included Morgan’s picture in a set of cold case playing cards, which were distributed to local prisons. Hers was among a host of other unsolved disappearances and murders from the general area to be featured in the deck.

The latest break in the case came in November 2021, when the FBI announced a man named Billy Jack Lincks was a person of interest – the first person to be publicly named as such. According to investigators, he’d been on their radar for approximately three years.

Lincks passed away in 2000 while serving a 6-year prison sentence for sexual indecency with a child. The conviction was the result of an attempted child abduction, which occurred just two months after Morgan went missing and only eight miles from Wofford Field. An 11-year-old girl was at a local Sonic restaurant with her brothers and a friend on the evening of August 29, 1995, when Lincks pulled up in a pickup truck and began talking to her. She alleged the conversation turned to “sexual matters,” before he offered her money to come back with him to his house.

Frightened, the girl ran away. Lincks fled the scene, but struck a pole as he drove away. A witness who’d noted his truck’s license plate helped the authorities link him to the attempted abduction. Tests done on the inside of the truck indicated blood on part of the seat and hair in various areas, but no testing was done at the time. The FBI has declined to say if any further tests have been conducted. However, they did say the items were saved following the initial tests.

Following his arrest, a neighbour also informed police that he thought Lincks’ pickup truck once had a camper shell over its bed. While the FBI never administered him a polygraph, there were reports he was polygraphed by another law enforcement agency at the time of his arrest.

The FBI is trying to learn more about Lincks’ life. Presently, they know he was born in Crawford County, Arkansas and served in the United States Army during the Second World War. Between 1962 and 1974, he worked for Braniff Airlines in Dallas, Texas, before moving back to Arkansas – this time to Van Buren – in the late 1970s. Prior to his death, he may have had ties to adjacent states.

Courts records indicate Lincks had previously been convicted of sexually abusing a young girl, pleading no contest to child sexual abuse in 1993. He was given a suspended sentence and ordered to undergo counselling.

As of 2021, law enforcement continues to receive new leads in the case, which are “investigated at the local, state and federal level”. Thousands of tips have been followed up on and hundreds of interviews conducted since 1995, leading to a case file that fills an entire room. There have also been numerous unconfirmed sightings, but still no clues as to Morgan’s whereabouts or that of the person who abducted her.

There is currently a $60,000 reward being offered by the FBI and local community members for information leading to Morgan and those responsible for her disappearance.

Morgan’s dental records and DNA are available for comparison, should her remains be located. However, her parents still firmly believe she is alive and hope that continued public awareness about the case will bring her home.

AFTERMATH:

Following her daughter’s disappearance, Colleen Nick established the Morgan Nick Foundation, after it became apparent there was a need for an organization capable of providing immediate assistance to families of missing children. It covers three primary areas:

  • Intervention: Offering the assistance of trained search and rescue workers; support for families; the printing and disseminating of missing persons flyers; coordinating resources; and acting as a liaison between law enforcement and the media.
  • Education: Providing education about safety and abduction prevention to parents, children, communities and teachers.
  • Legislation: Advocating for legislation that works to protect the rights of children. Examples of this are the signing of the Federal Mandate for Missing Children and Megan’s Law, the latter of which requires the registration of sex offenders.

The foundation also holds an annual conference targeted toward families of long-term missing children. The aim is to discuss issues surrounding ongoing searches for their loved ones.

In Arkansas, the AMBER Alert service was renamed the Morgan Nick AMBER Alert.

Morgan’s disappearance has been featured on America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries, while the Nick family appeared on a 2005 episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, after their home was damaged in a water heater explosion. In April 2021, the case was featured in Still Missing, a documentary aired on THV11. According to investigators, it led to 300 leads being called in, many of which were credible and involved previously-unknown information.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Morgan Chauntel Nick went missing from Alma, Crawford County, Arkansas on June 9, 1995. She was six years old, and was last seen wearing a green Girl Scouts t-shirt, blue denim shorts and white tennis shoes. At the time of her disappearance, she had strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes and five visible silver caps on her molars, which were scheduled to be removed in 2000. As well, her teeth were crowded, meaning that, if she were still alive, she would have needed braces when she was a teenager.

It’s also noted that she has a protruding purple vein on the lower left side of her ribcage.

Currently, the case is classified as a non-family abduction. If alive, Morgan would be 33 years old.

Those with information regarding the case are asked to contact the Alma Police Department at 479-632-3333 or the Arkansas State Police at 501-783-5195. Tips can also be called into the FBI at 479-452-5873 or the Morgan Nick Foundation at 1-877-543-4673.

Image Credit: NBC News

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