Thursday, JAN. 10, 2019- Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis and Detective George Loydgren held a joint press conference to announce that the department had solved a sexual battery case dating back to 1983. Through advanced DNA testing techniques, they were finally able to put a name and a face to the man who raped a twelve-year-old Ridge Manor girl thirty-five years ago.
On an April day in that year three young girls were alone after school at their home. They were nine, ten and twelve years old. One of the young girls heard a knock on the door and answered it. She saw a man standing there that none of them knew. He proceeded to ask them some questions, such as whether or not their father was home. Then they closed the door. A short time later the man came into the house through the garage. He took one of the girls at knife point and instructed the twelve year old that if she didn’t do exactly what he said he would injure or kill one or both of the sisters. The assailant then took the eldest girl into the bedroom and raped her.
During questioning right after the incident the girls stated that he was a white male between the ages of thirty and fifty. One remarkable thing that the victim said was that the suspect was unusually calm in the way he committed this brutal crime.
Sheriff Nienhuis stated, “Because it was a complete stranger and involved very young girls and happened long before DNA testing there wasn’t a lot to go on. The detectives did collect evidence, such as bed sheets, clothes, semen etc. from the crime scene. Back then the only thing they were able to get from this evidence was blood type, which would help to exclude a suspect, but it was difficult to narrow it down to an individual.”
The sheriff’s office never caught the suspect and the evidence sat dormant until around 2005 when the evidence was submitted for DNA testing. However, they did not find a match in any of the databases and the case remained unsolved for another thirteen years.
In the meantime, Detective Loydgren was assigned to the cold case and stayed up-to-date on the latest advances in DNA testing. He became aware of a company called Parabon NanoLabs (Parabon), a DNA technology company in Virginia that specializes in DNA phenotyping. It is used in genetic genealogy and can narrow the pool of possible individuals by learning about the person’s ancestry and appearance. This can be anything from eye color to face shape, even freckling. Loydgren, along with investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) lab, and DNA International, a private forensic lab located in Deerfield Beach, Florida worked together with Parabon to help identify one or more suspects. Parabon developed a profile consistent with the evidence obtained in 1983.
Additionally Parabon conducted a genetic genealogy analysis and provided the results to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO). Parabon is usually able to narrow the suspect list from a person who was a white male between thirty and fifty years old to several members in a family, sometimes dozens up to 100 possible suspects.
They found a possible match in William Louis Nichols. Although, Nichols had died in 1998 and they could not obtain his DNA, investigators were able to get DNA from a cooperating family member. Scientists compared it to the DNA found at the scene of the crime and discovered, according to Sheriff Nienhuis, “There was about a “99.99% chance that he was the one, as opposed to any random person, who left his DNA at the scene of the rape back in 1983.”
What makes it even more likely that Nichols committed the crime is that he had a history of sexual battery with cases in Wisconsin going back as far as 1961. In all the cases, he either served a short jail sentence or was found incompetent to face trial. Also, at the time of the 1983 rape, he was self-employed in a vending machine service business and was traveling around central FL quite a bit around that time.
Detective Loydgren broke the news to the victim, now in her forties and with children of her own, this past New Year’s Eve.
Loydgren stated, “The physical damage is long gone, but the psychological effects of something like this lasts forever. When we got to her house, she said, ‘I know what this is about.’”
She began to tell him that she has tried to put it all behind her. She’s done with it and has tried to put it out of her mind. “You guys are never going to catch the guy,” she said.
When Loydgren told her they had identified a suspect and related the steps in solving the crime, the woman was shocked. He told her the man’s name and showed her a picture of him taken around the time he had committed the rape.
“She was very happy and thankful. It was very satisfying to me to have a good positive closing on this case. She doesn’t have to worry about this individual ever coming back, coming around her home or victimizing her children,” Loydgren continued.
Why William Louis Nichols committed the crime and why he chose this particular family is a secret that lies buried with him. However, the sheriff’s office is researching other crimes to see if he fits the profile to any other unsolved cases. The department is sending the DNA testing results out state-wide and throughout the United States.
“Hopefully solving this case will allow some other cases to be solved,” Detective Loydgren concluded.