Nebraska is mostly peaceful and picturesque, but there are some times that we, like every other place on Earth, experience tragedies and mysteries. These 6 sad stories and one incredibly happy story all took place right here in Nebraska.
The Disappearance of Christi Jo Nicols
Christi Nichols was a 22-year-old mother of two when she disappeared from her Gothenburg home on December 10, 1987. She and her husband had not been getting along for some time, and Christi had recently been seen by a doctor for injuries thought to have been caused by domestic violence. Her husband claimed that they both went to bed at 2 am, and he noticed that she was gone when he woke up, but claimed to have no other knowledge of her location or condition. The day after her disappearance, her husband moved out of their house. Just a few weeks later, he packed up her clothes and sold both of their cars. All that has ever been found of Christi is a suitcase of her belongings 30 miles outside of town approximately three months after her disappearance. No one has ever been charged with her murder.
The Death of Julie Derrick
19-year-old Julie Derrick's family thought she had run away from her North Platte home after she disappeared on October 19, 1995. Her body wasn't found until July 9, 1996 - police said she had died soon after her disappearance, but could not determine a cause of death. The death was ruled a homicide because cement blocks weighed her body down in the sand pit where she was found. After eight years with no solid leads, police questioned whether Julie had died of an overdose and her body was simply disposed of. A main suspect in the case had died by that point. No new leads have been identified in the case.
The Death of Kelcey Fike
Fire and rescue crews in Kearney responded to reports of a fire in a trailer court on June 17, 2008. As they extinguished the fire, they found the body of 21-year-old Kelcey Fike in the hallway. Police determined that she had been murdered and the fire was set to eliminate evidence. No murder weapon, fingerprints, or other pieces of evidence were found to help police identify the killer. Although there have been no leads and no serious suspects, police are confident that it's just a matter of time before Kelcey's murderer is brought to justice.
The Murder of Leah Rowlands
On March 10, 1997, just one day after being promoted to manager of the Amoco gas station in Cozad, Leah Rowlands was robbed and murdered. The man who killed her was caught clearly on security cameras entering the store, grabbing a soda, and waiting for other customers to leave. He then walked up to the register, demanded money, and then shot Leah Rowlands three times. Although his car was also caught on camera, there was no front license plate and the rear plate could not be read. Despite the photos of the killer and his car being widely distributed for 18 years, there is still no suspect in the case.
The Murder of Sarah Neal
Teenager Sarah Neal of Omaha was found shot to death in her family's home on June 21, 2005. Sarah's mother said that the girl was troubled and may have made poor choices that got her involved with some unsavory people. A few names have come up as suspects in the case, but no arrests have been made.
The Mysterious Death of Steven Haataja
Steven Haataja was a math professor at Chadron State College. His colleagues say he was a mostly positive person and that he seemed to have plans for his future. When he disappeared on December 4, 2006, police did not immediately search for him. In such a wide open area, they said, they wouldn't have known where to start. Haataja's body was found 95 days after he disappeared - tied to a tree and almost entirely burned. Police speculated at first that the professor may have been gay and could have been murdered in a hate crime, but that theory was later ruled out. The case remains open, but many people think that, despite the position and condition in which the body was found, Haataja committed suicide. The highly unusual case was profiled in Chadron author Poe Ballantine's book "Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere."
The Beatrice Baptist Church Explosion
In the midst of all of the sad and tragic unsolved mysteries, it's nice to know that there are also good things that escape explanation. On March 1, 1950, 15 choir members were supposed to meet for practice at the West Side Baptist Church in Beatrice. The choir was always extremely prompt and arrived for practice by 7:25 pm. On that night, however, every single one of the choir members ran late for different reasons. Some had car trouble, one overslept, one was listening to a radio show, one just didn't want to go out in the cold...the circumstances were widely varied. Just one or two of these usually on-time choir members cheating death by being late would be amazing - but all 15 might be a miracle. Because they were all waylaid somehow, no one was in the church when a natural gas leak caused it to explode at 7:27 pm. (The image above is not of the West Side Baptist Church which was completely destroyed in the explosion.)
These deaths and disappearances are difficult to read about, but maybe someone out there knows something about the cases. If you have any information on the unsolved crimes above, please contact your local law enforcement immediately.