VERNAL Utah (ABC4 Utah) – Greg Nickell was discharged from the Army in October 1972.
A month later he was brutally murdered at a scenic overlook west of Vernal.
“It was devastating to get the news that he had been murdered,” said Nickell’s cousin Marquita Hammond. “First of all, to be a family member and in such a brutal horrible way was devastating, to say the least.”
November 26, 1972, is a date Nickell’s sister will never forget. She was celebrating Thanksgiving in Vernal. She brought a roommate who wanted to meet her brother. That night, Lynnette Nickell Ray excused herself from their company.
“I didn’t want to be a third wheel,” Nickell Ray said. So her brother and the 18-year-old roommate left for the night. They ended up at a scenic overlook three miles west of Vernal.
“There was a knock on the window and Greg rolled the window down,” said Nickell Ray.
From historical accounts, she recalled what happened next.
“(Roommate) says the man at the window says “there’s been an accident and I was wondering if you could drive me to town so that I could report it to the sheriff,'” recalled Nickell Ray.
Without hesitation, she said Greg rolled down the window but the stranger pulled out a gun and shot him.
“He shot Greg several times,” said Greg’s sister. “Greg fell over onto R— as she was kind of hunched in the seat and when he was still aware that nothing was going to push her to the floorboard and he covered himself, her with himself and took the rest of the shells so she would not be shot.”
He took Greg’s car and headed west on Highway 40. The 18-year-old girl is also with him. Then they meet a second man according to Nickell Ray. She said Greg’s car was set on fire with his body still inside. The two men drove off in their vehicle taking the 18-year old with them.
“The shooter raped her first and then because he was prodding the second guy to do same that eventually at some point he also raped her in the back seat,” said Nickell Ray.
Afterward, the men kept on driving and the teen promised not to tell anyone if she was allowed to live. At sunrise and about sixty miles west of Vernal, one of the men forced her out of the car and onto the ground.
“He bent down next to her, he kind of turned her body with her shoulders and he said now don’t open your eyes,” recalled Nickell Ray. “He said when you do open your eyes and have heard our car completely leave walk straight ahead you’ll find a town and you’ll find help.”
She walked to a nearby house after they had left. Authorities with the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office soon learned of the horrific murder west of Vernal. But what was their motive still to this day puzzled detectives.
“They could not find a killer or killers because they could not find anyone that had anything against Greg,” said Nickell Ray.
And 48 years later, the family and the community of vernal still doesn’t have an answer. In 1992, Willard Dale Taylor was charged with the murder and rape. But DNA cleared him. The murder has turned into a cold case.
“I was so proud of him for serving our country,” said his cousin Marquita Hammond. “I was proud of him.”
Hammond was younger than Greg but said everyone knew him.
“He was the kindest and friendliest person around,” she said. “This whole community was a quiet sleepy little town, you just don’t hear things like that happening. People were nervous (after the murder).
Whenever Hammond drives past the overlook, she still remembers the murder. She too hopes it will be solved.
Jason Gregory Nickel is named after the uncle that he never knew.
“I talk to people in town that remind me how good a mentor greg would have been,” said the nephew. “I feel a little cheated because I didn’t get that opportunity.”
Greg’s parents died before ever learning who killed their son.
“It’s been very difficult for me,” said Nickell Ray. “It was extremely hard on my mom and dad.”
But Nickell Ray knows the three of them are back together.
“I’ve prayed for years and years and years that they show me a sign,” said Nickell Ray “‘Mom, dad you have to know, give me something. Let me know, let me know what you know.'”
Nickell Ray isn’t giving up hope after especially after learning the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office re-opened the case after receiving a new tip. A spokesman for the sheriff’s office said they’ve submitted DNA to the state crime lab and are awaiting those results. Perhaps, that’s a sign Nickell Ray has been waiting for.
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