VERNAL, Utah (ABC4) – Investigators and detectives have identified a suspect, Daniel Arthur Bell, in a 50 year old cold case that involved the murder of a 21-year-old army veteran and the sexual assault of the 18-year-old woman he was with at the time.
Bell was identified through extensive DNA testing as one of two men who killed Gregory Dahl Nickell and sexually assaulted his date on the night of Nov. 26 in 1972. Investigators with the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office confirmed Bell died in Yakima, Washington and had his body cremated in 2019. The other suspect is still unknown but investigators hope this breakthrough can lead to new information.
“Greg’s family deserves answers. The woman who was sexually assaulted that night deserves answers,” said Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum said. “If you’re the person who can help us give them answers, please come forward now and talk with our investigators.”
In 1972, just after 1 a.m., Gregory Nickell and his date were at a scenic overlook when a man knocked on his window. The man told Nickell there was a crash and asked him to report it in Vernal before shooting Nickell with a .22-caliber pistol.
“I still see him walking out the door that night with a grin on his face and a big wave of his hand,” recalled Nickell’s sister, Lynnette Nickell Ray. This was the last memory she would have of her brother as he left with his date. “‘Catch you later, folks,’ he said as he went out that door.”
According to Uintah County Sheriff’s Office recounting of the night, the man fired at least three more shots into Nickell and pushed his body on top the then-18-year-old woman he was with. The man then took Nickell’s car, pointing his gun at the woman and threatened her as they drove. When a second car pulled up behind them and flashed its headlights, the woman reportedly knew the man who shot Nickell had a partner.
The woman told investigators the men covered her head and put her in the back seat of the second car before setting Nickell’s car on fire with Nickell’s body inside. The woman reported that each man sexually assaulted her once before leaving her on the side of the highway near Duchesne, roughly 60 miles from where they took her.
The woman said she was unable to get a good look at the attackers and wasn’t able to provide a good description. Because her head was covered, she also wasn’t able to say where they had taken her between the initial attack and when they released her.
Nearly 50 years later, with new technology and advances in science, investigators used forensic evidence collected from the woman to identify Bell as one of the two attackers.
Uintah County Sheriff’s Office detectives Vance Norton and Chase Hall researched Bell and found that he lived in the Uintah Basin and worked on a ranch in the Book Cliffs south of Vernal at the time of the crime.
Further researched showed Bell had moved from Utah to Oregon, where he was convicted of another sexual assault in 1988. When he was paroled in 1999, he moved to Washington state and remarried.
Bell’s widow has reportedly been cooperative with the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office, and so has his two adult children who live in Utah. The children agreed to provide DNA samples to be compared to the 1972 evidence, which came back as a positive match consistent with a parent/child relationship, according to the lab.
“It’s a tragedy that it’s taken 50 years to identify one suspect,” said Sheriff Steve Labrum. “It’s my hope that, with the public’s help, we will identify the other suspect much, much sooner.”
For Lynnette Nickell Ray, it brings her one step closer to closure and fulfilling a promise she made her to brother.
“I made a promise to Greg that I was not gonna let this go,” said Ray. Despite being told early on that there was no apparent motive in the killing. But Ray was still hopeful to find justice and peace for her brother. “I just think that he would have felt that my life was more important than that, but it’s not more important to me.”
The case remains open, and according to the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office, investigators continue to develop and follow leads. Investigators ask that anyone with information about the case contact them at 435-781-6700 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone providing information can choose to remain anonymous.