A young housewife mysteriously disappears from a small Nebraska town.
Christi Jo Nichols
Weight: 120 lbs.
Remarks: Last seen 12/11/87
The town of Gothenberg is located in the heart of Nebraska’s farm belt. There’s a strong sense of community among its 3,500 inhabitants, and when a neighbor is in trouble, it becomes everybody’s business. On December 11, 1987, a housewife named Christi Nichols vanished. Almost immediately, suspicion centered on Christi’s husband, Mark Nichols. Mark denies any involvement in Christi’s disappearance:
“People in small towns, they talk a lot. And a lot of these rumors tend to get pretty vicious. There’s been a couple rumors that I chopped her up and put her in garbage bags and buried her at the dump. That’s one of the first ones I heard, and that one really got to me, because I guess they were actually up there digging around.”
Was Christi being abused?
It was in Gothenberg that Christi married Mark Nichols. She was 19 years-old and soon to be the mother of two toddlers. According to Christi’s mother, Connie Stanley, the children became the focus of her daughter’s life:
“Christi never felt she accomplished anything until she had her children and there was something she could look at and say, ‘Hey, I did this pretty well. Nobody can do this any better.’ She was just so proud of her children. I would’ve never thought that Christi would run away. She would’ve never left her children.”
Ten days before she disappeared, Christi had gone to a local hospital after being injured in a fight with Mark. As Mark recalls:
“The only bad fight I can remember is when I was trying to get her to stay home from going out, and she was getting so upset at me that she started to try to hit and kick me. And that’s when she burned the side of my neck with a cigarette she was holding. I tossed her onto the waterbed and she landed wrong and it twisted her thumb up underneath her.”
The babysitter did not see Christi
Christi was treated by Dr. Carol Severeid Shackleton, who had seen her several times before:
“I saw Christi on the Friday after Thanksgiving. She came to the emergency room complaining of a sore thumb. She was acting like a scared rabbit, if you will. She’s never been one for great eye contact or been very verbal. She obviously wasn’t telling me everything, either.”
Christi told her cousin, Debra Fredrickson, that she had been abused by Mark:
“Christi showed me a bruise on her side and it really scared me. I told her she needed to go get help from somebody and I asked her how it had happened. She said she and Mark had gotten into an argument and he had thrown her around. She just acted like it wasn’t a big deal, like it was something that happened a lot.”
“As far as a violent argument, there seemed to be a lot of rumors going around that I was always beatin’ up on her. That’s just totally wrong.”
Mark filed a missing persons report
On December 9, 1987, two days before she disappeared, Christi went to a divorce attorney. She didn’t want Mark to find out, so she found an out-of-town lawyer named Claude Berreckman:
“We do a lot of divorce work. We’ve handled hundreds of divorces. But she had to rank up in the top five of being very distressed and upset and nervous and needing help. And when she explained certain abuses that she had been subjected to, we decided to make some telephone calls to call the authorities and report certain crimes that had taken place. I can say that the day that Christi was in my office on December 9th, she was not panic stricken to the point where she would run or leave, and in fact, she had made an appointment to come back to my office.”
The next day, Christi and Mark went Christmas shopping with their children. This was the last afternoon she spent with her family. Mark recalled the day:
“I felt real uncomfortable the day before she left because I felt a lot of anger coming from her.”
However, that evening they hired a babysitter and went out to the local bar where Christi worked. Diane Janssen was their babysitter:
“When I babysat the night that she disappeared, I was surprised that the both of them were going out, because I knew they weren’t getting along.”
“When we were at the bar, things seemed to be going real well. I felt there was a good attitude and a lot of laughing and carrying on.”
Her suitcase was found by the road
Mark says he and Christi left the bar around midnight and stopped at an all-night convenience store. According to Diane Janssen, Mark arrived home between 12:30 and 1:00 in the morning. Diane was doing her homework in front of the television and didn’t remember seeing Christi. According to Mark Nichols:
“I was about five or six yards behind her when she reached the door. And she walked by the living room where the babysitter, was back towards the kids’ bedroom and went into the main bathroom.”
“It seemed strange because Mark paid me with cash when Christi usually paid me with a check. It was unusual for Mark to pay me. I really can’t believe that I didn’t see her because I would’ve heard footsteps. And I would’ve heard her go into the bathroom because I was there between 5 and 10 minutes, so I would’ve been able to hear Christi somehow. But I didn’t hear or see Christi.”
According to Mark, Christi went to bed immediately after the babysitter left. He claims the last time he saw her was at 2 A.M. when he went to sleep beside her:
“And that’s the last thing I remember ’til my kids woke me up the next morning and the first thing I noticed was she wasn’t in the bed.”
Mark says he searched the house and noticed Christi had taken a suitcase full of belongings with her. But both family cars were still sitting in the front yard. At 9:30 in the morning, Mark received a phone call from Christi’s mother, who lived 100 miles away. Even though he knew his wife was gone, Mark told her mother that Christi was still in bed asleep. Mark explains:
“I didn’t want to worry her at the time because I didn’t know where she was. So I told her that she was still in bed sleeping ’cause I didn’t think she felt real good.”
At 11:30 A.M., Mark took his children over to Christi’s grandmother’s house and asked if she could take care of them so he could search for his wife. Violet Williams is Christi’s grandmother:
“He never asked if Christi was at my house or if I’d seen Christi. He just said that Christi was missing and he acted like he was shook up.”
“I spent approximately two hours just riding around town trying to spot her, maybe coming out of a store, or I drove some residential streets where we knew some people.”
Officer Terry Ahrens of the Nebraska State Patrol:
“When we checked out Mark’s story about driving around looking for Christi, and we could find nobody in the city of Gothenburg that had seen him driving around.”
At 1:37 P.M., Mark filed a missing persons report with the police department. During the investigation, it was discovered that Mark moved out of the house the day after Christi disappeared. A few weeks later, he boxed up all of her clothes and sold both of their cars.
In March of 1988, three months after she vanished, Christi’s suitcase was discovered in a roadside rest area 30 miles west of Gothenburg. Officer Terry Ahrens found it surprising that the contents exactly matched the detailed list of missing items Mark had given police when Christi first disappeared:
“It appeared to everybody present that the suitcase had been placed there, instead of just thrown out. The items were neatly lying around. It was like the person who put them there wanted them to be found. If my wife had left me, I wouldn’t be able to look through the closet and tell you what she had taken. I probably would be able to tell you, maybe, what suitcase she had taken. But he had listed items of clothing right down the line that he knew she had taken.”
The area surrounding Gothenburg was searched extensively. No other trace of Christi Nichols has ever been found. And no one has ever been charged in the case, though it still remains open. To this day, Mark Nichols claims no knowledge of what happened to his wife:
“I’d have never done anything to hurt my wife. That’s just the person I am. A lot of people think I’m a violent person. I’m not a violent person. I want very much for Christi to come home. But if for some reason she doesn’t want to come home, you know, Christi, at least call somebody, you know, let us know where you are, whether you’re all right.”
Until Christi returns, Mark Nichols will remain under a cloud of suspicion.
Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season one with Robert Stack in season six with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.
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