JoAnn Nichols disappeared without a trace 27 years ago, and though police in upstate New York always suspected she was murdered they could never prove it.
Until this week, that is.
A contractor in Poughkeepsie was cleaning out hoarded items and debris from the home of 82-year-old James Nichols, who died last December of natural causes, when he came across the body of a woman. Her remains were in a sealed container behind a false wall in the basement.
A medical examiner used dental records to confirm that the skeleton belonged to JoAnn Nichols, who was 55 when she disappeared. The Dutchess County medical examiner determined that she died from a blow to the head.
Police at the time believed James Nichols was responsible for his wife’s disappearance, but could not prove it. James also produced a typed note for detectives supposedly written by his wife that investigators said had a “degree of depression,” but stopped short of calling a suicide note.
Neighbors said James Nichols was an odd man, a loner who would sometimes drive around with a mannequin in the passenger seat of his car.
“There was no doubt in my mind that he knew where his wife was,” said Retired Poughkeepsie Detective Capt. Charles Mittelstaedt, who led the initial investigation, in an interview with The Associated Press. “The man was cold. I mean, seriously cold.”
But despite their suspicions that JoAnn Nichols was murdered, police weren’t able to get a warrant to search the home. Investigators continued to follow James, however, and found that within a few weeks he was already with a new woman.
For Mittlelstaedt, it hurts to now know that JoAnn’s killer likely got away.
“It’s just a sin that he got away with it all these years,” he said of JoAnn Nichols killer. “I probably shouldn’t say this because it’s not politically correct, but I hope he rots in hell.”
Police in Poughkeepsie have now re-opened the investigation into the death of JoAnn Nichols and plan to conduct new interviews to determine once and for all who killed her.