BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — In 1983 a 12-year-old girl was the victim of a violent sexual battery and now, over three decades later, detectives say they've identified a suspect.
The victim was home with her 9-year-old sister and a 10-year-old friend when the crime occurred, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis said in a press conference Thursday. The adult watching the girls had gone to the store for a few minutes when a strange man knocked on the front door.
The girls answered and talked to the man for a few minutes before closing the door again, but Nienhuis says the man used the garage to get into the house. He was armed with a knife.
The man held the 9-year-old at knife point and told the oldest girl if she didn't do what he said he would kill her sister and the other girl, according to Nienhuis. Then the man took the 12-year-old into a bedroom and assaulted her.
“One thing the 12-year-old did say, that was kind of ironic, was that the suspect was unusually calm in the way he committed this brutal crime,” Sheriff Al Nienhuis said.
The girls were able to give some information at the time of the crime, like the mans race and approximate age, but it wasn't enough to identify a suspect.
Investigators, at the time, took sheets and other evidence with DNA samples and preserved them, the sheriff's office said.
The samples sat dormant for years until it was sent for DNA testing in the early 2000s, Nienhuis said. But the samples didn't match anything in any database at the time.
Recently the case detective George Loydgren became aware of a DNA company in Virginia called Parabon NanoLabs, which specializes in DNA phenotyping and genetic genealogy.
"Fortunately for us Detective Loydgren also works very very hard at staying up to date on the latest advances in testing cold cases, and the evidence associated with those," Sheriff Nienhuis said.
Parabon was able to give detectives a genealogy analysis of the suspect, as well as information on distinct traits he had like eye color and face shape. They narrowed the suspect list down to one person, Nienhuis said.
Detectives got a DNA sample from one of the suspect's family members and matched them, identifying William Nichols.
Nichols was in his early 40s at the time of the crime. He was self-employed and traveled around central Florida as part of his vending machine service business. Nienhuis says Nichols had previously been arrested for multiple sexual offenses.
His first arrest was in Wisconsin in 1958 for attempted rape. He spent time in prison for it before he was released on parole just three years later in 1961. Then in 1964 he was completely taken off probation.
He was arrested in Wisconsin again for rape in 1972 but the sheriff's office says he was found incompetent to stand trial. Then in the same year he was arrested again on three counts of rape but the charges were dismissed.
“This is something near and dear to law enforcement's heart. We really are frustrated when somebody gets away with something as serious as a sexual battery on a little girl," Sheriff Nienhuis said.
Nichols died from cancer in Orlando, Florida on October 23, 1998. He was married with children and grandchildren, Detective Loydgren said.
The victim is now in her 40s and has a family of her own. Detective Loydgren was able to go to her home and tell her they knew who assaulted her.
“The 12-year-old little girl inside that grown woman still has to deal with the impact of this horrific crime on her life,” Sheriff Nienhuis said.