Suspect identified 50 years after veteran’s death: Police

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Gregory Dahl Nickell, 21, was killed near Vernal, Utah, on Nov. 26, 1972, authorities said. A DNA test identified one suspect in his death.

Uinta County Sheriff’s Office

A 21-year-old Army veteran was killed after returning from Vietnam in 1972 during the Thanksgiving weekend, Utah authorities said.

DNA testing has now identified one suspect in his death as Daniel Arthur Bell, who died in 2019, the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday, Nov. 23.

The findings come 50 years after Gregory Dahl Nickel, 21, who was honorably discharged from the Army, was shot and killed by a man while he was in a car at a scenic spot with a woman on Nov. 26, 1972, near Vernal, authorities said.

At that time, a stranger approached Nickell’s car, knocked on his window and asked him to report the accident that had occurred, deputies said.

When Nickel agreed and turned away from the window, the man fired a handgun at him, deputies said.

The man shot him three more times, then pushed the 18-year-old woman with his body and drove away, deputies said.

He pointed a gun at the woman and threatened her, deputies said. Another car followed their car, and they both drove into the removal zone and set Nickel’s car on fire with his body inside, authorities said.

The two men put the woman in another car and drove around for several hours before they both raped her, authorities said.

Then they left her on the side of the highway.

DNA testing helps identify a suspect

The woman was unable to identify the men because her head was covered, authorities said. And the evidence submitted to the FBI crime lab did not yield any results, so the case was dropped.

Investigators collected evidence from the woman while she was in the hospital in 1972 and resubmitted it to the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office in January 2020.

DNA profiles of two unidentified men were found, authorities said.

By September 2020, investigators said they learned one profile matched Bell.

But he died in March 2019 in Yakima, Washington, and was cremated.

So investigators took samples from Bell’s children and found them to be “consistent with a parent-child relationship,” authorities said.

Authorities are still trying to identify the second suspect, who they believe is younger than Bell.

“Greg’s family deserves answers. The woman who was sexually assaulted that night deserves to be held accountable,” Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum said in a statement. “If you are someone who can help us answer them, please come forward and speak to our investigators.”

Vernal is about 175 miles east of Salt Lake City.

Helena Wegner is McClatchy’s real-time national reporter covering Washington state and the western region. She graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication with a degree in journalism. She is in Phoenix.

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