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After a Painful False Arrest, Utah Sheriff’s Office Names a Suspect in the 1972 Thanksgiving Cold Case Murder of a Vietnam Veteran Shot to Death While On a Date

Gregory Dahl Nickell appears in a photograph

Gregory Dahl Nickell

Vietnam veteran Gregory Dahl Nickell was only 21 years old when he was brutally murdered at a scenic lookout point while on a date west of Vernal, Utah on Thanksgiving weekend in 1972. Now, nearly 50 years later – and after one high-profile, costly false arrest –  law enforcement insist this time they’ve finally found the elusive killer.

Tragedy unfolded on the evening of Nov. 26, 1972. Nickell and his date were parked in a car when the assailant approached with a ruse.

“A man tapped on the window and Greg rolled it down,” the woman testified in 1992 at an arraignment for the falsely accused man, according to Deseret News. “He told him there had been an accident and they needed help. Greg said ‘sure’ and started to roll the window up, then he began shooting. On the first shot Greg fell in the seat, but then he sat up. The man shot again. Greg lay back on the seat and he continued shooting.”

According to the Utah Department of Public Safety, the shooter shoved his victim into the passenger seat and drove away with Nickell’s date still inside. The killer tailed another car for some 30 miles southwest before dumping Nickell’s vehicle and body at a remote area near the Brough Reservoir in Uintah County.

As it turned out, the second car was being driven by an accomplice. Two men then used gasoline to torch Nickell’s car and his corpse.

For nearly six hours, with her head mostly covered by a bag or blanket, the woman was driven around to multiple locations in Uintah and Duchesne counties. After driving roughly 60 miles away from the site of the kidnapping, each of the men took turns raping her.

The woman, who has never been identified, was eventually left on the side of the road. She made it to a farmhouse and called for help.

A massive manhunt ensued but the two men were never caught.

Gregory Dahl Nickell (R) and his mother (L)

Gregory Dahl Nickell poses with his mother

In 1992, then-Uintah County Attorney Harry Souvall announced that Utah’s longest unsolved murder had been solved. He said the use of new forensic techniques – DNA testing – would prove that Willard Dale Taylor was the man who fired the shots that took Nickell’s life.

Instead, DNA absolved Taylor. He later filed a $1 million lawsuit against the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office for false arrest but it was dismissed. During the seven weeks he was imprisoned, Taylor’s wife divorced him, his reputations was left in tatters, he was financially ruined, and his children were shamed by the community. Even after the charges were dropped, suspicions lingered for Taylor and his children.

“I can’t get it out of my mind,” Taylor told Deseret News in 1993 after filing the unsuccessful lawsuit. “It’s all I ever think about. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. Whenever I drive, I’m always looking in the rearview mirror. Even though I’ve been proven innocent, I’m still afraid they are going to come down on me.”

In 1998, after turning to excessive drinking and then drugs in the aftermath of the false allegations and being ostracized, Taylor died.

“People would say ‘I know that guy, I know that guy, his dad killed somebody’ and that kind of kind of didn’t sit well with me,” Taylor’s son Wes Taylor told Salt Lake City based ABC affiliate KTVX in March 2020.

In September 2020, forensic evidence taken from the woman by the admitting hospital in 1972 was retested by the Utah state crime lab. Two DNA profiles were developed. Those profiles were submitted to various databases. One of the profiles turned up a hit.

Daniel Arthur Bell is now suspected of shooting and killing Nickell and then raping the woman with another man. Bell, a former Marine, died and his body was cremated in 2019. He was 87 years old.

Authorities say they are still looking for the younger suspect, who is believed to be several years younger than Bell.

“We are committed to finding the truth, committed to finding the other person responsible for taking Greg from his family and forever changing the life of the woman who was with Greg that night,” Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum said. “It’s a tragedy that it’s taken 50 years to identify one suspect. It’s my hope that, with the public’s help, we will identify the other suspect much, much sooner.”

[images via Uintah County Sheriff’s Office]

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