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Crime News Killer Relationship With Faith Jenkins

Florida Mom’s Killer Is Caught After His Voice Is Captured On 911 Call

Nikki Halpin was beaten to death in her Florida home as her two young sons cowered in fear. 

By Jill Sederstrom

Nikki Halpin had just gotten home with her two boys from a fun night out when someone laying in wait for the Florida mom violently attacked her and left her for dead on Jan. 8, 2004.

While her two young boys hid, her anguished boyfriend Chris — who had been on the phone with her — heard the attack and placed a call to 911.

“I heard a ton of screaming,” he told the dispatcher. 

When officers from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office arrived at Halpin’s Safety Harbor home a few minutes later, they found the 32-year-old mom lying on her bed in a pool of bed with significant trauma to her head.

“It’s not a good scene,” Deputy Brad Ferguson told Oxygen’s Killer Relationship with Faith Jenkins.

RELATED: Pregnant Virginia Woman Violently Murdered in Her Home

Halpin was airlifted to a local hospital but the damage she suffered from the blows was too severe and her heartbroken family made the agonizing decision to remove her from life support days later. 

But who could have wanted to kill the devoted mom? 

Halpin’s youngest son, 7-year-old Drew, told detectives that he had been doing homework when he heard his mom scream and saw someone dressed in all black carrying what he thought looked like a silver baseball bat.

A photo of Nicole Halpin, featured on Killer Relationship With Faith Jenkins 208

“He hears her scream again and then all of a sudden there’s no more screaming,” Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office Detective Robert Snipes said. 

Drew got down onto the ground and hid until the man left. When he went into the bedroom, he found his mom lying on her back and his 9-year-old brother Max, who had special needs and was unable to verbally communicate with detectives, hiding behind the bed.

“We asked Drew if he knew who the man was and he did say it was the man who knocks on the windows,” Detective Ed Judy said.

It was all the information the traumatized boy was able to provide investigators. With little information to go on, detectives began by looking into the men in Halpin’s life. 

Nikki Halpin's boyfriend cleared as suspect

Chris, a 32-year-old engineer, had been out with Halpin and her sons the night of the attack. He told detectives Halpin dropped him off at his home just before 9:30 p.m. before heading to her own home about 15 minutes away. 

Less than five minutes after getting home, Chris said he was surprised to receive an instant message from Halpin on her home computer that simply said “HB.” 

He replied and asked her how she was able to get home so quickly, but when she finally replied minutes later she eerily said she hadn’t been the one to write the original message.

“He then receives a phone call from Nikki and she’s saying something weird is going on, I just want you to stay on the phone with me while I check the house,” Snipes said. 

While Chris waited on the open line, he heard Halpin scream. Chris dialed 911, but detectives questioned why Chris hadn’t tried to drive to the scene himself. 

“If I’m on the phone with my girlfriend and I hear an attack, I’m in my car, I’m going to wherever this person was,” Judy said. 

Chris told authorities the night of the attack that he didn’t rush to Halpin’s aid because he was afraid for his own life. 

“I was actually scared at that point because I didn’t know what was going to happen,” he said in audio recordings obtained by the show.  “I didn’t know if somebody was outside my door looking for me too.”

Investigators also took a close look at Halpin’s ex-husband Don, a former prison guard turned bartender who was 18 years her senior. 

Don may have had a significant financial motive for wanting his ex-wife out of the picture. When their son Max was born in 1994 he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, a condition where the baby has too much fluid on the brain.

During one of his medical treatments, a staff member mistakenly gave him the wrong medication, leading to potentially detrimental effects. The couple filed a lawsuit against the hospital but it took years to work through the legal system. 

By the time the hospital agreed to a $1.5 million settlement to take care of Max’s needs, the couple was already divorced. As a result, Halpin — who had primary custody — was listed as the sole custodian of the account.

“Once we hear there’s a large settlement involved and we’re actually talking about $1.5 million and basically the only one who has control of that trust is Nicole,” Snipes said. “There would be 1.5 million reasons why Don might want to have Nikki disappear.”

Don admitted he didn’t have a “real great relationship” with his ex-wife after they got divorced. 

“I loved her and she didn’t love me,” he told detectives. 

But Don also claimed to have an airtight alibi. The night of Halpin’s attack he had been working as a bartender at Don CeSar, an upscale hotel on St. Pete Beach, about 45 minutes away from her home. 

His timecard showed he clocked out just a few minutes after the attack and was seen on surveillance footage leaving the hotel around the same time. 

When asked whether he knew anyone that might have wanted to hurt his ex-wife, Don offered a new possibility. He told detectives that Halpin’s ex-boyfriend Dan Welch had been “haunting her” and “stalking her” in the weeks before her death.

A Suspect Emerges

Investigators learned that Halpin and Welch, a 35-year-old air conditioner repairman, had dated for about two years after her divorce. 

Halpin had been ready to make a long-term commitment, but she ended the relationship when she realized Welch didn’t feel the same. 

While Welch told detectives he had once been “in love” with Nikki, he said he wasn’t looking for a long-term relationship and she had gotten tired of waiting for him to change his mind. By the time Nikki was attacked, he said he had moved on and was dating a woman named Stephanie. 

He told investigators that the night of the attack he had been out exercising with his neighbor Larry, who was training for a marathon. He usually rode his bike along while Larry went for long training runs. 

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But when authorities checked with Larry, he told them that Welch had claimed he wasn’t feeling well that night and cut the workout session short, leaving around 9 p.m.

Welch initially seemed overly cooperative with investigators, providing his DNA, fingerprints, and even offering to let them search his house. But detectives were unnerved while they were waiting for the forensics team to search the house after Welch let some details of the crime slip while he was on the phone. 

He told his girlfriend he was being considered the “prime suspect” in the attack, that nothing had been stolen from the home, and that Halpin had been hit in the head.

“None of the three of those things had ever been released in the media,” Snipes said.

It was enough to move Welch to the top of their suspect list, but it wasn’t enough to definitively link him to the crime. 

Investigators also learned that Welch had been stalking Halpin before her death.

“He’s coming over to the house at night time, knocking on the door, he’s banging on the windows,” Snipes said.

While her son Drew never positively identified Welch as the attacker, it did seem to fit his description of the killer being the man who knocked on the windows. 

A 911 call records suspect's voice

But the real break in the case came when an administrative assistant was transcribing the 911 call Chris made to authorities and heard Welch’s voice in the background saying, “Nicole, calm down.” 

Her family said Welch had been the only person to call her “Nicole” and Welch’s own sister even positively identified his voice. 

Welch was indicted for first-degree murder in her death on Jan. 20, 2006. He later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and burglary and received a 25-year sentence. 

Welch will be eligible for parole in 2028. 

For Halpin’s mother Laurie Gromm, the sentence will never bring her daughter back.

“I try to remember, always, just what she was in this world and what she was to other people in this world. She would do anything for anybody,” Gromm said. “I want everybody to remember her for her kindness.”

To learn more about the case, watch Killer Relationship, Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.