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Crime News Cold Cases

One Of Two Suspects Named In Vietnam Veteran's 1972 Thanksgiving Murder, Girlfriend's Rape

Daniel Arthur Bell is accused of taking part in the shooting death of 21-year-old Gregory Nickell, whose body was found in his burning vehicle a short time later. Bell, as well as an unknown accomplice, reportedly took turns raping Nickell's girlfriend — a crime that led to a wrongful arrest 20 years later. 

By Jax Miller
Killer Motive: What Drives People To Kill?

Utah authorities say they’ve identified one of two suspects accused of the horrific murder of a Vietnam vet and the rape of his girlfriend half a century ago.

Army veteran Gregory Dahl Nickell, 21, was shot to death while on a date with an unnamed 18-year-old woman over Thanksgiving weekend in 1972. The pair were parked at a scenic overlook near Vernal, Utah — nearly 200 miles east of Salt Lake City — when on Nov. 26, 1972, sometime after 1:00 a.m., a man tapped on the window and asked Nickell for help, claiming he needed a ride to Vernal to report a car accident.

Nickell agreed to help the stranger before the suspect produced a .22 caliber pistol and opened fire, shooting Nickell at least four times, according to the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office.

“On the first shot, Greg fell in the seat, but then he sat up,” the woman would later testify, according to Deseret News, describing the shooter as being “very cocky” and having a Texas accent. “The man shot again. Greg lay back on the seat and he continued shooting.”

RELATED: 'Queens' Own Jeffrey Dahmer' Sentenced To 20 Years For WWI Vet's 1976 Murder

Officials say  that after killing Nickell, the shooter shoved the dead body on top of the female in the passenger’s seat, pointing a gun at her head while driving Nickell’s car onto US-40.

“Then a second vehicle pulled up behind them, flashed its headlights, and pulled around them,” according to authorities. “The kidnapper followed the second vehicle, and the woman said she realized he had a partner.”

The two suspects pulled over at Brough Reservoir — about 20 miles south of Vernal — and moved the female into the second car before torching Nickell’s vehicle with Nickell’s body still inside.

At one point, the shooter claimed he “got carried away” by murdering Nickell but told the accomplice he was proud of it, according to the woman’s later testimony.

Gregory Nickell

The two men covered the 18-year-old’s head with a coat or blanket and proceeded to drive for several hours before leaving her on the side of the road in Duchesne — about 60 miles west of Vernal. In the interim, both men took turns raping the woman.

“The woman walked to a nearby farmhouse for help, and law enforcement was notified,” said officials. “The woman was unable to provide investigators with a good description of her attackers.”

She was, however, able to provide nicknames for the suspects: “Tex” and “Johnny.”

On Wednesday, just days shy of the 50th anniversary of Nickell’s murder, authorities with the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office announced that a 2020 reexamination of DNA taken from the woman’s initial post-rape exam helped them identify Daniel Arthur Bell as one of the suspects.

Bell will not face prosecution because he died in Yakima, Washington in 2019, before being cremated, according to Uintah County officials. Though DNA could not be compared to Bell’s body, it was confirmed through two of his adult children, thanks to the cooperation of Bell’s widow, whom he married years after Nickell’s murder.

“Bell lived in the Uintah Basin at the time of the crime,” authorities stated. “He worked on a ranch in the Book Cliffs south of Vernal and was familiar with the area’s backroads.”

Bell was later convicted of a 1988 rape in Oregon before being paroled in 1999, then moved to Washington state, according to Uintah County officials.

“The case remains open and active,” announced Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum. “Our investigators continue to develop and follow leads in the pursuit of justice for everyone who has been impacted by the heinous crime.”

On the night of the murder, a police officer in Rangely, Colorado reported an encounter with a car containing two men and a woman near Book Cliffs before the driver sped away, prompting a four-day air and ground search for the trio to no avail.

The efforts produced no significant leads until 1992, when former Uintah Sheriff Lloyd Meacham discovered a 1974 recorded interview related to the case that seemingly went unnoticed, according to Deseret News. In the interview, a woman named Susan Dixon implicated her stepfather, Willard Dale Taylor, as being absent on the night of the murder and allegedly admitting that he killed someone.

A neighbor of Nickell’s testified during a preliminary hearing that he recognized Taylor from the news, claiming he heard bar patrons refer to Taylor as “Tex,” which matched previous statements provided by the rape victim.

Though Taylor was charged with first-degree murder and held in jail for seven weeks, the same DNA that led to last week’s announcement was the same DNA that ruled Taylor out as a suspect, according to Deseret News.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Taylor said of his 1992 arrest. “I asked what I was being arrested for. The sheriff said, ‘Think back.’ I couldn’t think of anything. He said, ‘Think back 20 years ago.’ I still couldn’t figure out what he was talking about. Then he told me I was being arrested for murder. I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Though Taylor was never convicted, the high-profile arrest reportedly destroyed his life, resulting in his wife divorcing him and mounting debt, for which Taylor filed a $1 million lawsuit against Uintah County.

According to ABC Salt Lake City affiliate KTVX, the lawsuit was dismissed.

Following ensuing years of alcohol and drug abuse, Taylor died in 1998, according to Law & Crime. His obituary states he was 58 years old.

Though Uintah County officials made no mention of Taylor in their recent release, detectives say they are “optimistic” that the identification of Bell will lead them to the second, unknown suspect.

“Greg’s family deserves answers. The woman who was sexually assaulted that night deserves answers,” said Sheriff Labrum. “If you’re the person who can help us give them answers, please come forward now and talk with our investigators.”

According to a 1992 article from Deseret News, Nickell served in the Vietnam War in 1970, having been assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary in Cu Chi, and returned to Utah just one month before the murder. Uintah officials stated he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army.

Anyone with information is urged to contact the Uintah County Sheriff’s Office at 1-435-781-6700 or email coldcase@uintah.utah.gov. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

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