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After A Botched Investigation, Man Arrested In Cold Case Murder Of Teenager

"Kara was a daughter, sister, niece and friend to many," said NWCAVE's Michelle Bart in a Wednesday statement posted on "Justice for Kara" after her body was identified. "Kara's life mattered in 2012 and still matters in 2022."

By Megan Carpentier
Joel Hollendorfer Pd

A Colorado man is behind bars after police uncovered the remains of a young woman who has been missing since 2012.

Joel Hollendorfer, 46, was arrested on Monday and charged with second degree murder and tampering with evidence in the death of Kara Nichols, 19, on Tuesday, according to a press release from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office. Nichols disappeared from a home in Colorado Springs on Oct. 9, 2012, according to a missing persons report; acting on a tip, police retrieved a woman's remains from an unincorporated area northeast of Colorado Springs on Monday. They were tentatively identified as Nichols' on Tuesday.

Police have not yet said what connection Hollendorfer, who would've been 37 at the time the aspiring teenage model went missing from her home, might have had with the woman with Nichols. 

Nichols, whose family is originally from Chicago, told her roommates in 2012 that she was on her way to a modeling job in Denver — which is about 75 miles from her former home — when a black sedan picked her up outside, True Crime Daily reported.

When she didn't come back, Nichols' brother, who lived locally, filed a missing persons report. According to a Facebook page advocating for her case reportedly maintained by her family and the National Women's Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation (NWCAVE), her last known contact was a cell phone call made at 11:45 p.m. the night of her disappearance. 

She wasn't heard from or seen again.

Nichols' parents made the trip to Colorado Springs to help look for their daughter, the site said, but became even more concerned when they looked in her room and saw that her laptop, her professional makeup kit and nearly $300 left behind.

Despite making media appearances in the last decade, only few tips came in on the case, and none reportedly panned out. Her family has long blamed the local sheriff's office for the lack of movement in the case — especially after the former sheriff was indicted on corruption charges and a recording surfaced of the initial lead investigator admitting that he hadn't done a lot of investigating when Nichols first went missing, TCD reported.

Nichols' missing persons case has been led by at least four different officers in the last decade

Police told TCD in 2016 that they didn't believe the job for which Nichols left on the last day she was seen alive was a legitimate modeling gig — though Nichols did have a profile on the legitimate website Model Mayhem and had professional photos taken. 

In the years since her death, TCD said that her parents discovered that, in addition to trying to jumpstart her modeling career, Nichols had done some escort work, and they knew she'd been using drugs, according to her missing person's report. 

None of that, they have continuously emphasized for a decade, made her unworthy of a full investigation and should never have allowed her disappearance and death to go unpunished. 

"Kara was a daughter, sister, niece and friend to many," said NWCAVE's Michelle Bart in a Wednesday statement posted on "Justice for Kara" after her body was identified. "Kara's life mattered in 2012 and still matters in 2022."

The El Paso Sheriff's Office said in their statement that a cold case review conducted in January allowed for a new witness to be located and interviewed. That person was able to provide new information allowing for police to obtain a search warrant for the place where Nichols' body was recovered on Monday.

A post on the family's Facebook page indicated that the investigator in the case was replaced — after the family's advocacy — in Jan. 2020 by Det. Kat Huston.

Court records reflect that the man charged in her murder, Hollendorfer, is being held on a $51,000 bond. He is due to make his first court appearance on Feb. 17.