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Murder Suspect's Ex-Wife Helped Find Body Of Colorado Teen Who Disappeared In 2012

Joel Hollendorfer's former wife claimed he admitted to strangling Kara Nichols and burying her on top of an existing horse grave.

By Jax Miller
Joel Hollendorfer Pd

Authorities say that a murder suspect’s ex-wife was instrumental in finding a Colorado woman who disappeared in 2012.

Joel Hollendorfer, 46, was arrested last Tuesday after the remains of Kara Nichols were unearthed in an unincorporated area of El Paso County, as previously reported. During a January 2022 review of the case, authorities with the sheriff’s office said that they — alongside the FBI — interviewed a witness with “critical information” about Nichols’ disappearance. That information led to the discovery of human remains, later identified as Kara Nichols.

The witness who aided authorities in making Monday’s grisly discovery turned out to be Hollendorfer’s ex-wife, according to an affidavit filed in El Paso County. The woman, who allegedly hadn’t cooperated with authorities in previous years, told feds that in 2014 Joel Hollendorfer told her that he'd “accidentally strangled” an escort during consensual sex.

She alleged that Hollendorfer also admitted to burying the victim in garbage bags with lime on top of a horse grave on his parents’ property.

Hollendorfer’s parents knew about the murder and helped their son cover his tracks, the wife claimed.

Kara Nichols, 19, was last seen in Colorado Springs on Oct. 9, 2012, according to her missing persons report with the Colorado Bureau of Investigations. True Crime Daily reported in 2016 that Nichols, a lingerie model, had set out for a photoshoot in the metro Denver area. But El Paso County Sheriff’s Det. Jeff Nohr told the outlet that “none of the information led to that being truthful.”

Nichols’ parents had flown to Colorado from Chicago — where Nichols’ family resides — after she first disappeared and feared the worst when they found Nichols’ laptop and $300 in cash in her bedroom.

Long before the discovery of her body, authorities learned that Nichols had done some sex work when sifting through the missing woman’s cell phone records, according to the affidavit. They found conversations between Nichols and Hollendorfer, indicating the suspect had wanted to hire Nichols.

Hollendorfer admitted to the conversations but denied ever meeting Nichols in person. In 2014, he did tell police that, at the time he corresponded with Nichols, he had frequently hired sex workers and done drugs, leading to the dissolution of his then-marriage.

Phone records also provided Kara Nichols’ movements on the night of her disappearance: The affidavit details the exact route taken from Nichols’ residence around 11:16 p.m. — the last time her roommate or family saw her alive — to the Burgess Road property where her body was later found.

According to the affidavit, in 2014, detectives interviewed Hollendorfer’s mother, Betsy Hollendorfer, who walked alongside searchers and pointed out areas where the family had buried horses since buying the property in 1985.

“Ultimately, none of the possible horse and animal burial locations were excavated in 2014.”

Betsy Hollendorfer suggested that investigators look at a property across the street “that Joel had access to.” There, four cadaver dogs picked up a scent on a single area.

“All four dogs traveled to one location which appeared to be the site of a shallow grave,” the affidavit stated. “The area was systematically excavated, and it was apparent that roots were dug up at the site and a hole had been dug approximately the perimeter size of a human body.”

Despite this, nothing was found at that time, and the case went cold.

It wasn’t until the January review that authorities got the break they needed when they spoke with Hollendorfer’s former wife.

On Feb. 3, authorities returned to the area where the cadaver dogs picked up a scent back in 2014, according to Fox 21. They dug just three feet into the ground and found a black garbage bag containing the remains of Kara Nichols.

On Monday, El Paso deputies arrested Hollendorfer and charged him with second-degree murder and tampering with physical evidence.

“It is with profound sadness and a heavy heart that we share that we were informed yesterday by authorities that our beautiful daughter’s remains were found and a suspect has been arrested in the case,” the family expressed on the Justice for Kara Nichols Facebook page last Tuesday. “We are writing to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation for all of those who tirelessly gave time, money, attention, and assistance to finding Kara over the past ten years.”

Hollendorfer is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Feb. 17.