New Orleans is known for its good-time vibes, but its atmosphere was shattered with the gruesome murder of Lindsay Nichols on June 21, 2015.
The 31-year-old single mother had been out for a night on the town with friends. The night ran long, and in the early-morning hours, Nichols would be dead, curled in a fetal position in the trunk of a car that had then been set ablaze.
She met an acquaintance at a bar that night — someone called “Bam,” her friends recalled, according to “Murdered by Morning,” premiering Sunday, Jan. 19, at 7/6c on Oxygen.
Nichols’ friends didn’t recognize the man, but also didn’t think anything of Nichols spending time with him that night — she was friendly with a lot of people, they told “Murdered by Morning” producers.
A little before 5 a.m., long after Nichols’ friends had gone home, she placed a bone-chilling 911 call, according to The New Orleans Advocate. Nichols sounded hysterical, telling the operator that a man was threatening her from outside her car. Then Nichols began to scream and a man’s voice could be heard telling her to open her mouth so he could put a gun in it, according to the Times-Picayune.
A few hours later, her body was discovered. The medical examiner found that Nichols’ body had been through a shocking amount of trauma: She has been shot multiple times, manually strangled and battered about the face, according to “Murdered by Morning.”
“It was a lot of injuries. Someone had to be super-angry or hateful,” New Orleans Police Department Homicide Detective Sgt. Robert Barrere told producers. “Something happened to set them off to do this to this young girl.”
Investigators were keenly interested in speaking with “Bam,” but didn’t know how to get a real name for him, let alone track him down.
“They go out to have a good time and this critical event happens, and the whole night goes sideways,” Barrere said. “Her friends tell us about that friend she met … He was the last one with Lindsay, so obviously we have to talk to you. You’re the last one with Lindsay, and now she’s dead.
It was only after examining Nichols’ phone records that investigators learned of the 911 call that could have saved her life, but didn’t. When they listened to it together, their “jaws dropped,” Barrere said.
“It was the worst call I ever heard on the job,” he added.
Despite Nichols’ desperate pleas for help and the sounds of struggling, screaming and physical violence, the 911 dispatcher didn’t immediately send help. By the time officers arrived on what is called a “low-level response,” the killer was already gone, with Nichols.
“The 911 operator really failed her,” NOPD Commander Nicholas Gernon told “Murdered by Morning” producers.
That 911 operator would later resign after being investigated for their conduct, the Times-Picayune reported.
Further inspection of Nichols’ cellphone records showed several calls to a Thayon Samson. A friend of Nichols told “Murdered by Morning” that he and Nichols “hit it off” and exchanged numbers that night at a place called the Tiki Hut.
He was an exotic dancer with the stage name “Bonafyde” or “Bone,” according to Barrere. And he was most likely the “Bam” they were looking for.
Probing Samson’s background, investigators discovered troubling details, chief among which was that the stranger Nichols met that night lived next to a car dealership … just the sort of place Nichols had described in her panicked 911 call the night of her murder.
They brought Samson in for an interview. The exotic dancer was relaxed, Barrere recalled, and even agreed to give them a DNA sample, since he admitted to hugging Nichols that night. He claimed to have gone home and been there the rest of the night with his girlfriend and friend, Troy Varnado, however.
Barrere and his team had zeroed in on a pair of “distinctive” red shorts found, covered in blood in Nichols’ trunk — probably intended by the killer to be consumed in the fire. And, with their new chief person of interest, they started probing Samson’s social media history. Just about a week before the murder, they found, he posed in a photo in what appeared to be those same shorts.
“That would be our guy,” Barrere said. “With all these things we knew, we had an arrest warrant for murder.”
Authorities picked Samson up outside of a tattoo shop and booked him for Nichols’ murder. However, there was still a major unresolved detail: In the chilling 911 call, hours before her death, Nichols’ had distinctly referenced two men menacing her from outside her car.
Someone had helped Samson with the murder.
Tune in to the premiere episode of Oxygen’s new series “Murdered by Morning,” for the shocking twists and turns the Nichols case took even after police had the young woman’s killer in custody. “Murdered by Morning” premieres Sunday, Jan. 19, at 7/6c on Oxygen.
Crime Time is your destination for true crime stories from around the world, breaking crime news, and information about Oxygen's original true crime shows and documentaries. Sign up for our Crime Time Newsletter and subscribe to our true crime podcast Martinis & Murder for all the best true crime content.