VERNAL, Utah — Nearly 50 years after an Army veteran was murdered and his date was kidnapped and raped, officials have identified a suspect in the cold case.
On November 26, 1972, Army veteran Gregory Dahl Nickell took a date to a scenic overlook west of Vernal when he was brutally murdered.
While they were parked at the overlook, a man knocked on the car door window and said there had been a car crash and he needed help. When Nickell turned away from the window, the man shot him at least three times, killing him, officials said.
The man then shoved Nickell's body onto the woman and threatened her as he drove. A second vehicle pulled into the area, who the woman said was a partner in the crime.
After driving to a remote area near Brough Reservoir, the Uintah County Sheriff's Office said the men used gas from the car to set Nickell's vehicle and body on fire.
The men put the woman in another car and drove her about 60 miles from where she was kidnapped before each man raped her once, officials stated.
The woman said after raping her, the men abandoned her on the side of the highway and she walked to a nearby farmhouse for help.
Because the woman's head was covered with a blanket for the majority of the time, she was not able to provide law enforcement with a good description of the men who were responsible.
Officials searched for days to try and find the men and evidence was submitted to the FBI for investigation, but nothing came of the efforts and the case went cold.
Nearly five decades later, forensic evidence from the woman that was collected by the hospital, as well as new technology was able to pin down a suspect.
In September 2020, Daniel Arthur Bell, who died in 2019 in Yakima Washington, popped up as a match for the DNA that was collected.
With help from surviving family members as well as criminal records, officials learned Bell lived in the Uintah Basin in 1972 and was familiar with the area's backroads.
He moved away from Utah after 1972, was convicted of rape in Oregon in 1988 and paroled in 1999, after which he moved to Washington and was remarried.
With the identification of one suspect, officials hope they will be able to find the other suspect much more quickly.
“We are committed to finding the truth, committed to finding the other person responsible for taking Greg from his family and forever changing the life of the woman who was with Greg that night,” Sheriff Labrum said. “It’s a tragedy that it’s taken 50 years to identify one suspect. It’s my hope that, with the public’s help, we will identify the other suspect much, much sooner.”