The Disappearance and Death of Christi Jo Nichols December 11, 1987
Gothenburg, NE 1987
This is a difficult case at best, however a very good friend of mine reminded me this past weekend of Judge Pirro’s work and her relentless pursuit of the truth in the Robert Durst Murder case. I think it was because my friend knows that I am always in pursuit of the truth when it comes to unsolved murders and my friend also knows when inspired I find an assignment and I stay out of trouble.
Sometimes just having a will doesn’t always pave the way, time, effort and being relentless does however make all the difference. When I teach someone to cook something with perfection, for the first time, one of the first lessons they must learn is that patience and persistence are always the key and a lot of times with cases like this, the same holds true.
Christi Jo was a 22 year old married mother of two, who lived in Gothenburg, Nebraska when she vanished in 1987, into the night never to be seen again.
Most of the details police were able to obtain came from the number one suspect, Christi Jo’s husband Mark Nichols.
According to Mark they ate dinner at Pizza Hut with their infant daughter and son, took them to see Santa and then home to a babysitter while the couple played pool at the bar where Christi Jo worked.
He stated that the day before they went to the bar, things were uncomfortable because they had not been getting along very well. He went on to tell investigators that things at the bar seemed good. They laughed and had an enjoyable time. Mark says that he and Christi Jo left the bar around midnight and stopped at an all-night convenience store. According to Diane Janssen the couple’s babysitter, Mark arrived home between 12:30 and 1:00 in the morning.
Dianne told investigators she never actually saw Christi Jo come in and that Mark had paid her in cash which was pretty unusual because Christi Jo always paid her and she paid her by check. In fact Dianne stated that she is sure she would have seen or heard Christi Jo but never did.
Mark’s explanation as why Dianne didn’t see Christi Joe, “I was about 5 or 6 yards behind her when she went in the door and she walked by the living room where the babysitter was back towards the kid’s bedroom and into the main bedroom.”
It’s important to know that quite a few individuals knew Christi Jo was being abused by Mark and that the relationship was in trouble.
Around 10 days before Christi Jo’s disappearance she went to the hospital to be treated for injuries that were a result of Mark’s inability to control his temper. Christi Jo was seen by a doctor who had seen her before and who stated that Christi Jo was not that forthcoming with information, and acted pretty scared.
Mark did a stand up performance by telling medical staff that he was injured from a cigarette burn to the neck administered by Christi Jo and in his attempt to ward her and the weapon off, he might have inadvertently injured Christi Jo.
Two days prior to Christi Jo’s disappearance she consulted with an attorney in a different town, inquiring about a divorce and stated she wanted full custody of her children. She went out of her way to find an attorney in a completely different town to keep her husband from knowing about her wanting a divorce. The attorney stated that he was worried for her well being and that she appeared to have been beaten recently, she seemed afraid and worried. She made a follow-up appointment but never made it.
One rumor that I have not been able to confirm is that Christi Jo did report to the attorney certain aspects of the abuse that resulted in the attorney making a telephone call to authorities to report certain crimes that had been taken place. I know that for most of you guys reading this, it may difficult to imagine what those crimes could have been, for me it’s but a walk down memory lane, so it would not have been easy for Christi Jo to be forthcoming in telling too many people, if anyone the truth about the abuse.
Christi Joe’s cousin Debra stated that she personally saw bruises on Christi Jo and that Christi Jo acted like it was normal for Mark to abuse her and that it really wasn’t that big of a deal.
Mark claims the last time he saw Christi Jo was 2am December 11, 1987.
As far as the world knows, the last time anyone saw Christi Jo was either at the bar or the store Mark says they stopped at on the way home.
For all intents, Christi Jo was in fact dead prior to Mark arriving home between 12:30 and 1:00am.
That gave Mark ample time to plan the proper disposal of his wife.
According to Mark:
- His children woke him at around 7:00am December 11, 1987
- Christi Jo’s mother called the next morning at 9:30 AM
Mark told Christi Jo’s mother that Christi Jo was asleep when she called by the way. Mark knew his wife was gone already because he told investigators that when the children woke him, he noticed that noticed Christi Jo was gone. His excuse for lying to Christi Jo’s mom was that he didn’t want to worry her.
Oddly, both family cars were in the driveway at the time Christi Jo packed a bag and vanished into the night, into the winter night. Both cars were at the home at the time of her disappearance.
Mark decided at 11AM to take the children to Christi Jo’s grandmother’s home and ask her to babysit so he could go find his wife. He never asked Christi Jo’s grandmother if she had heard from Christi Jo, let alone if she maybe stopped in to see her grandmother or if she was at her grandmother’s at the time he dropped off the children.
After having spent around 2 hours driving around searching for his wife Mark decided to go to the police and at approximately 1:37pm 12/11/1987 he reported his wife Christi Jo Nichols missing.
According to the police however contrary to what Mark said, no one in town could recall seeing Mark driving around searching for his wife that day. Not one individual!
Mark was able to tell investigators exactly what items Christi Jo supposedly packed and what contents she happened to have in her purse at the time of her disappearance.
Both Christi Jo’s suitcase and purse were found in March of 1988, at a rest stop in Maxwell, NE about 30 miles west of Gothenburg NE. Officer’s agreed they had been left at the reststop purposely.
What was found in both the suitcase and purse were exactly as Mark initially told investigators she had packed and had in her purse at the time she vanished. What is interesting about this is that officers were a little dumbfounded by the fact that Mark knew exactly what she had packed and he knew exactly what was in her purse.
This was an error made by Mark.
All of the officers agreed on the fact that whoever left the belongings at the rest stop wanted them to be found.
From what I understand quite an extensive search was conducted in Gothenburg and the surrounding area and turned up nothing.
Rumors swirled that some sort of letter was found from Christi Jo to an unnamed man explaining that she was in the process of leaving her husband and would be in touch in a few months. The police cleared the man.
Small amounts of blood were found in both the couple’s bedroom and the trunk of Mark’s car. Unfortunately it was not enough blood that would indicate serious enough bodily injury so as to obtain a warrant for Mark’s arrest let alone have a trial and convict him of anything.
Just some small tidbits:
- Christi Jo never picked up her last paycheck
- Mark had been monitoring her phone calls
- She did go to see an abuse counselor but when Mark found out he became very angry and either took the children out of the home for a time or made the threat that he would take them should she continue to see the counselor. (it was never confirmed as to which he did)
- Rumors are that Mark had an abusive past prior to marrying Christi Jo
- More recent DNA tests have proved that the blood found in Mark’s car was indeed Christi’s.
- It’s been said that during one point while Mark interviewed with Unsolved Mysteries, he actually giggled while discussing that he heard people suspected he chopped Christi Jo up and put her into garbage bags, then dumped at the local dump. He giggled as he stated something along the lines “They actually went up and searched the area.” *I personally never viewed the episode myself.*
- The overall consensus from the town to the investigators who looked at this case is that Christi Jo is in fact dead. No one can prove it…yet.
Can Christi Jo Be Found?
I go back to her suitcase and purse. Officers seemed to feel they were left on purpose, that whoever left them wanted them found. Which is actually pretty dead on. It reminds me of a case a few years back from Colorado. Jessica Ridgeway. Austin Sigg who has since been convicted of murdering and dismembering her did the very same thing. He left her backpack in a residential area where it would be found because he wanted it found. Not for the same reason Christi Jo’s killer wanted her belongings found, the point is they were left in a specific area so as to ensure that they would be found.
A man who is controlling, abusive and who knows every move his wife makes is a whole different breed of killer. Make sure you understand that, he knew her every move prior. She could not have gotten up to sneak out of the home in the middle of the night. He is the type that sleeps with one eye open if you catch my drift.
Men like Mark are clever, manipulative, misleading and always seem to be able to have a reason and answer for why or how something happened. They have all of the answers regardless of whether or not they have been asked the questions.
When you look someone like this in the eye you can literally see them forming the answers before you can even finish thinking of the next question.
Living with this type of individual is risky for any partner because the abuser must be in control of everything. Mark gave himself away the very moment that he told investigators what Christi Jo packed and took with her, he put the cherry on top when he told investigators what she had in her purse. Very few men could look into a woman’s closet no matter how many years they’ve been together and be able to tell you what might be missing, even fewer men could tell you the exact contents of what a woman has in her purse.
Men like Mark do not view a significant other as a person or human being. They are property, they are to think as he does, meet his wants and needs, want the same wants and needs and the victim must always live up to the abusers expectations.
The abuser always has an inventory of what the victim has and doesn’t have, he always knows what the victim plans, doesn’t plan, where she is or will be. Often time’s the victim is not even allowed to shop without her abuser.
You do not go against the grain with people like Mark, you do not disagree with him, you do as you are told and you keep your mouth shut. You do not argue, question or do something he does not approve of.
In the eyes of the abuser: Victims do not and Cannot seek escape from men like Mark!
Victims in these types of situations are cut off, they feel alone and isolated. They minimize what is actually happening to them in the home, they are programmed on how to respond when something might be seen such as a bruise or when friends or family question the growing distance the victim has from them. They make excuses and not surprisingly the excuses are the exact same wording as the abusers would be if you had asked the abuser what happened.
Everyday is a day lived in constant fear of what the victim might be capable of being able to do wrong so as to displease her abuser.
Dinner cooked wrong, laundry not put away to his specifications, bed made wrong, kid’s too loud, a family pet misbehaving or not doing what he wants it to do or act how he wants it to, not wanting to have sex when and how he wants it. Make up on wrong, clothing he doesn’t agree with. Dressing too sexy, she is having an affair, not dressing sexy enough, you don’t want him or are not showing him you that you want him, (these days you can include: upset over a social media post a victim posted, liked or shared). House dirty, he got in trouble at work or someone is upset with him and it’s her fault.
The list can be exhaustive, but you get the idea I hope.
Christi Jo lived every day of her life in constant fear, a fear that really no words could ever truly describe.
Often time’s victims in these situations will develop substance abuse problems as a way to escape mentally from the constant fear, the abuse, the hateful, hurtful words spoken, as well as both the physical and mental pain they endure.
What should not surprise anyone is that when you peel back the layers more often than not you will find that the victim maybe had a good day or two and took steps to leave the situation, yet somehow the abuser was able to ascertain that info and the victim paid for it one way or another.
The abuser always knows what his victim is up to, despite a victim’s efforts to conceal it.
Abusers like Mark simply will not stand for or allow for his property to walk out the door. He would not allow for them to walk out the door with the children who are also his property.
Losing is not an option to men like Mark.
Once they realize they are losing control over the victim, they start to take or hold things over the victim’s head that matter until the victim agrees to comply with the abusers requests or starts to live up to the abusers standards/expectations.
Some of these items can be and are in no way limited to: Personal property, kicking the victim out of the shared home, the shutting down of the shared bank account or draining it of funds, taking the shared children, jewelry, clothing, car keys, ect.
Mentally and psychologically, they make the victim feel as if something mentally is wrong with her. More often than not the word’s mentally-ill, bipolar or manipulate are tossed at a victim’s feet in an attempt to make the victim feel as if she is the problem, that she has some sort of mental disorder and is incapable of being alone, taking care herself or of the children, she can’t be trusted etc.
They want the victim to come crawling back and will do everything they can so as to ensure that the victim finds she cannot live life without the abuser. When the victim refuses to go back or stay is when things can go south.
This type of murderer is the deeply invested abuser/murderer. Not the co-dependent type, who ended up in an abusive relationship where they abuse each other. Not the serial murderer, or the drug fueled rage killer.
This is a very controlled type of murderer, they didn’t have some sort of argument when he warded her off she fell, hit her head and inadvertently died. No, men like this, take time to actually plan this out despite the long held belief that abusive men don’t always plan the murder. Quite often it boils down to being able to prove it or not, rest assured they plan the murder well in advance just in case.
Contrary to popular belief long before the victim ever thought of leaving, the abuser developed a plan just in case it got to that point.
In short, he already knew long before he killed her, that he was going to kill her should she try to leave the relationship.
Men like Mark tend to feel above the law. That is why the suitcase and purse were left and why he wanted them to be found. I would not be surprised one bit if in looking back at around March 1988, in Mark’s life something was amiss or going on.
In Mark’s mind at the time the suitcase and purse were found they were left simply and only because at that particular point in time he had to leave them as a way to offer a new lead if you will. It was not for the purpose of giving the family false hope or anything. It was to throw the investigation off of his trail because he felt investigators were still looking in his direction or to ensure that whatever move Mark made at the time would not be noticed because investigative efforts would be thrown into trying to determine when Christi Jo’s items were left at the rest-stop, by whom and why.
The number one thing with men like Mark is that they have to be in control of the situation. If they feel they are losing control they will do something so as to bring that needed balance back into the picture.
He moved out of the home pretty quickly after Christi Jo vanished, got rid of all traces of her and has since remarried, from what I understand twice.
Men like this, while they take enough steps to be one step ahead of law enforcement, they still make a mistake or two along the way. Men like Mark tend to feel that they can outsmart the law, again, that they are above the law in some way. In some cases while it appears they have been able to outsmart the law, the reality is that they simply found a way to avoid a murder charge, for the time being. Avoiding and outsmarting are two completely different things.
He most likely wouldn’t have shot her or stabbed her to death in his car or home, and most definitely would not kill her in such a way that a huge amount of blood would have been lost on any of his property, i.e. his car, his home. Remember, property means more to him at this point than she does because she is letting him down yet again by not living up to his expectations.
He either drove around with her body, including back to his home with her that night or stashed her in a temporary location until he could figure out where to actually put her and when.
The disposal would have happened sometime after the sitter left or during that two hour window he supposedly drove around looking for her. What would have been of the most importance to him is that it would be unlikely that investigators would/could find her body.
He knew that the amount of blood found in the car and home were not enough to indicate someone had sustained a serious bodily injury, so the ability to hide her body so well that no one could find it is of high importance to him and killers like him. Truthfully he always had an idea of where he’d stash a body he just needed to be able to do it at the right time so as not to get caught.
The location of the suitcase and purse are important in that while they are not exactly where the body would actually be, yet they might in fact, have been placed in a subconscious way, more proportional to somewhere in between where Christi Jo was murdered and the location of where Christi Jo’s body is.
Mark would not have traveled hundreds of miles to dispose of Christi Jo and he most likely would not in broad daylight disposed of her body, the risk is too high unless the area is incredibly isolated. It would be an area that he knows well, well enough to know it wouldn’t have been thought of to search or investigators wouldn’t have been able to search it, such as government/military owned land. Sometimes when dealing with different agencies a search is not possible because of the pissing matches that tend to occur between the said agencies or government/military entities.
It is an area that he would have been seen around or known to visit prior to the crime but not much after. Maybe an area he spoke about with friends; land that he was able to get on that he shouldn’t have been on etc. He always knew that if he ever had to, this would be the area he would dispose of a body. He would have the known the area very well.
If it were me, I’d search from the rest-stop Christi Jo’s belongings were discovered at and work it from that point outwards and back towards Gothenburg. Think of shapes, leading back to the point of origin. Killers like this typically, unless they are on a planned trip with the spouse, don’t travel great distances to kill, they kill in one area, generally close to or at home and travel away from home but not to far, to dispose of the body.
Finding Christi Jo’s body does not guarantee a conviction but for her family it would mean the world so that they could give her a proper burial. I am confident, in fact I am positive that if investigators work the point of origin from the rest-stop back to somewhere in between the bar, the convenience store and her home, that they will finally locate Christi Jo.
Cristal M Clark