A man arrested in a Colorado hatchet incident is now considered “person of interest” in the unsolved murders of Delphi, Indiana teens.
First published: Friday, September 29, 2017, 12:44 PM EDT
The traffic stop arrest of Daniel James Nations in Woodland Park, Colorado relating to an intimidation incident involving a hatchet may lead to a break in the unsolved killings of Liberty “Libby” German and Abby Williams off of Delphi’s Historic Trails east of Delphi, Indiana on February 13, 2017.
On the afternoon of September 25, Woodland Park police stopped a red Chevy Prizm with expired Indiana plates and a broken tail light. According to a probable cause affidavit, the car was driven by Katelyn Nations, with her husband Daniel and the couple’s two children as passengers.
The Prizm matched the description of the vehicle involved in an open intimidation case, in which a man and woman driving a red sedan threatened another motorist with a hatchet. According to an El Paso County Sheriff’s Department press release, the car was also identified in several tips by the public regarding menacing complaints in the Mount Herman area and the Town of Monument.
When asked about the hatchet incident, Daniel Nations told police, “We’re not that kind of people.” He stated someone had tried to run them off the road in the mountains, but that he shook his fist–not a hatchet–at the other motorists.
However, police found a hatchet inside Nations’s car. They also found a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle, which may be connected to an unsolved murder of a cyclist earlier this month.
The Murder of Timothy Watkins
On September 17, 2017, the body of well-known local cyclist Timothy Watkins was found in the Monument area of nearby El Paso County, Colorado. According to the El Paso County Sheriff, the beloved 61-year-old–who was last seen on September 14 at 10 AM–was gunned down on his mountain bike by an unidentified offender wielding a .22-caliber weapon.
Katelyn Nations told police she purchased the rifle for protection after their car was broken into. However, felons in Indiana are not allowed to have firearms. Turns out, they aren’t allowed to have firearms in Colorado, either.
On late Thursday evening, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department charged Nations with felony menacing and reckless endangerment in relation to the hatchet incident. Law enforcement indicated they expect more charges to be filed in the coming days.
However, in a bizarre turn of events, Colorado police say they received tips that Nations might be the man sometimes called the Snapchat Killer.
Nations bears a striking resemblance to the composite sketch of the suspect in Liberty German and Abby Williams’s homicides over one-thousand miles away in rural Delphi, Indiana.
Carroll County’s First Double Homicide Investigation
Around 1 PM on On February 13, 2017, Abigail Williams and Liberty German were dropped by a family member at a hiking trail near the abandoned Monon High Bridge just east of Delphi, Indiana. 14-year-old German would post a picture of 13-year-old Williams on the abandoned railroad bridge on Snapchat sometime that afternoon.
By 5:30 PM, the girls had failed to appear at a predetermined location to be picked up, and were reported missing.
Carroll County Sheriff Toby Leazenby initially stated there was no reason to suspect foul play or to believe the girls were in imminent danger. Nevertheless, multiple agencies—including K-9 units and dive teams—participated in the search effort on the afternoon and morning of February 13th and 14th, respectively. Officers looked into issuing an Amber Alert, but the incident did not meet the criteria.
The search effort ceased and the investigation’s tone shifted once two bodies were discovered in Deer Creek, roughly a half-mile from the Monon High Bridge on the afternoon of February 14th. In a press conference later that afternoon, authorities stated foul play was suspected. What once was a search-and-rescue effort turned into something much darker. Officials believed it was the first double homicide investigation in Carroll County.
In the days and weeks that followed, law enforcement would release a grainy photo and a recording of a male voice saying, “down the hill” on loop. These pieces of information would inspire some—in the over-sensationalized fashion all too common in crime reporting— to dub the unidentified assailant as the Snapchat Killer.
In a public service announcement, the Indiana State Police (ISP), stated the following:
On Wednesday, February 15th, law enforcement officers distributed a photograph of a person observed on the Delphi Historic Trail. The photograph appears to depict a white male wearing blue jeans, a blue coat/jacket, and a hoodie. During the course of the investigation, preliminary evidence has led investigators to believe the person, in the distributed photograph, is a suspect in the investigation of the homicides of Abigail Williams and Liberty German.
Additionally, investigators have released a voice recording, extracted from a video found on Liberty “Libby” German’s cell phone, that may be connected to the homicides.
To the greater public, the photo and audio served to inspire both hope and frustration. On one hand, any information is better that no information. Rarely does the public have access to either an unidentified suspect’s image or a recording of his or her voice, and in this case, we have both! But the pieces are just blurry and small enough to limit their potential usefulness.
As the case gained national exposure, the photo and audio served as a Rorschach test of sorts. In late February, I myself stumbled across a popular true crime forum, where at least ten pages of heated discussion was dedicated to whether or not “BG” (Bridge Guy) was wearing a hat in the released photo. A number of pages were dedicated to a similarly passionate debate over the existence of a fanny pack.
Despite the case’s perceived inactivity—little additional information was publicly released and over six months would pass without arrests of any confirmed persons of interest—pedestrian speculation continued with zeal in the internet’s nooks and crannies. Many observers, including myself, remarked that this is how a case goes cold.
That is, of course, until the arrest of Daniel Nations. Cautiously, we now wonder if this is how a case is solved.
Who is Daniel Nations?
Daniel Nations, a former marine, is no stranger to the criminal justice system. Most likely born in North Carolina, the 31-year-old has a variety of convictions to his name and a history of mysteriously disappearing when it’s time to go to court.
As this piece frantically neared completion late on September 28, fresh felony charges against Nations were filed in Morgan County, Indiana relating to his sex offender status. According to the statute under which the ex-marine is charged, Nations, “knowingly and intentionally…does not reside at the sex or violent offender’s registered address.” The next day, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Nations’s place on the sex offender registries of Florida, South Carolina, and Indiana, stems from a June 26, 2007 in Spartanburg County, S.C. Records show he was convicted of exposing and pleasuring himself in a WalMart parking lot in 2006. The witness in the incident told police that Nations exposed himself and then asked her, “You want to get on this? It’ll be fun.”
Court documents from elsewhere in the state show that in 2008, Nations–who was still on parole for the Spartanburg offense–pled guilty to another charge of public indecency, this time in Beauford County. According to a contemporaneous WTOC News report, Nations exposed himself from his car in a parking lot, and later exposed himself in a Port Royal neighborhood to a mother and child on bicycles. At that time, Port Royal police stated Nations had been arrested four times for the same offense while stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Official documents relating to any North Carolina charges were not immediately available.
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If one were to evaluate the marriage on court documents alone, it appears Daniel and Katelyn Nations’s relationship was tumultuous at best, and abusive at worst.
Between 2014 and 2016, Daniel and Katelyn Nations were brought to Morgan County’s small claims court by multiple parties in property disputes. The cases–some of which are still pending–most often resulted in the couple’s eviction, and the couple regularly failed to appear in court. According to online records, Daniel Nations failed to appear before the court on June 21 in relation to a 2015 case, and the couple was set to appear in magistrate court on September 20 in relation to another. In some cases, both Daniel and Katelyn Nations still owe unpaid restitution.
In December of 2015, Daniel Nations was convicted for domestic battery in Morgan County. He allegedly violated an order of protection issued on December 14, 2015, which expired on April 30, 2016. In a letter, Katelyn Nations asked, “…the court not require me to be in the courtroom with my abuser, Daniel Nations. I still do not feel safe or comfortable at even the thought of seeing him.”
On January 15, 2016, Nations plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor charge for public indecency in Bartholomew County. Court documents state Nations, “allegedly fondled the genitals of the defendant or another person in a public place.”
In March 2016, Katelyn Nations petitioned to establish child support in Morgan County Circuit Court; however, but multiple orders to appear could not be delivered to either party, and the matter was quickly dropped.
Nations was issued a traffic citation in August 2016 in Plainfield, Indiana. He was arrested on November 16 by an Indiana state trooper in Marion County, where he currently faces pending charges of possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia and driving while never receiving a driver’s license.
In April 2017, Katelyn would again file for child support in Morgan County.
In May, Daniel was hit with criminal misdemeanor charges in Greenwood, Indiana for possession of drug paraphernalia and for driving on a suspended license for the second time in ten years. A court date of October 18 has been set in that case, but it is unclear how the recent developments may affect the pending charges.
In June 2017, Morgan County attempted to deliver orders to appear to both Katelyn and Daniel in relation to the child support case, but were unsuccessful. The P.O. box address on file for Katelyn was apparently out-of-date, and with Daniel’s documented history of being unreachable, the court attempted to covered their bases: orders to appear were sent directly to Nations at the Bartholomew County Jail, as well as to the County Sheriff to be served to Nations at the jail. While it is unclear how long Nations spent in that county jail, court records in that case indicate he was released by June 13, as neither of the court’s orders could be delivered on that date. When both parties failed to appear, the child support case was dismissed.
This somewhat muddles the timeline presented by the media: According to early news reports, in April 2017, Nations told Johnson County officials he was living in a motel in Greenwood; however, he allegedly moved out on May 12 without notifying anyone, and supposedly, police first became aware his departure during a failed attempt to check up on Nations on July 18.
Further muddling the order of events are court documents out of Bartholomew County–where Nations was convicted of fondling another person in public–which state law enforcement issued an arrest warrant on June 5, 2017 when Nations failed to appear for hearings regarding whether his probation should be revoked.
So, What Does This Mean?
Maybe this means nothing.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of the frequency at which homicides grow cold. You’ve probably also observed how easily we can slide into tinfoil-hat territory when speculating about a stagnating case in few details have been made public.
When there’s a potential break, a new lead, we might latch on and hesitate to let go. We’re desperate for justice for Abby and Libby. How can we live in a world where someone can murder two teenagers–and even be captured on video by one of the victims–yet go un-apprehended for seven months?
The murders of Williams and German have rocked the tiny rural community whose population numbers below 3000. In a July interview with PEOPLE, German’s grandmother Becky Patty said, “Do we miss her? More every day, and as a matter of fact it has gotten harder as time has gone on.”
Daniel Nations does indeed bear a resemblance to the composite sketch released by police on July 17, 2017, of a man believed to be connected to the murder. However, not all forensic artists are created equal, and the reliability of composite sketches as an investigative tool is disputed: a 2005 UK study concluded traditional composite sketches to be less accurately recognized than those made using forensic composite software. The authors state this disparity grows larger as more time elapses between a witness viewing the suspect and providing suspect’s description. The recognition rate for traditional composite sketches was as low as 3%.
On Thursday, Indiana State Police made the following statement (emphasis added):
We are aware of the arrest of the person in Colorado and are investigating to see if he could be a suspect in the Delphi double murder investigation. Please keep in mind the Indiana State Police has received more than a thousand photos of persons alleged to be similar in appearance to the composite sketch of the Delphi person of interest. Each and every one of these tips are investigated for any potential connection to our case. We will give the same attention to the person arrested in Colorado, but right now there is nothing that definitively connects this person to our investigation. If that should change – with this tip, or any other tip – rest assured we would be sharing such news with all media sources.
When I research cases, I often hesitate to publish my findings when the suspect has yet to be proven guilty. I’m a fact-based person. I like citations and court documents and spreadsheets. I try to avoid baseless speculation and make a conscious effort to abstain from judgement until the facts are available. Coordinating a witch-hunt is not my intention here, as I steadfastly believe in the right to a fair and impartial trial.
I’m particularly cognizant of this with the Delphi case. In July, Indiana State Police urged the public to stop “armchair sleuthing,” after Facebook users began publishing pictures of various men alongside the composite sketch. This is the facet of the true crime community with which I take issue. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that the person to whom you’re comparing a homicide suspect’s likeness is real, three-dimensional human being whose real, actual life can be ruined.
However, the entirety of my presented information was obtained through publicly available court documents and news reports. I didn’t have to leave my apartment in a land far, far away to retrieve anything—hell, I didn’t even have to talk to anyone. Most people don’t realize just how much information is available on the internet–that is, if you’re somewhat obsessively determined and you know where to look.
From those documents, we do know that Nations was arrested roughly two-hours away in Morgan County ten days after the Delphi murders. We also know he has a record of seemingly escalating sexual offenses, and that he’s also the kind of guy to carry around a hatchet. And while no charges have been filed to date, if tips are to be believed, he may even be the kind of guy to fatally gun down a cyclist in a seemingly random act.
And even if Nations is the man in depicted in the composite, his DNA is not guaranteed to match that found at the Deer Creek crime scene. While we can hope justice for Abby and Libby is imminent, stating such with any certainty is still premature.
In a statement Friday to the Journal Courier, ISP Sgt. Kim Riley emphasized that Nations is not yet a suspect in the deaths of German and Williams, but rather a person of interest. According to Riley, the distinction is critical:
Everyone that we’ve talked to has always been a person of interest until we either decide they need to be looked at even more or (they’re) somebody that’s gong to be taken off the radar. Any tip we get on somebody, they’re automatically a person of interest.
According to Carroll County Sheriffs, FBI agents in Colorado will initially question Nations, and if further suspicions arise, authorities handling the Delphi case will travel to the area.
Despite some early reports that Nations could be confirmed or ruled out as a suspect in the Delphi homicides within two days, Riley said he is anticipating answers next week.
He said police also have obtained samples of Nations’s DNA, which will be compared to evidence gathered at the crime scene. Riley noted this has become a common procedure over the course of the seven-month-long investigation, telling the Journal Courier: “We check DNA on everybody that has been investigated. Every person that we have talked to, we’ve gotten a DNA swab from.”
Daniel Nations’ bond in Colorado initially was $10,000, but the Colorado Springs Gazette reported that it was lowered to $2,000 on Wednesday.