For decades, Florida police had no luck in finding the man who sneaked into a home and raped a 12-year-old girl inside.
But during a Thursday press conference, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis announced that DNA evidence just helped identify the rapist as William Nichols, according to WFTS. Nichols, whom police say committed the rape in 1983, died in Orlando 15 years after the assault.
Police say the 12-year-old’s parents left her, her younger friend and sister home by themselves in Hernando County as they went shopping, WTFS reported. During that time, the girls opened the front door when Nichols knocked on it, police say.
After talking to the children, Nichols sneaked through the garage door — and threatened the girls with a knife, police say. He raped the 12-year-old in a bedroom, and warned that she must follow his orders or he’d “harm the other two girls,” police say, according to WTSP.
Nienhuis described the psychological damage that the survivor, whom police did not identify, still copes with.
“The 12-year-old little girl inside that grown woman still has to deal with the impact of this horrific crime on her life,” he said, according to WFTS.
DNA evidence found at the home was never tested until 2005, according to WFLA. Police say the evidence matched the description of the rapist that the 12-year-old had given them: He was “a white male between the ages of 30 and 50,” WFLA reported.
A DNA analysis from DNA Labs International and Parabon Nanolabs predicted what the girl’s rapist would look like, according to WTSP. Once they realized the similarities between the genetic prediction and Nichols’ appearance, police sought the DNA of a family member to confirm he was the assailant.
Police say Nichols was finally linked to the rape because of that relative’s DNA, according to The Tampa Bay Times. There’s a “99.99 percent chance” he raped the girl because of the similarities in DNA samples from the scene and Nichols’ relative, police say, the newspaper reported. They learned the suspect “was traveling in the area for work at the time of the incident,” according to The Tampa Bay Times.
Nichols, who died at age 57 from cancer, also had multiple rape charges brought against him, WFLA reported.
He faced rape charges in Wisconsin in 1958, police say, and then again in 1972, according to WFLA. He spent about three years behind bars for the first charges, police say, but did not face any prison time for the latter charges after a judge ruled him “incompetent to stand trial and sent to a mental institution,” the outlet reported.
Finding those who are responsible for such heinous crimes is “something near and dear to law enforcement’s heart,” Nienhuis said, according to WFTS.
“We really are frustrated when somebody gets away with something as serious as a sexual battery on a little girl,” he continued, the outlet reported.