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Citizens still hold key to solving 60-year-old murder

CODY - "Maybe a lot of people don't know that most cases are solved by the average citizen," Cody Police Chief Al Vanderpool said in a Nov. 1, 1962, Cody Enterprise article. "That is, by something they have seen or personal knowledge they have of some individual that may be connected to a case."

Chief Vanderpool was speaking about the mysterious homicide of 13-year-old Christine Nebel, who was found dead in her home on Bleistein Avenue on Oct. 7, 1962. Over six decades later, Nebel's murder remains unsolved.

But the memories of average citizens - those who knew Christine and her family and friends - remain crucial in potentially closing a case that long ago went cold, said Robyn Cutter, archivist with the Park County Archives.

While working at the archives, Cutter has gotten used to frequent inquiries about the Nebel case. Each conversation has resulted in new information that might give hints about what really happened on Oct. 7, she said.

Thus, her May 11 presentation on the Nebel murder at the Park County Library had a dual goal.

"The purpose in bringing about this story is two-fold," Cutter said. "One is that it is so often asked about in the archives, and secondly, there are many people who seem to know little bits and pieces. If that (knowledge) is brought to the table with technology as it is today, it is possible to reopen the case and try to get an answer. The immediate family is all deceased, but it seems that perhaps some of the things brought to my attention ... were never looked into."

The death of Christine Nebel

The body of Christine Nebel - "an average student, a quiet girl and apparently well-liked by her classmates" according to prior Enterprise reporting - was discovered at home by her parents on the evening of Oct. 7, 1962.

Mr. and Mrs. Nebel had spent the afternoon at the Hoodoo Ranch, visiting Gerald Nebel's brother. The Nebels left Christine at home during the visit.

The Nebels had talked to Christine on the phone just an hour before returning home. They said there was no indication during that phone call that Christine was in trouble.

When they returned home, the Nebels found the body of Christine on the kitchen floor, with a severe knife wound across her throat and a household butcher knife nearby. Vanderpool told the Enterprise that suicide "would have been a physical impossibility," and said the case was likely a homicide.

The police reported no evidence of a struggle, forceful entry of the home or a sexual attack.

Despite lab reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, polygraph tests and numerous interviews with Christine's family and friends, her killer was never brought to justice and the case eventually went cold, Cutter said.

The case was reopened a decade later as investigative technologies evolved, but no arrests were made, she said. The case remains open to this day.

Possible suspects

One of Cutter's first conversations about the Nebel murder happened in 2019 when Powell chiropractor Mike Vande Veegaete came into the archives wanting to learn more about the case.

On the night of the murder, when Veegaete was nine years old, he and his brother were helping their mother clean the local J.C. Penney's store, Cutter said. He remembered finding bloody sheets in a trash can in the store.

The manager at the time was Bob Taylor, who happened to live kitty-corner across the alley from the Nebels, Cutter said. A former classmate of Christine confirmed to Cutter that Christine used to babysit for the Taylors on occasion.

Taylor quit J.C. Penney's a week after the murder, after 15 years of service at the store, Cutter said. He moved out of Cody with no job and no mention as to where he was going. His wife and children remained in Cody for about a year before moving away.

"Many questions arise regarding him, and many things point to him, in my opinion," Cutter said. "I haven't had access to the police records to find out if he was interviewed by the police and was possibly one of the suspects, and if the bloody sheets were brought in as evidence ... Too many little things related to him give me the idea that he was the murderer."

Another potential tip came from Kay Kinkade Einer, daughter of then Park County Sheriff Harley Kinkade, Cutter said.

"She mentioned there was a man who worked at the Hoodoo Ranch as a wrangler, who knew Christine's parents were at the ranch visiting and that Christine was home alone," Cutter said. "She said that Harley Kinkade suspected he was a possible candidate because he had left the ranch that afternoon, possibly murdering her ... and never came back for his final pay."

Everybody has a theory

One thing Cutter has learned in her years of discussing and researching the case is that everybody has a theory of who killed Christine.

Frequent suspects in those theories are her father and her half-brothers Robert and Gerald, Cutter said.

Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson was working as city attorney at the time, and strongly believes that Christine was killed by her father, even though he had an alibi, Cutter said.

"Al told me, 'You should listen to the lie detector test ... Listening to it, I just know he did it,'" she said.

Patty Eagler Brooks, a childhood friend of Christine, said at the library that she believed Christine was being sexually abused by her father at the time of her death.

New details and stories surface frequently, Cutter said. Indeed, during her presentation, she heard for the first time from Eagler Brooks, who cast suspicion on a fellow classmate who was "very possessive" of Christine.

"The Monday after Chris was murdered, I was at my locker and she (the classmate) walked up to me," Eagler Brooks said. "And she said, 'You better keep your mouth shut or I will slit your throat too.' I remember that clear as day because I was terrified, and I never said a word to anybody because I believed her."

Cutter said she's discussed the possibility of revisiting the case with Cody Police Chief Chuck Baker in light of new testimony and new technology.

This story was published on May 17, 2023.