Kari Swenson: Survivor, Part II

This is the second post in my series on the disappearance of Kari Swenson.

Ms. Swenson’s solved missing person case offers rare perspective in which a reader can hear from the victim, law enforcement, and those convicted.

For my first post, you can go here.

Post One Summary: Twenty-two year old honors student Kari Swenson enjoyed running trails on her breaks from the Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. She was considered one of the United States’ best competitors in the biathlon. On July 15, 1984, she encountered two men while trudging along a mountain path. One of the men grabbed and punched Kari, and then the two restrained her with nylon cord. They then led her off of the marked trail and into the wilderness.


The young kidnapper, Dan Nichols, led the procession with the restrained Kari walking beside him, and Dan’s father Don in the rear.

They walked for some time through the thick brush.

Kari observed that the two attackers were not leaving many tracks--avoiding areas of soft ground; though the men did not seem too concerned about being followed.

She knew that as the crew moved farther from any of the cleared trails that it would be difficult to follow the group.

Kari decided her best strategy was to stall—believing that her boss and others would begin searching for her around 5 pm when she did not show up to work the dinner rush.

Kari began digging her cleats, and breathing heavily. She asked to stop and rest, which the elder Don Nichols seemed relieved to accommodate.

During the stop, she reminded the men that searchers would soon be looking for her.

Don’s curt response was that he would shoot anyone that tried to follow them.



What was the Nichols’ motive for kidnapping?

Don stated that they lived in these mountains and needed to find his son Danny a wife--Kari had been their choice.

Evidently, she had been a selection of convenience.

After Kari's encounter, a local woman, Mrs. Joel Beardsley, reported to authorities that she had been approached by the elder Nichols while floating on an inner tube at the lake on the day before the kidnapping.

At the time, she did not report the incident to police and just felt it was odd.

Mrs. Beardsley was relaxing in the water, away from her husband who was fishing nearby, when Don Nichols engaged her in a conversation about fishing from the shore.  She asked if they were surveyors, but Don said they were just carving their names on a tree nearby.

In hindsight, she realized that they were trying to lure her to their side of the shore.  The discussion stopped when Mrs. Beardsley's husband called for her.  As she answered him, the two men scurried up a steep bank and into the forest.

She relayed the encounter to her husband and he and several other fisherman found a tree with fresh carvings on it.  Two names were etched into the wood--names that would later tip authorities as to who they were searching for.



Once they started moving again, Kari tried everything she could think of to help anyone looking for her. She stalled, marked the ground with her cleats, and tried to drop her headband and watch, but each time she was scolded by the old man who yelled at his son to keep a better eye on their captor.

As it became dark, the men decided to establish camp. They chained Kari in a standing position to a tall pine tree, and made themselves a bed in the evergreen needles.  She was given a sleeping bag that covered from her hips down.

During a long and sleepless night, Kari worked the chain down the trunk of the tree so that she could sit.

At daybreak, the men moved their camp to a more concealed position. Voices the night before as well as what was thought to be a search aircraft added to the kidnappers anxiety.

After reattaching the chains to Kari, Don made her take off her bright red running shorts.

Fearing the worst if she removed her shorts, Kari initially resisted, but eventually complied.

The elder Nichols then covered the shorts with charcoal from their fire, nothing more, and allowed the victim to wear them again--the color dulled significantly.

A few moments later, everyone heard rustling from the edge of the camp. 

Kari saw a stocky sun-tanned man with a lumberjack shirt kneeling in the tall grass.  The Nichols scrambled to get their guns, while Kari began shouting: "They'll kill you.  Don't come near.  They have guns!"

Danny ordered the man to halt and aimed his pistol at the stranger.

Kari continued yelling her warning.

Holding his rifle, the old man told his son,"Shut her up.  Just shut her up."

Kari described Danny as "panicked" as he stumbled toward her with his pistol extended. 

Danny pulled the slide back on the semi-automatic handgun as if to menace her, when the gun discharged.

The bullet entered Kari's chest on the right side, and numbed her entire torso. 

Danny screamed: "I shot her. I didn't mean to shoot her. We need some help here!"

Kari tried to shout, but her voice was not loud: "Help me..."

Don immediately chastised his son: "Shut up Danny.  Everyone stay out of this camp!"


I'll stop there and be back next Monday for the next installment in this series.

You can read any of the previous post about Kari Swenson by going here.

Note: For this series, I used law enforcement's version of the incident recorded in the book Incident at Big Sky as well as several other available articles.  The book also uses statements from the victim, and notes from one of the kidnappers who kept a journal. 


Miss Caitlin S. said...

geez, what a story!!!!! that is crazy, I would like to think that I would be that wise during a struggle (knock on wood). I am excited to read about what happens, it sounds very crazy.

4roots said...

OH...MY...WORD! What a great piece of your blog...Missing Person's Monday...I will be back to hear more!

SuziCate said...

You sure know how to tell a story and keep me intrigued!

Helen Ginger said...

Aakk! You left us at a cliff hanger! Very interesting!

My Husband's Watching TV... said...

Slam, you're killing me with the cliff hangers!!!

Bob G. said...

Every time I think I've heard it all, something like this comes along...and (even after all this time) it scares the bejeezus outta me again.

When I stop and think of what goes through the minds of such men like this, and how they choose to carry out these "plans", it boggles MY mind.

You've conveyed the story extremely well.
I'll be awaiting the next installment.

Have a great week.

Stay safe.

Stephen Tremp said...

Nicely done. I hope to remember to come back to see what happened.

Lydia Kang said...

This is so gripping. OMG. What is going to happen????

Stephanie Faris said...

Wow. What an incredible woman. We all could learn from the way she handled this. I can't wait to read the rest.

Rhiannon Nicole said...

Oh my gosh he shot her. This is so sad!! But you do keep me hanging on for more :)

Brian Miller said...

wow. intense stuff...but there is more eh? hmmm....

Travel Nurse Extraordinaire said...

I really wanna hear the rest! I never heard this much detail about it.

Creepy Query Girl said...

wow- I'll be back for the end of this!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

No No No! You can't do that! I want to hear what happened to her. NOW!!!!

BobKat said...

I'm starting to realize Kari survives... I think. Anyways, haven't had something to look forwards to on Monday night since 24, the TV series ended.

I also like your straight-forwards style of story-telling; until next Monday!

kcinnova said...

This poor gal is so strong. I'm so glad to know already that she is a survivor, but I don't know if that means she ever competes in the biathlon again. I'm looking forward to your next installment.

ladyfi said...

Oh goodness, I'm on the edge of my seat!

Reggie said...

Argh, no! Not another cliffhanger! This is absolutely riveting reading... I so badly want to know what happens next. I can't believe that idiot SHOT her!

Diana said...

I clearly remember this story in the news... and the movie that was based upon it.

Little do the rest of the commenters here know, all they have to do is Google it. LOL!

Oh wait...no! Folks, don't Google it! Slam tells the story much better!

SpirituallyHomeless said...

Oooo, rivetting.. ! Ha ha.. smart way to hold our curiosity SD ;)

BobKat said...

My reference to looking forwards to "next Monday" like I did the series "24" is wrong.

A suggestion SD... tone down the intrigue, as what you're writing about is real. Some of the comments suggest this is fiction. But the reality... that's what i want.

What reality did Kari endure?

carma said...

well, that's an interesting way to get a wife for our son? people are nuts.

Kate Coveny Hood said...

This is terrifying. And truly gripping. Damn cliff hangers!

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
That is one young woman with grit. Just unbelievable. She is thinking all the time.

And that's how she made it, I just know it.

I'm reading through--
Wonderful and horrible!
THanks for a great read!
Ann T.