ShareThis Page

Self-described 'mountain man' in 1984 killing is released

| Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, 11:42 p.m.

MISSOULA, Mont. — Self-described “mountain man” Don Nichols was released on parole Wednesday after serving 32 years for kidnapping a world-class athlete out on a training run in 1984 and killing her would-be rescuer — an attack that drew widespread media coverage and became the subject of a made-for-TV movie.

Nichols, who must report to a parole office in Great Falls, was granted parole in April, The Missoulian reported .

Nichols, 86, was sentenced to 85 years in prison for kidnapping biathlete Kari Swenson in the mountains near Big Sky and killing Alan Goldstein, a friend helping to search for Swenson when she failed to return home from her run.

Swenson, who was 22, said she was chained up during her ordeal and spotted her would-be rescuers before her abductors did. She yelled at them to leave because Nichols had threatened to shoot anyone who tried to help her.

Nichols shot Goldstein, and Nichols' son Dan apparently accidently shot Swenson. She said she was left for dead with a “sucking chest wound” for hours as Goldstein's body lay nearby.

Don and Dan Nichols fled and were arrested five months later after a manhunt in the mountains of southwestern Montana.

During the parole hearing in April, board members noted Nichols' clean record in his more than 30 years in prison and his completion of educational programs, including anger management and life skills.

Don Nichols, who kidnapped Swenson to be a bride for his then 19-year-old son, told the board members they would not regret their decision and he felt bad about his crimes.

Before Don Nichols' 2012 parole hearing, Kari Swenson wrote a letter to The Bozeman Daily Chronicle calling the father and son “crazy misfits” who chose to live apart from society and defy its laws.

“I endured being grabbed by both wrists, hit in the face, thrown to the ground, chained to Dan, threatened with knives and guns, marched through the woods, secured like an animal to trees and spent a terrifying night chained next to Dan,” she wrote.

She said she spent years in counseling and still has shrapnel in her chest that hurts her and brings back haunting memories of the ordeal that ended her athletic career.

Dan Nichols was convicted of kidnapping and assault and was released from prison in 1991.

The case was the subject of a 1987 made-for-TV movie “The Abduction of Kari Swenson,” starring Tracy Pollan. It was featured in an episode of Investigation Discovery's TV show “Your Worst Nightmare.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.