Human remains on a rural Illinois farm have been identified by the FBI as Megan Nichols, a 15-year-old girl who disappeared in 2014.
UPDATE January 31, 2018, 5:44 a.m. PT: Remains of Megan Nichols, a 15-year-old who went missing in 2014, were positively identified Friday, according to a press release by the FBI, NBC News reports.
Nov. 23, 2016:
A mother's desperate search to find her teen daughter involves a reported love triangle and an ATM withdrawal caught on camera.
Megan Nichols's mother says she walked into her teenage daughter's room to give her a kiss goodnight on the night of July 3, 2014. But Megan wasn't there.
It's was 4th of July weekend in Fairfield, Illinois.
Megan Nichols, 15, was the well-behaved only child of Kathy Jo Hutchcraft. The high school sophomore was a good student and avid member of their church.
On this holiday weekend, Kathy Jo and Megan had plans to shop, but Megan wasn't feeling well and wanted to stay home and go to bed. Kathy Jo heads back out to finish her shopping. She's gone for an hour. When she returns, all seems normal. Later, she went upstairs to find that Megan was gone.
In a panic, Kathy Jo and her own mother head straight to the police station to report Megan's disappearance. But according to them, the police response wasn't what they hoped. Megan hadn't been gone for long, so there was nothing police could immediately do. Kathy Jo and her mother head back to the house to look for clues.
"We went back upstairs and I pulled her blanket back and that's when I found her phone, and when I picked it up my heart sank," said Kathy Jo.
And then things get even scarier. The phone has been wiped cleaned. All photos, messages, contacts, any and every sign of Megan were deleted. In her room, they found a note from Megan.
"Basically it said, 'Mom, I love you but I'm never going to be happy here. Don't come looking for me 'cause why spend a lifetime looking for somebody that doesn't wanna be found,'" said Kathy Jo.
The writing appears to be Megan's, but the words are not, according to her mother.
"This does not sound like my daughter at all. To me this is borderline cruel," said Kathy Jo. "Knowing my daughter like I know my daughter, if those were going to be her last words to me, it wouldn't have been those words."
Kathy Jo says a friend tells her to check bank accounts.
"And sure enough money had been withdrawn on July the 3rd around 2 o'clock p.m.," said Kathy Jo. That's the same time Megan went on a bike ride earlier in the day before she went home not feeling well.
"The last images of Megan were from this ATM surveillance video," said Kathy Jo. "It showed her riding her bike up to the bank, withdrawing money. That was right before she vanished."
Megan's family offers up evidence of the phone and note to police. Then investigators begin doing their own digging and they don't have to go far to find a promising lead. And it's a shocker: Megan's own father, who is a sex-offender.
"Megan's father, Jackson, had some warrants out against him," said Kathy Jo. "He was of age and the young girl was not."
U.S. Marshals picked up Jackson Nichols, now living in the Tulsa, Okla. area. He's thrown behind bars and held on a federal warrant showing he's an unregistered sex offender. In 1997, a then 18-year-old Jackson was dating a 14-year old girl. And when the girl's mother found out, Jackson was charged with two counts of non-violent sexual assault. But over a decade later, when he's pulled over for a traffic ticket, Jackson got a big surprise.
"I am now a registered sex offender and I'm on the FBI Watch List for 10 years," Jackson said.
Ends up it was just a clerical error. But somehow the dismissal paperwork doesn't make its way across state lines from Illinois to Oklahoma. So when Megan disappeared and cops looked into her father, a warrant was issued.
"They let me sit in Tulsa County Jail for almost a month because they forgot to file paperwork," said Jackson Nichols. "It took extreme measures for someone to call and harass them and finally they sent it out and I got out."
Jackson was cleared as a possible suspect in Megan's disappearance. Megan's mother never considered her ex-husband a viable suspect because she has her own suspicions about what happened to her daughter.
"Fairly soon before her disappearance, Megan was seeing a young man," said Megan's mother Kathy Jo Hutchcraft.
But according to friends and family, he was in another relationships with a different girl at the same time. They say it was a good old-fashioned love triangle.
"I'd had it at that point," Kathy Jo said. "He's using her and you, and you're done, you're 15, he's 18, this is over.
"She kept staying in contact with him so I took her phone from her. So one evening I wanted to check her phone to see if she missed anything important," said Kathy Jo. "I seen this text conversation between her and the boy, but I only see her side of the conversation and it was happening as I was looking at her phone.
"So I walked upstairs and I was like Megan and she was like 'Yeah, she bounced out of her door,' and I said 'I'm seeing a message between you and him here happening,' and her face just, she was had. I said 'Where's your iPod?' She didn't answer me. My heart just sunk."
And it was about to sink even lower when she reads the texts messages from her daughter's iPod.
"She made the comment that she couldn't stand me, she just wanted to get out of this house, and his response was 'I just want to come get you right now,'" said Kathy Jo.
It was enough for Megan's mom to put a stop to what she calls a forbidden teen romance.
"So I called him from her phone, and I said 'Don't contact my daughter again. This is over,'" said Kathy Jo.
But still it wasn't over.
"On Memorial Day 2014, we all went to bed," said Kathy Jo. "I woke up about 9:30, and it's not uncommon for me to go check on Megan. When I went up there that night she wasn't there. I am in panic mode. This had never happened. Megan had never left without telling me."
Megan's gone, but not her phone, and there's a recent text from a female friend, which reads simply "OK."
"I called that phone number back and the boy answered," said Kathy Jo.
Megan's mom calls police.
"And while I was on the phone with the police Megan came walking from our backyard," said Kathy Jo.
But whatever happened between Megan and that boy that night or the next few months leading up to her disappearance, no one can say for sure. But one thing was certain, according to the Megan's cellphone records, the last calls Megan made before she disappeared were made to that boy.
Megan's mother also says there was more to see than just Megan's image in the ATM bank surveillance video -- there was something else in the background.
"In the very back of the video I could see a car, looked exactly like the boy's car," said Kathy Jo. "At the very end of the video, after she disappeared from it, a few moments later you could see this car pulling out."
According to Kathy Jo, Fairfield Police claim there was no car in the video, and Megan's parents haven't seen it since that fateful day.
And what does this boy have to say about all of this? Crime Watch Daily went looking for him to get his side of the story. We didn't end up finding him, but apparently he had plenty to say on his Facebeook page.
He wrote, in part: "Okay, this has gone on long enough...I had nothing to do with this and that I have nothing to hide...I am not in the video as she withdrew her money and ran from her family...this is the first time I have spoken up to defend myself. I shouldn't even have to defend myself if I am not involved."
And police seem to agree, saying he is not a suspect.
When Crime Watch Daily reached out to Fairfield Police, they would not speak to any claims made by the family since this is an ongoing investigation.
The Charley Project, a website set up to help solve missing person cases, lists Megan as an endangered runaway. But no matter what, Megan's family is holding out hope they'll hear their daughter sing once more.
Megan Nichols was 5 foot 6 inches tall and weighed about 111 pounds when she disappeared. She would be 18 years old right now.