MINOT — An unsolved murder draped over the Minot Police Department for 15 years finally resulted in an arrest this week.
34-year-old Nichole Rice, Minot, was taken into custody Wednesday and charged with murdering her roommate, Anita Knutson. Knutson was 18 years old at the time of her death. Rice, a civilian working as a hairdresser at Minot Air Force Base, was arrested without incident at her place of employment at 3:25 p.m. Wednesday. One hour later Minot Police scheduled a news conference in which they revealed the stunning development in the case.
“Finally, with the help of Cold Justice, we were able to move forward and regain focus,” Police Chief John Klug stated at the press conference. “Due to the resources, logistics, planning, and experts they were able to provide, we were able to obtain an arrest warrant for Nichole Rice. I want to thank everyone for their hard work and dedication to the investigation.”
In particular, Klug cited the work of the lead investigators on the case, Detectives Carmen Asham and Mikali Talbott. He added that he “wished the case would have been solved sooner” but that it was a relief that the “case hanging out there was finally over.”
Cold Justice is a syndicated television series in which a team of investigators seeks closure of unsolved crimes. They were known to be in Minot for more than a week earlier this month.
“Their role is to support our department. We do all the investigating,” said Klug. “They provided experts and other professionals to help us, help answer questions. Really, just a resource for us. I wouldn’t say they put us over the top, but they definitely helped keep us focused, so that we could do this.”
Kelly Siegler, a former State of Texas prosecutor nicknamed the “Giant Killer,” was among the Cold Justice team that arrived in Minot to work the Anita Knutson case. Siegler’s history includes winning 68 consecutive murder cases. Klug did not say if his department invited Cold Justice to Minot or if they initiated involvement on their own.
Klug said his department had “turned over every leaf” in the lengthy investigation, adding it “was just a matter of putting all that information in front of new investigators and letting them do their work. Detective Asham and Talbott did that. They refined the information. It was a lot of time consuming work and dedication to the community and to Anita and her family.”
Knutson was the adopted daughter of Gordon and Sharon Knutson of Butte. She was a freshman at Minot State University at the time of her death and was known for a polite and kind demeanor.
“To me this was a young girl with a great future that was taken away from her family way too soon,” said Klug. “In this case there was not one person that had anything bad to say about Anita. Speaking for myself, it was unnerving to know somebody was out there that murdered somebody.”
The case had a myriad of twists and turns from day one. Investigators went through an extensive list of suspects including Rice, then Thomas. Other suspects included members of a roofing crew working near Knutson’s apartment, a suspicious jogger who was the subject of a police drawing, a maintenance worker, dance partners, and college students. In the end though, the investigation led back to Rice.
“There was never enough to arrest her, but I would say she was always a person of interest,” said Klug. “She was never cleared.”
Knutson’s brother, Daniel, was said to be so distraught over Anita’s murder that he committed suicide. So too did a maintenance man who had a key to Knutson’s apartment and thought by many to be implicated in the murder.
The Crime Scene
The apartment shared by Knutson and Rice was at 2420 4th Street Northwest, Apt. #5. Police were called there at 5:12 p.m., Monday, June 4, 2007. Gordon Knutson, Anita’s father, had gone to the apartment to check on her. Anita Knutson had failed to show up for work at a Minot hotel the previous Saturday, something quite unusual for her, and did not talk to her family on Sunday.
When Gordon Knutson arrived at the apartment, he discovered a window open with a screen window lying outside beneath it. Through the window he could see Anita lying motionless on her bed, close enough to touch. Her body was cold. The door, which was locked, was opened by a landlady who had a key.
Inside investigators found virtually nothing had been disturbed, suggesting theft was not a motive. There were no scuff marks or shoe prints, no evidence that anyone had entered or exited through the open window. A pocketknife with dried blood on it was found on the bed. Anita Knutson had suffered two stab wounds and bled to death.
After the Murder
According to police, Rice told them that she was at her family’s farm south of Velva when Knutson was murdered. Her father, Kevin Thomas, told investigators that his daughter was home from Saturday evening to Sunday morning on the weekend of the murder.
However, that claim was contradicted by another witness who told police that Rice was in a club in Ruso the night before Knutson’s murder, staying until early morning, and then saying she had to go to Minot to get some clothes.
Included in tips to law enforcement was that a person, or persons, was told by Rice that she committed the murder. According to the statement of facts filed with the court, that occurred in either 2008 or 2009, but who actually heard the admission remained unknown until earlier this month.
Rice made her initial appearance in North-Central District Court Thursday afternoon. Appearing on interactive television before Judge Richard Hager, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and seated inside the Ward County Jail, she was told by Hager that the AA murder charge against her is punishable by life in prison without parole.
When asked if she understood the charges against her she responded, quietly, that she did. Following an exchange of information from both the State’s Attorney and the defense, Hagar set bail at $120,000 cash or $250,000 surety. He also scheduled a preliminary hearing for April 21 at 3 p.m. and a pretrial conference June 29 at 11 a.m.
Court records show Rice posted bond following her appearance and is out of custody.
In a Facebook post by Rice a few years ago she wrote, “It’s hard being the person everyone looks at” and that people who know “what kind of person I am know I wouldn’t hurt anyone. All of this has been very hard on me.”
Investigators offer a very different view in their affidavit, asserting “Nichole’s reputation is that she was hot-tempered and reactionary.”
Investigators say they re-interviewed multiple people associated with the case, including Rice, in 2022.