Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

LA Forensics: The Signature Murders

ATM Payoff

It wasn't long before detectives learned that someone had been using Willie's ATM card, but the surprise was that during this period, Willie Nichols had still been alive. The card was used on April 9 at a bank on 6th Street, and the surveillance video showed a young black man who was clearly not the decedent. He was wearing a black leather jacket similar to the one missing from Willie's apartment. He used the card the next day at a 7/11 store on North Vine, and then two blocks from the victim's residence, he inserted it into an ATM machine on April 11, around midnight — just twenty minutes after the last time someone had spoken with Willie.

DA Carol Rose
DA Carol Rose

Deputy DA Carol Rose later theorized that the perpetrator knew Willie, acquired his ATM card and the pin number to collect on money, possibly for drugs, so that's why he was in possession of the card and the PIN number before the victim had died. He might then have gotten the idea to just kill Willie and keep using the card.

Detectives got the videotapes for analysis. They sharpened the picture until they were able to clearly see the slender man using the card and walking away. This didn't yield his identity, but it gave them a way to find out if someone else could tell them who he was.

They made freeze-frame photos, first showing them to the family to see if someone who knew Willie Nichols might recognize this person. They did not, but they did recognize Willie's leather jacket. Detectives then prepared "wanted" bulletins with the photo and hung these in strategic places around the general neighborhood of the murder. Then they had to wait and hope that 1) someone would recognize him, and

2) any person who recognized him would come to the police. About six weeks passed before they received significant information.

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