‘Vanished into thin air’

Steve Chapman

Christene Seal around 1967.

Area investigation: Using trained anthropology dogs, a team from the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office searches the property where the Calico Farm was once located in hopes of finding out what happened to Christene Seal. (Photos submitted)

After 50 years, Seal’s disappearance near Verona remains a mystery
Sunday, June 19, was a day of celebration for many people. Not only was it Father’s Day, but it was also Juneteenth, the day commemorating the emancipation of slaves in the United States in 1865. For the family of Christene Seal, however, the day marked a grim milestone. It was 50 years ago on that day that Christene disappeared from her home in Verona. She has never been found.

Background on the case
Christene Seal was born Christene Nickle on Nov. 2, 1949. Her parents were Doyle and Trudy Nickle, who married in 1947 (Doyle, a native of Butterfield, was a master sergeant in the Army; he met Trudy in Vienna, where she was staying with relatives after being displaced from her home in the Czech Republic during WWII). Her younger brother, Bruce Nickle, was born two years later.
As a military family, the Nickles moved around a great deal until Doyle retired. Afterwards, the family settled in Cassville, where Christene finished high school and graduated in 1967. Following her high school graduation, she attended beauty school and became a cosmetologist; she went to work at Duane’s Beauty Shop in Monett.
While attending school in Cassville, Christene met Linn Seal. They began a serious relationship and were married in July of 1968. They had their first and only child, David, in September of 1969. Eventually, Linn went to work at the now-defunct Calico Dairy Farm in Verona, near where Yoder’s Hardwoods stands today. He, Christene and David lived in a trailer on the farm.
On the day of Christene’s disappearance, Linn went to work at about 8 a.m. He came back around 9:45 a.m. to find David, then two, crying while sitting on the floor of the trailer’s kitchen. Christene was nowhere to be found.
Linn looked for Christene himself before calling for help. Lawrence County deputy sheriffs came to investigate, and later, a search party of about 500 people converged on the area, but no trace of Christene was found. Bloodhounds were also brought out to search for her, but they lost Christene’s scent in the driveway behind where her car was parked.

Last memories
Trudy Nickle said the last time she saw Christene was on June 18, 1972, which was Father’s Day that year. She said Christene and Linn came with David to visit before going to visit with Bruce and then later see Linn’s parents.
“The whole thing happened on Father’s Day weekend,” Trudy said, “and on Father's Day, my husband and I were down at the lake, and they came down; Chris and Linn, and of course, the little guy. They were down in a boat, and they came back up to our house and we all ate dinner at the house, and then they went to (Bruce’s) place. That's the last time we saw her, so Father's Day was always a bad day for us.”
The next day, Trudy said, they got a call from Linn that Christene was missing.
“My husband answered the phone, and he told me that Linn asked, ‘Have you seen anything of Chris today?’ Now, why he said that I don't know because Chris’s car was there … at her home. And, of course, (Doyle) said no, and he told me then, ‘Chris isn’t there; let's go up there.’ That's all he said.”
Trudy said when she and Doyle arrived, many people were at Linn and Chris’s trailer.
“We got to Verona, (and) all kinds of people (were) there,” she said. “Of course, the car was there, and I thought, ‘What's going on here, now?’ And then I found out that Chris is gone, that David is there, and that was it. So, all the people were in and out of that trailer, so there were no fingerprints; there was nothing.”

The original investigation
Trudy was highly critical of how the deputies who investigated Christene’s disappearance initially handled the situation. While Christene was gone, her purse, clothing, car and, of course, David, were all still there. But Trudy said she didn’t think that the deputies took the case seriously.
“All they could think of was she ran off, and they're going to sit there for two days, and that was it,” she said. “And that's all they did.”
Bruce Nickle also expressed disapproval of the deputies’ actions.
“They had a handful of deputies there, smoking on cigarette butts on the ground,” he said. “Any type of crime scene that there was, they contaminated it.”
Bruce also said that, as a favor to the family, the now-former Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, looked into the case, and later told them that there were no records to be found. However, Lt. Chris Berry, current supervisor of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office’s Detective Division, said the reason for that was, at that time, the deputies would not have seen the need to create a file.
“Just someone leaving was no reason to create a file,” he said, “and then it's kind of a gist that we got from it, but now when Sheriff Dave Tatum reopened or reinvestigated, there was a file created, a real file, were someone missing in 1972, there probably wasn’t (one made).”
Berry also defended the efforts of the deputies who initially investigated Seal’s disappearance, noting that they did not have the investigative tools available to detectives today. For example, he said, if someone disappears now, the police can check their social media, e-mail, electronic bank transactions, video footage, license plate readers if they were traveling by automobile, etc. Those technologies simply did not exist in 1972.
“I think they did the best they could do with what they had to work with,” he said. “Granted, we wouldn't handle the situations that way today, but I think it is the best they could do with what they had.”

Reopening the investigation
Berry reopened the investigation into Seal’s disappearance in 2019 with Sgt. Jimmy Hammond, an officer in the detective division. Berry said they began investigating the case the same way they investigated the murder of Cynthia Smith, whose case was the subject of the episode of “Cold Justice” called “Small Town Predator.”
“We took this cold case file, and we set out, and we researched it,” he said, “and we pretty much do that on our own time. We did a lot of this on our own, in between other investigations. We took what information we had, wrote it back here on our big board, and we went. We contacted (people with) …  anthropology dogs … they actually can find, according to (their handlers), Indian burial sites and the prehistoric burial sites. These dogs are supposed to be able to find burials from that. So, we contacted them … they came down and we spent an entire day with them. We went out to the old farm, we went where the old ponds were at, where all of this was supposed to take place, and then we went to Barry County, and we went to the old farm, and we did the whole property, as well.”
“(It was) probably a 16-hour day, every day,” Hammond added. “We went clear up into the night. We worked all day and had the dogs. We walked, we set up lines and looked through the fields.”
Berry added that the dogs did hit on two locations, but nothing was located regarding Seal.
The investigation into Seal’s disappearance remains open, but with amount of time that has passed, Berry said he believes the case will only come to a conclusion with a “deathbed confession.”

Linn Seals divorced Christine two years after her disappearance. He remarried, and his second wife adopted David, and, Trudy said, they moved down to Georgia. In the years that followed, they had two other children. Seven years after her disappearance, Christine was declared legally dead.
Doyle Nickle died in December of 2019 at the age of 98 in Cassville, never learning the truth of what became of his daughter. Trudy and Bruce continue to live in Cassville; Bruce has gone on to start his own business, Nickle Flooring.
David is now a retired air traffic controller working in real estate. After being contacted on social media, he said that his father was in a traffic accident last year in which he sustained a serious concussion and now has to deal with “terrible, nearly debilitating headaches daily.”
“If there was a prayer of anything new coming from yet another article, or of finding her kidnapper, he would be at the front of the line to participate, but unfortunately that’s not been our experience,” David said. “We’ve been down this road many, many, many times with both print and television pieces.”

Statement by Sheriff DeLay
In response to a media inquiry, Brad DeLay, sheriff of Lawrence County, issued the following statement:
“The Seal Case has always been one of those cases that has frustrated everyone,” he said, “from family members who still don’t have answers, to law enforcement who can’t find the answers. This case was puzzling from the beginning. She appears to have vanished into thin air. Sadly, many of those questions could not be answered for some of the family members who have passed as well. There were not many leads to follow from the beginning. To hamper things even more is the fact that many of the potential witnesses, as well as law enforcement officers involved, have also passed. So, what information they may have had that wasn’t written down, is forever lost. This case will never go away and will never be closed until all the answers are there. It is still our hope that someone, somewhere, will have that one clue to help us solve this case and provide justice for Christene. We will continue to follow up on any lead that may come in and will still work to provide closure for all involved.”


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


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