Nichole Rice is a North Dakota woman arrested in the 2007 cold case murder of her roommate. Anita Knutson was an 18-year-old Minot State University student when she was stabbed to death. Rice, then Nichole Thomas, was 19. Rice, who is now a 34-year-old married mother who works as a civilian employee at the Minot Air Force Base, was arrested on Wednesday, March 16, 2022, the Minot Police Department announced.
“After nearly 15 years of investigating and following up on leads, the suspect is in custody,” Minot Police Chief John Klug said at a press conference. “At about 3:25 p.m. 34-year-old Nichole Rice was arrested for murder and taken to our county jail. Although most of the detectives who worked the original scene and the investigation have retired, we have not forgotten about this case. … My heart goes out to the family. I wish we could have solved this sooner, but at the same time I’m glad to say that we have the person responsible for the murder of Anita Knutson in custody.”
Knutson was found dead in her off-campus apartment in Minot on June 4, 2007, after her father called for a welfare check, according to police. He told police he hadn’t heard from his daughter in days, which was unusual, police said. The screen on the window in Knutson’s bedroom had been cut open and was found face down on her bed with multiple stab wounds. Her body was covered with a housecoat, police said. A bloody knife was found in a bathroom and nothing appeared to have been stolen, according to police.
Knutson was a “beautiful, charismatic, and joyful” elementary education major from Butte, North Dakota, her family told The Daily Beast in January 2022. Her sister, Anna Knutson, told the news site, “She was enjoying school” and always “had a lot of friends around her.” Her family has not commented since Rice’s arrest.
Here’s what you need to know about Nichole Rice, the suspect in Anita Knutson’s murder:
1. Minot Police Say Nichole Thomas Rice ‘Was Always a Person of Interest in This Case’
According to police, Rice, then Nichole Thomas, was Anita Knutson’s only roommate. She had told investigators she was out of town with her parents when Rice was killed. But said Rice was never officially ruled out as a suspect in Knutson’s murder. “I don’t know that I would say she that she was ever cleared,” Klug said. “There was never enough to arrest her. But I would say she was always a person of interest in this case.”
Klug said detectives Carmen Asham and Mikali Talbott were most recently assigned to investigate the case. “We tried to actively investigate Anita’s case for the past few years and finally, with the help from ‘Cold Justice,’ we were able to move forward and regain focus. Due to the resources, logistics and planning they were able to provide, we were able to obtain an arrest warrant for Nichole Rice,” Klug said.
Klug added, “I would to thank everyone, especially Detective Asham and Detective Talbot, for their hard work and their dedication to the investigation and Captain Dale Plessas for his efforts to assist in coordinating all of the moving parts over the past week. I must also thank all of the officers, the staff and everybody else at the Minot Police Department who has picked up the slack while everybody else has been busy working this case.”
“Cold Justice” is a true-crime TV show that airs on Oxygen produced by Dick Wolf. The show follows former Harris County, Texas, prosecutor Kelly Siegler and former Las Vegas Metro Police crime scene investigator Yolanda McClary as they work on cold case murders.
When asked about “Cold Justice’s” role, Knutson said they provided support. “We do all the investigating, they just provide experts and other professionals to help us and help answer questions, do any testing, they’re really just a resource for us,” he said. Klug said in the past, staffing and timing issues prevented the department from focusing as needed on the cold case murder.
2. Investigators Were Told ‘There Was a Lot of Tension Between Anita & Nichole … Nichole’s Reputation Is That She Was Hot-Tempered & Reactionary’ & a Friend Said She Heard Her Say ‘One Way or Another I’m Going to Get You Out of This House’
According to the affidavit of probable cause written by Minot Detective Mikali Talbott, Nichole Thomas Rice was one of four people who had keys to the apartment where she and Knutson lived. The apartment’s landlady and an apartment maintenance worker also had keys, according to police. Rice was not at the apartment when Knutson, who was stabbed twice and bled to death, was found, according to the affidavit.
The full affidavit of probable cause can be read here.
Talbott wrote that Knutson had been texting with a friend on Sunday, June 3, 2007. She last replied to a text at 4:48 a.m. and her phone records showed a text was sent to her at 4:53 a.m. that was never read by Knutson. She did not text or make any phone calls after the 4:48 a.m. text on June 3, police said. According to police, Knutson’s purse, laptop, phone, a digital camera and other valuables were left in her bedroom, “suggesting theft was not a motive.”
The affidavit added, “The single window in Antia’s room, which was located just past the foot of her bed, was wide open and missing a screen. A pocketknife with dried blood on it was found on the bed, close to the wall and open window.” Police said “nothing was disturbed” beneath the window, and it did “not appear anyone went through the window.”
According to the affidavit, “A number of individuals indicated that there was a lot of tension between Anita and Nichole. Anita had a reputation for being kind, friendly and likable. Nichole’s reputation is that she was hot-tempered and reactionary. One friend heard Nichole say to Anita, prior to her murder, ‘One way or another I’m going to get you (Anita) out of this house.'”
Talbott said in the affidavit that police received “numerous tips” about Knutson’s murder over the years, including “information regarding party attended by Nichole.” Talbott wrote, “Law enforcement had been told that Nichole admitted to the murder, but the person or people that heard this admission was unknown to law enforcement.” Police have since identified the person as a man Rice dated in 2008 or 2009.
During a party with his friends, Knutson’s murder came up, the tipster said. Rice was “belligerently drunk,” and the man she dated told police she told him she “did it.” The man told police he tried to get her to admit it again when she was sober but she “became angry at him.” According to the affidavit:
Nichole told police that she was at her family’s farm by Velva when Anita was murdered. Statements received from Nichole were inconsistent and contradicted each other. Statements by members of her family were also inconsistent.
Nichole stated she and Anita were best friends and she has never complained about Anita to anyone. This was contradicted by a number of people who indicated that Nichole did not like Anita.
A witness told police in September 2008 that after Knutson’s murder, Rice referred to her as a “f***** b****” and a “f****** little c***.” According to the affidavit, the witness also said Rice had said she was at her parents’ farm all weekend, but the witness had seen her in a bar in Ruso on June 2, 2007, until the early morning of June 3. The affidavit said:
Nichole told witness 1 that after she left the club in Ruso, she had to Minot to her apartment to get some clothes that night. Witness 1 said that Nichole had changed her story multiple times.
Nichole and Kevin Thomas, Nichole’s father, previously told officers that Nichole was at her parents’ house from approximately 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 2 until the morning of June 4, 2007. Those statements have changed several times and contradict each other. Witness 1 said that Nichole told her details about the scene that would not have been known to Nichole or anyone outside of the investigation team.
According to the affidavit, “Law Enforcement re-interviewed multiple people, including the defendant, in 2022.”
Klug said he couldn’t get into “the details of everything that went into the affidavit of this arrest. A lot of it isn’t new information, there were a few details that came up. Over time, things start to develop. Ultimately, you’re looking back at at least dozens, probably over 100 statements that were taken.”
Klug told reporters, “Really there hasn’t been a lot of changes from the original investigation. We’ve tried to keep this investigation alive over the years.” He said, “I think the turning point in this case was really just trying to pull all of that information together and put it in an order that makes sense. A lot of the information is information we have. It just took a little bit of refocusing and a lot of paying attention to the fine details. It was being able to sit and dedicate some time, our officers to that, and let them do their work.”
3. Rice Was a Member of a Facebook Memorial Group for Anita Knutson
Nichole Rice was a member of a Facebook memorial group for the victim, “In Loving Memory of Anita Knutson…,” according to the page’s administrator. Her Facebook page has been deleted. According to members of the group, Rice would comment often, including on Knutson’s birthday. She wrote comments like, “Miss you,” and shared TV reports about the cold case on Facebook.
Rice’s mother, GaeMari Thomas, wrote about the Knutson case in a now-deleted 2016 Facebook post. She wrote, “I wish they would catch the person that took Anita’s life. I really liked her, I know u 2 had yor ups and downs, no different they any of the other in yor class.” She said when they make an arrest, “it will be a much needed relief 4 everyone.”
Nichole Rice replied, “It’s just hard being the person everyone looks at. I’m that girl…I’m not a criminal.” She said she is “a victim too…This has changed my life forever…and I still hurt…I focus as much as I can on knowing the people that know me and know what kind of person I am know I wouldn’t hurt anyone….But I’ll never be able to change those otehr people’s feelings.”
4. Nichole Rice, Who Has a Daughter, Married for a Second Time in December 2021, According to Her Facebook & Instagram Pages
Nichole Rice, born Nichole Erin Thomas, has been married since December 2021 and has an adolescent daughter, her Instagram shows. It was her second marriage. She has also gone by Nichole Bakken. According to her now-deleted Facebook page, she was born in Velva, North Dakota, and lived in Minot. She wrote on Facebook she is a, “Mom of 1 … Married to my best friend. Dog mom. Cat mom. Ringleader of my own circus.”
Klug told reporters Rice was at the Minot Air Face Base working in a civilian capacity when she was arrested without incident. Klug did not go into detail about what job Rice had at the Air Force base and the Air Force hasn’t commented about her employment status.
Rice, who also goes by Nikki Rice, studied cosmetology and has also worked as a hair stylist, according to her now-deleted Facebook page. Rice’s Facebook shows she also spent time working at a car dealership. A page related to that job has also been deleted.
Rice’s social media also showed she was an avid bowhunter. Her page showed her with dead deer and other animals she had killed. On her Knot wedding website, she wrote that she met her husband at a sporting goods store where he worked. “They do pretty much everything together because they have so much in common. They are usually either out fishing or hunting during their free time. It’s always a friendly competition,” the page says. It added that she and her husband, “have recently purchased 6 acres not land and are planning the future with (her daughter)! So many exciting things to come! They decided to not go on a honeymoon in order to put money into the new place! It’s been a long time dream of both of theirs to own some land of their own!”
5. Nichole Rice, Who Is Being Held Without Bond, Faces Life in Prison Without Parole if Convicted of Murder
Nichole Erin Rice was charged with murder, a class AA felony in North Dakota. According to North Dakota state law, the charge carries a potential sentence of life in prison without parole if she is convicted. Rice is being held at the Ward County Jail without bond. She was scheduled to make her first court appearance on March 17, 2022.
Rice is being represented by Philip Becher, court records show. He could not immediately be reached for comment by Heavy.
Ward County State’s Attorney Rozanna Christine Larson’s office said in a statement, “The State’s Attorney’s Office declines to provide too many details in this matter, as we prefer to try the case in a court of law rather than in the court of public opinion. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Minot Police Department, particularly Captain Dale Plessas and Detectives Mikali Talbott and Carmen Asham, for the hard work they have put into this case.”
The prosecutor’s office added, “As this case moves forward in the court system it will be handled by Assistant State’s Attorneys Leah Viste and Tiffany Sorgen. Although an arrest has been made, we still encourage anyone who may have any
information in this case to reach out to the Minot Police Department at (701) 857 0111.”
Klug told reporters, “We’ve turned over every leaf already. It was just a matter of putting that information in front of new investigators and letting them do the work. And detectives Asham and Talbott did that. They read every statement, they looked at every piece of evidence, they looked at every report that was done and they refined that information down. So it’s just a lot of time-consuming work and dedication to the community and Anita and the family.”
The chief added, “It’s unnerving to know that somebody is out there that murdered somebody and in this case there was not one person who had anything bad to say about Anita. So to me, this was a young girl with a great future that was taken away from her family way too soon. It was a relief. It was good to know that finally the one case that we’ve had hanging out there that we just could not get to a solution, was finally over.”