In 1984, Kari Swenson was a 22-year old world-class skier training for a spot in the World Biathlon Championship. She was training in the mountains near Yellowstone National Park that July, and it was while on a training run that she was accosted by a self-proclaimed “mountain man”, Don Nichols, and his son.
Nichols says he kidnapped Kari in the hopes that she would become his wife and be a mother to his son; the two had been living off the land for years. According to him, they led Kari into the woods and chained her to a tree but treated her very “humanely” otherwise. He wrote about the abduction and the events which followed in a series of letters and journals which are kept at the Montana library.
“We more or less only intimidated Kari into coming with us. We were only going to keep her with us for a few days if it didn’t work out,” Nichols wrote. “Also, we treated her very humanely all the time, in fact cordially, except for the unusual circumstances. I did not hit Kari. The chain involved was a real lightweight chain. One end was fastened comfortably around her waist and other end around a tree.”
The “unusual circumstances” he wrote about include fatally shooting Kari’s rescuer, Alan Goldstein, in a melee after Goldstein came looking for her and shooting Kari in the chest, which he claims was an accident. He then took his son and escaped into the wild for five months before they were captured. Kari survived the ordeal, making it through the several hours it took police to find her and going on to win a bronze medal in the world championships in France.
Nichols, on the other hand, was given an 85-year prison sentence, from which he is up for parole next week. His son was released on parole in 1991 but violated that order just last month by not showing up to court on a drug charge. For Kari Swenson, her family, and the residents of the Bozeman area who remember the events well, the thought of Nichols being free is a haunting one.