Jewell Parchman Langford was found dead in the Nation River on May 3, 1975, but authorities could not put a name to the remains until decades later. (Images: Ontario Provincial Police)
Rodney Mervyn Nichols, 81, allegedly told investigators he “had to come clean” in confessing that he murdered beloved Tennessee businesswoman Jewell Parchman Langford and dumped her body in a Canadian river. But that admission allegedly happened almost 50 years after the crime, immediately after authorities confronted him with the evidence, and years after he told the initial investigators an impossible story about her calling him when, in fact, she was already dead.
Now, as Nichols awaits extradition proceedings from Florida, both sides of the case are already fighting over the legitimacy of that confession.
Defense lawyer Bernardo Lopez, who seeks bond for Nichols during the extradition process, said that his client is wheelchair-bound and living with full-onset dementia.
“Because the alleged confession of Mr. Nichols is the strongest evidence supporting the required proof of probable cause, this court must examine the validity of the interrogation and resulting confession,” Lopez wrote in a filing dated Wednesday. He requested an evidentiary hearing to determine how the circumstances of his client’s physical and mental health affect the request for bond and the validity of the extradition request to Canada.
Records show Nichols remains at the Federal Detention Center in Miami.
Authorities acknowledged his purported mental condition in a U.S. federal extradition complaint.
“According to Canadian authorities, NICHOLS recently developed cognitive and memory issues, as reported by his Power of Attorney,” prosecutors wrote. Investigators knew of this and did a routine assessment of Nichol’s mental capacity during the interview on Feb. 1, 2022, at the North-Lake Retirement Home in Hollywood, Florida.
Authorities claim they determined Nichols was verbal and able to engage in conversation, and that he demonstrated accurate recall, such as when he corrected the interviewing officer about the name of his former rugby club and criticized the lunch he had just eaten.
Lopez called the investigators’ mental capacity test “laughably inept” and that it fell short of what is required to make sure someone is fully aware of the nature and circumstances of the interrogation, the rights he had, and whether he knowingly and voluntarily waived those rights.
Langford, a well-respected businesswoman in Tennessee, left the U.S. for Montreal in April 1975, authorities said. She was last heard from on April 22, 1975, according to federal documents.
Both prosecution and defense documents describe her as dating Nichols. According to authorities, they moved in together in Montreal.
“At the time of her disappearance, Langford’s belongings, including her Cadillac, remained at her home in Montreal,” prosecutors wrote.
Montreal police could not find her or bring charges against anyone in connection with her disappearance.
When Ontario authorities found her floating face down all the way over in the Nation River on May 3, 1975, they did not have the means to identify her. “The Nation River Lady” remained nameless for decades, and Langford remained technically missing until after authorities exhumed her remains in 2018 and used her DNA to track down her relatives in 2021.
“The Victim was partially nude, her hands and feet were bound with neckties, a twenty-four-inch piece of black plastic-covered coaxial cable wire was loosely around her neck, and her head was covered by a handcloth, a towel, and a tablecloth, which were knotted tightly around her neck,” documents stated.
The autopsy found two fracture injuries to her larynx. The coroner’s report concluded she died of strangulation by ligature of the neck.
“The presence of swelling of the wrists around the ligatures suggested to Canadian authorities that the Victim was alive when her wrists and ankles were tied,” prosecutors wrote. But her lungs contained no water. In light of that, Canadian investigators believed she was dead before entering the water.
Nichols allegedly told investigators shifting tales among his statements from both 1975 and 2021.
Montreal police, who did not consider him a suspect at the time, interviewed him back on June 7, 1975, at the home he had shared with Langford, according to prosecutors.
“She complained that she was tired of being alone and told him that she was going to take a trip on her own across Canada,” Nichols allegedly asserted. “NICHOLS took her wallet and vehicle keys to prevent her from leaving and, when he did so, he saw the date of birth on her driver’s license and realized that she was much older than he had presumed. This worsened the dispute, but he went to bed.”
Langford was gone when he returned home from work the next day, he allegedly said.
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According to documents, he said she called him in early June 1975 and told him she was in Vancouver. But that was well after authorities found her dead in the Nation River.
Nichols allegedly asserted that Langford asked him to join her out in Vancouver. He said that he refused, and she told him she would return to Montreal for his birthday.
The investigator followed up with Nichols on June 12, 1975. Nichols allegedly said he had not heard from Langford since their last telephone conversation.
Years later, in 2011, Canadian investigators managed to develop a partial male DNA profile from a green cloth that covered Langford’s face.
According to documents, Investigators believe Langford lied when he claimed Langford called him in June 1975. They tracked him down to the North Lake Retirement Home in Hollywood, Florida.
Ontario police traveled to Florida on Feb. 1, 2022, and interviewed Nichols in the retirement home with the FBI in tow.
Nichols voluntarily gave investigators a DNA sample, prosecutors said. This allegedly matched the partial male DNA profile collected in 2011 from the green cloth wrapped around Langford’s face and neck.
It was 190 times more likely to be his than anyone unrelated to him, they said.
Nichols initially denied playing a role in Langford’s disappearance, but when confronted about the body in the Nation River, he said he and Langford took a sailboat, and she drowned when it capsized.
“NICHOLS subsequently stated that he tried to drown Langford in the Ottawa River because he was depressed,” documents said. “When NICHOLS was shown photographs of the neckties that had been used to bind Langford’s hands and ankles, he identified the neckties as belonging to him.”
Canadian authorities told Nichols he had admitted to murdering Langford and he could be charged. After speaking to a legal aid lawyer in Canada, Nichols said he had an altercation with Langford at his Montreal home, and he then dumped her body in the Nation River, authorities said.
“When the [Ontario Provincial Police] investigator asked why he confessed, NICHOLS stated that he ‘had to come clean,’” authorities wrote.
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