Joel Hollendorfer, 46, is charged with murder after the teen's remains were found in a garbage bag buried on his parents' property. According to court documents, cadaver dogs found the burial site during the initial investigation, but it was ignored when Hollendorfer's mother told them her horse was buried there.
When first investigating Nichols' disappearance back in 2012, detectives found online ads appearing to show she was working as an escort; they showed pictures of the teen in lingerie, advertising her as the "Sexy New Blonde in Town!" and featured a cellphone number, an affidavit obtained by KDRO shows.
Digging into her call records, investigators found she had been in contact with one number eight times on the night she disappeared, between 9:58 PM and 11:08 PM. Detectives called the number and left a voicemail. The next day they got a call back from Joel Hollendorfer, the documents show.
They told him they were investigating a missing persons case; he told them he had "answered an ad for a girl" and admitted speaking and texting her several times that night, but claimed they never met up because "he was looking for an 'incall' and [Nichols] only did 'outcalls'" — as in he wanted to go to her place, not she to his.
However, police said that when they tracked the movements of Nichols' phone, it showed it had travelled a route ending near Hollendorfer's home, a property owned by his parents, Betty and John Hollendorfer.
Police searched the property with cadaver-detecting K-9 units and marked several spots; however they were never excavated, after Betty Hollendorfer told them that's where various pets and animals had been buried.
The case went cold — until last week, when detectives interviewed Joel Hollendorfer's ex-wife, and she made a shocking confession.
She claimed that after Hollendorfer's father died in 2014, he'd confessed to her he "accidentally killed an escort he hired." She said he told her that he'd also confessed to his parents, and felt responsible for his father's death because of it.
According to the affidavit, the ex-wife told detectives that around the time of his father's funeral, Hollendorfer asked her to go for a ride in his truck; during the drive he told her he'd "hired an escort and during sex with her in his car, he accidentally strangled her until she died."
She said Hollendorfer told her he took Nichols' body to his parents' property, "where he buried her on an old horse grave with plastic bags and lime" — and that his parents had helped cover it all up, the affidavit says, per People.
On February 7, investigators brought Hollendorfer in on unrelated charges and questioned him once again about Nichols' disappearance, where once again he denied ever meeting her.
Police showed him photos of the original search site, including a spot marked "GPR Site 03" — which Betty Hollendorfer had claimed was the place her favorite horse was buried. Joel Hollendorfer insisted nothing was buried there.
That day, police returned to the site and finally dug up "GPR Site 03". About three feet below the surface, they found a bag containing human remains.
On Thursday, El Paso County Sheriff's Office confirmed it was Kara Nichols. They have not confirmed a cause of death.
Hollendorfer was charged with second-degree murder, as well as evidence tampering. He was held on $1 million bond.
That same day, after almost ten years online, the Help Find Kara Facebook page was changed to Justice For Kara.
"Kara was a daughter, sister, niece and friend to many. Kara's life mattered in 2012 and still matters in 2022."
"Our work is not over, it's now time to see the person or people responsible for her death are brought to justice. We will be advocating that no matter how the defense tries to spin Kara's character, we will remind the world, she was an innocent person who no matter her lifestyle choices, she NEVER deserved to leave us like she did."
"Let us remember, no matter the circumstances, Kara DID NOTHING WRONG TO DESERVE this ending."
Bart said the details released in the arrest affidavit are particularly upsetting, since those following the case knew about the cellphone pings and the property where Kara was found for years.
"We will not dwell on the botched investigation over the years and will continue focus on seeing him be locked up for life," Bart said.
She added that Joel Hollendorfer was not the only person who should face justice, but claimed prosecutors believe Hollendorfer's mother's "knowledge and involvement in this crime is questionable at this time."