HELENA — A woman abducted in the 1980s by self-styled mountain men says in a letter that Don Nichols and his son are "crazy misfits" and argues the 81-year-old Nichols should not be paroled at a Friday hearing.
Nichols comes up for his third parole hearing as federal authorities search for his son Dan for alleged drug crimes. The father-son duo abducted world class biathlete Kari Swenson in 1984 with the stated intention of finding a wife for the younger Nichols.
The crime and prolonged manhunt in the wilderness northwest of Yellowstone National Park ended when a sheriff stormed into a winter camp used by Nichols and his son. Prior to the abduction, the pair had lived for a year poaching game and growing hidden gardens at various camps they set up — prompting authorities to label them with a "mountain man" moniker they embraced.
Swenson has long refused to discuss the incident with the news media. She declined an Associated Press interview request earlier this week.
But in a lengthy letter published in Tuesday's edition of Bozeman Daily Chronicle, she chafed at the "mountain man" label applied to Nichols, saying it implies they were hardworking outdoorsmen.
"Ultimately they were caught without a fight because they were cold, hungry, and tired of living in the mountains. These are not mountain men," wrote Swenson, who is now a veterinarian in Bozeman.
Swenson wrote that Don Nichols' "crazy, mixed-up mind" is apparent in rambling journals where he blames others for the crime. Swenson said the pair eventually left her to die after shooting her during a melee with potential rescuers.
"I endured being grabbed by both wrists, hit in the face, thrown to the ground, chained to Dan, threatened with knives and guns, marched through the woods, secured like an animal to trees and spent a terrifying night chained next to Dan," Swenson wrote. "During the night we could hear searchers calling for me, and I was told repeatedly by Don and Dan that anyone coming into their camp would be shot and killed. This kept me quiet and hopeful that no one would find me."
Swenson said the recovery from the event was painful, and she said she spent years in counseling dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Shrapnel in her chest still causes pain and reminds her of "that awful day."
Swenson, despite diminished lung capacity from the gunshot wound, went on to later win a bronze medal in the world biathlon championships. The Nicholses faced a prosecutor, Marc Racicot, who would later become governor and a jury who didn't buy their argument that modern society misunderstood their mountain man ways.
But Swenson said the 85-year prison sentence allows Nichols to perhaps be released in 2030 — or maybe even be paroled sooner.