This unsolved disappearance went unreported for twenty years || The case of Nikole Betterson
Nikole Betterson was born around 1975 to Jarrett Betterson and Susan Klingel. Over Labor Day weekend of 1977, 2-year-old Nikole and her parents were in a car accident. She and her dad were fine, but her mom was killed.
Within a couple of months of his girlfriend’s death, Jarrett Betterson started dating a woman named Barbara. Around Christmas of that year, Jarrett, Barbara and Nikole visited Bill and Mary Klingel, Susan’s parents and Nikole’s grandparents, in Dearborn, Michigan. Jarrett told the Klingels that he, his daughter rand new girlfriend were going to head toward Las Vegas, but they didn’t know what their final destination was — just somewhere out west. The couple reportedly told their friends they wanted to go to either Las Vegas or California.
Years passed, and the Klingels didn’t hear from the Bettersons again. There are many potential reasons for this, but one could be because they didn’t like Jarrett Betterson very much. Jarrett thought it was because he was black, though it’s not clear if this was the case. They did, however, blame Jarrett for their daughter’s drug use.
Around 1997, the Klingels decided to take initiative and find their granddaughter. She would be an adult by now, in her early twenties, and able to have a relationship with them if she wanted to without being under her father’s care.
The couple hired a private investigator named Peggy Bezy to help find Nikole. It didn’t take her long to track down Jarrett and Barbara, now married and living in poverty and poor health in Las Vegas. But Bezy found almost no trace of Nikole. There were no school or adoption records with her name on them and no evidence that she had ever lived with her dad and stepmom. But there was one paper trial that involved her — social security benefits. Nikole was entitled to these benefits after her mom died, and Jarrett and Barbara had collected them every month until the month Nikole would have turned 18.
In the summer of 1997, Bezy contacted detective Jeff Rosgen of the Las Vegas Police Department. Rosgen kept searching, but never found any more traces of Nikole. In November of that year, he talked to the Bettersons himself. He told Jarrett Betterson that he knew what happened to Nikole — even though he didn’t — and promised leniency if he came clean.
Jarrett was upset, but said he’d get back to Rosgen in a week or two. Four days later, he called Rosgen and said he was going to cooperate but that he needed time. Ten days after that, Jarrett called asking for more time. Around Thanksgiving, Rosgen called to see what was going on. There was no answer.
A few days before Christmas, the Betterson’s apartment manager found their bodies. It appeared Jarrett had shot Barbara, then turned the gun on himself. A note was left behind asking for forgiveness for “the mess we have left.”
Jarrett’s mom soon received a letter, written by Barbara. The letter read in part:
“By the time you get this we should be dead. Jarrett is about to go to jail and I don't want to live without him. I'm sorry about living apart from our family. I'm sorry about so many things. We've had a sad and difficult life.
Go to your Bibles to see peace…and please forgive us for all the wounds we have put in your hearts with our tragic and youthful blunders.
“We had hoped our troubles would never touch our families so we kept to ourselves. We've tried to follow God. Now it's about time for him to judge us.
The letter contained $900 to pay for their cremation. Barbara also asked that their ashes be put in the same urn.
So what happened to Nikole Betterson? Police believe she’s probably dead, but note that it’s also possible she could have been illegally adopted or sold. They wonder if she died on the trip to Las Vegas and her dad and stepmom panicked and buried her somewhere. Others wonder this too, speculating that her death was due to abuse or neglect or even that she was abandoned or left with someone before reaching Las Vegas. It’s also been speculated that she did make it to Las Vegas but died sometime before starting school, since there were no school records for her. Some people pointed out that if Nikole was killed on the trip out west, her body could potentially be anywhere between Michigan and Las Vegas, so we don’t know when or where she would have died. Her remains could be somewhere in one of the towns on this route, buried in a grave as a Jane Doe. Or she could be alive somewhere, unaware of who she really is or even that she’s a missing person.
There have been virtually no updates in this case since 1997. At that time, police wanted to get DNA from Nikole’s mother’s relatives to compare it to anyone who came forward believing she was Nikole — or to a Jane Doe. Bill Klingel died in 2016 without ever finding out what happened to his granddaughter.
Nikole Betterson was two years old when she was last seen in Dearborn, Michigan around Christmas of 1977. Nikole is a biracial female who was about 2 feet 7 inches tall and 26 pounds at the time of her disappearance, with black or brown hair. If she were alive today, she would be about 47 years old.
If you have any information about this case, you can contact Detective Jeff Rosgen of the Las Vegas Police Department at 702-229-3521. You can also e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.