What Really Happened To Missing Model Kara Nichols

On October 14, 2012, Paul Nichols contacted Deputy Ayyad with Colorado's El Paso County Sheriff's Office to report that his 19-year-old daughter Kara was missing. According to KOAA, the last known person to have contact with Kara was her brother Terrance. However, he had not heard from her since October 9th.

During their last phone call, Kara told Terrance she planned to travel to Denver for a photo shoot, which she hoped would help further her career as an aspiring model. Terrance said he attempted to call Kara the following day, but the calls seemed to go directly to voicemail. Terrance continued trying to reach his sister, but she did not answer any of his calls. As he was concerned for her welfare, he went to her home on October 11.

Kara's roommates confirmed she left for Denver on October 9, and they had not seen or talked to her since she left. As reported by KOAA, Terrance checked Kara's bedroom and noted she had left her phone charger, computer, and several other personal items behind. Although a missing person alert was issued in October 2012, KOAA reports that authorities were lacking vital information until February 2013, when Detective Gugliotta determined Nichols placed a number of advertisements promoting her services as an escort. In addition to photos of herself in lingerie, the advertisements included her cell phone number. Gugliotta also discovered one of the ads was posted at 7:28 p.m. on the evening she apparently went missing.

Kara Nichols' family was not forthcoming about her lifestyle

As reported by Las Vegas World News, Kara Nichols' family may have inadvertently thwarted early investigative efforts by cloaking the teen's lifestyle. Her parents reportedly controlled which photos were made public and were critical of volunteers and amateur sleuths who attempted to learn more about Nichols' activity online and the people she associated with.

According to Las Vegas World News, Nichols' parents may have been concerned authorities would take the case less seriously if they were aware she worked as an escort, or they might have been embarrassed about her lifestyle. However, the knowledge could have helped authorities progress more quickly with their investigation. Nichols' parents also hesitated to reveal Nichols struggled with mental health issues, including depression. It is also suspected that she had borderline personality disorder and may have been bipolar. Although she had been prescribed medication, she eventually refused treatment and began using street drugs, including heroin.

Nichols' parents later revealed that she had serious financial concerns and had likely turned to sex work to pay her bills and fund her drug addiction. These revelations would have likely prompted authorities to focus more heavily on the websites she frequented and the people she may have been associating with. It also would have given law enforcement officials a better idea of where she may have been found. In addition, Nichols' lifestyle and dependence on drugs might have made her more vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Authorities feared Kara Nichols was a victim of human trafficking

As reported by KOAA, Detective Gugliotta eventually discovered that Kara Nichols made eight phone calls on the evening of October 9, 2012, and the last call was made at 11:59 p.m. Gugliotta attempted to contact the people Nichols spoke with on the evening she went missing, and eventually confirmed one of the men was Joel Hollendorfer. Hollendorfer admitted he contacted Nichols about her escort services on the evening of October 9. However, he wanted to meet at her home, and she preferred to meet elsewhere. Therefore, according to Hollendorfer, they decided not to meet, and he had no knowledge about her whereabouts.

Authorities believed Nichols may have become a victim of human trafficking. Often, aspiring models are unaware of the possible danger, and Nichols might not have realized the risks associated with posting profiles on the modeling websites, which are sometimes loosely monitored.

Kara Nichols used a modeling website with a shady reputation

The National Women's Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation became concerned that Kara Nichols' disappearance may have been connected to two other young women who went missing after posting profiles on modeling websites. In addition to Nichols, Fox News reports that Raven Furlong and Kelsie Schelling, who were around the same age and were also aspiring models from Colorado, seemingly vanished without a trace.

The organization blames the modeling sites for a lack of oversight and failing to warn aspiring models about the possible danger in replying to advertisements for models without knowing who actually placed them. In an interview with Fox News, Nichols' mother said, "These girls are young and impressionable. If they were fully aware, do you think they would use this website? They should inform the users and have more of a screening process."

One of the more popular websites with aspiring models, Model Mayhem, was used by Furlong and Nichols and has a bad reputation for failing to screen their users. However, in a statement to Fox News, a representative for the website said that "safety should be top of mind when doing anything online. ... The site offers detailed safety advice to help members understand what to look for when they are contacted by others." The representative also said Model Mayhem's "policy is to fully cooperate with authorities if approached for assistance in an investigation."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Authorities begin to focus on Joel Hollendorfer

The search for Kara Nichols was further confused by a photo posted on a Las Vegas escort site one month after she went missing. As reported by The Gazette, Nichols' photo was posted on the site along with a profile for escort services. Although the profile gave her friends and family hope that she was alive and well and living in Las Vegas, authorities eventually confirmed that her photos were used by someone else.

ABC News reports that authorities were also seeking information about two women who were seen with Nichols on the evening of October 9. Although he said they were not considered to be suspects, they hoped the women had some information about Nichols' plans that evening. However, the women were never identified and never came forward with information about the missing woman.

Authorities got a break in the case when an investigative volunteer, Mark Oldfield, scoured Nichols' phone records and was able to track her movements on the night she went missing. According to KOAA, Nichols left home at approximately 11:16 p.m. on October 9. She sent and received six calls and texts during her drive, which ended at 9665 Burgess Road. Authorities determined the house belonged to Joel Hollendorfer's parents.

During a previous interview, Hollendorfer denied having any contact with Nichols on the night she went missing. However, her cell phone records suggested otherwise.

Kara Nichols' murder was finally solved in 2022

As reported by KOAA, authorities conducted a search of the home and the surrounding property. However, they did not find any evidence to suggest Kara Nichols was killed or buried on the property. Joel Hollendorfer's mother, Betty, suggested authorities search another property he had access to, which was across the street from her home. Authorities searched the property at 1660 Green Acres with cadaver dogs. Although the dogs led authorities to what appeared to be a shallow grave, no evidence of human remains was found.

In a follow-up interview with Hollendorfer, he admitted he actually did make plans to meet Nichols, but she never showed up. He also admitted he hired escorts frequently and also used illegal drugs. Hollendorfer was married at the time, but his wife refused to talk to authorities. As they had little evidence directly linking Hollendorfer and Nichols, the case went unsolved for nearly 13 years. However, Joel's former wife, Kristina, finally agreed to an interview in February 2022. During the interview, she revealed her husband confessed to accidentally killing an escort by strangulation. He further confessed to burying her in a horse's grave on his parents' property.

During a subsequent search of the Hollendorfer property, authorities found Nichols' remains buried with the remains of one of the family's horses. According to KOAA, Hollendorfer was ultimately arrested and charged with second-degree murder and tampering with evidence.