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Police Hope Testing Can Crack Unsolved Homicide Case

Patrol vehicles are pictured in December 1990 outside the home of Rebecca A. Nicholson on Prospect Road in Westfield. Nicholson was found shot to death inside her bedroom, and no charges have ever been filed in the case. P-J file photo

County investigators are hoping advancements in testing for DNA can break open an unsolved Westfield homicide case going on 30-plus years.

Several pieces of evidence collected in December 1990 have been resubmitted for testing at the New York State Police crime lab in Albany. Those items came from the home of Rebecca A. Nicholson, who was found shot to death inside her Prospect Road home.

Lt. Alex Nutt of the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office said the evidence had been given to the crime lab in 1998 without success. However, he said within the last year or so the same evidence — items from Nicholson’s home, though he declined to specify what — was again submitted with the hopes of obtaining a profile that could be entered into national databases.

“With all of these cases, with the cold cases that we have, on a pretty regular basis we … try to look through them and at least review them and see if there is anything else that can be done on this — are there any other leads?” Nutt said. “And in this case, we have these items of evidence that have been resubmitted to the lab. So our hope is always, maybe now after all of the developments through DNA technology, are we going to get a profile and that’ll give us something, put somebody at the scene that had no reason to be there. Even though it’s 32 years later I think the possibility of that person still being alive is pretty decent. That’s always the hope.”

Nutt said the items have not yet been tested for DNA.

Nicholson’s body was found by her brother, William Lynch, just before noon on Dec. 13, 1990. Lynch, who was blind and began living with his sister about a month before her death, told investigators he heard commotion in the early morning hours, but thought it may have been Nicholson’s daughter, Laurie, who sometimes came to visit.

“He heard what he thought was a scream, but said sometimes the daughter was very loud and makes noise,” Nutt said. “It was something like 3 in the morning and he assumed it was the daughter that had come home late from work or whatnot — doesn’t think much of it. (He) gets up in the morning, doesn’t hear from his sister, goes to her room, calls out for her, there’s no answer. He goes into her room, like I said he’s legally blind, so from what I’ve read, it looks like he walked into the room and kind of like bumped up against her — what was ultimately her body. He calls a friend, the friend comes over (and) finds the victim dead in her bedroom and calls the police.”

An autopsy found that the 49-year-old woman died from a single gunshot wound to the chest from a small-caliber weapon.

Neighbors spoke of Nicholson to The Post-Journal the day of the shooting. “She used to walk by our house when we were gardening and she would visit with us,” said one neighbor, who also taught Nicholson’s only daughter. “We didn’t know her except to say hello, though.”

Another neighbor, after the death was ruled a homicide 24 hours later, told the newspaper: “It’s the talk of the town. I think everyone is concerned. … If this is some kind of psychopath, we’ve all got reason to be concerned. This isn’t the kind of thing that happens in Westfield every day.”

Initial reports indicated there were no signs of a break in. However, upon reviewing the case, Nutt said investigators did find signs of forced entry into Nicholson’s home. That included cut window screens, a partially opened window and damage to a door.

“It looks like there was forced entry into the house,” Nutt said.

A few days after the murder, Laurie Nicholson told police it appeared some of her mom’s jewelry was missing. Authorities also interviewed several people, including Lynch, neighbors and Nicholson’s co-workers; Nutt said Nicholson worked for Cassadaga Job Corps Center, while the Buffalo News in 1990 said she also was a secretary at an Erie, Pa., hospital.

Going on 31 years, no charges have been filed.

“(Investigators) could never really substantiate who it was that did this,” Nutt said. “They looked into some leads. Rumors had gone around about, ‘You know, I heard this person and I heard that person,’ so I see a lot of that in the file. … They did interview some people that I guess they considered persons of interest, but obviously could never prove that they were the ones that did it or obviously didn’t have enough evidence to file any charges.”

Anyone with information regarding Nicholson’s death is asked to contact the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office at 716-753-4232.

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