In the society we live in today, with cell phones, social media, and forensic science growing exponentially, it’s hard to fathom crimes going unsolved. What’s even more difficult to comprehend is when all of those things are combined in one mystery and answers are still unable to be produced. So when two young girls go hiking on a canceled school day and record their adventure on Snapchat, nobody expected the devastating turn of events, but people were hopeful the case would be solved quickly. It’s now been over a year and the case remains unsolved. This is the disappearance and murder of 13-year-old Abigail Williams and 14-year-old Liberty German.
Abigail Williams and Liberty German were two best friends in the 8th grade at Delphi Community Middle School in Delphi, Indiana — a small Midwestern town consisting of fewer than 3,000 residents, known for its blue-collared workers, avid hunters and fishers, and the annual Delphi Bacon Festival.
They gravitated to each other from a young age because of similar interests and were practically inseparable ever since. Like the community around them, they thoroughly enjoyed spending their days experiencing nature by hiking, fishing, camping, and riding ATVs. Sports also played a big role in their lives. Abigail loved volleyball and had been on the school team for the last three years. Liberty had a passion for softball and loved playing the first-base position. Seeing her friend’s desire for the game, Abigail naturally took interest and Liberty convinced her to join the school team for its upcoming season.
Though the teenagers were keen on spending their days outside, they also found enthusiasm in other curricular activities. Both girls dabbled in music–playing the alto saxophone in the school band. They also relished in creativity by showing an interest in arts, crafts, and painting. Abigail often knitted hats for babies at the local hospital and Liberty would bake cookies for the family and leave behind sticky notes that offered words of love and encouragement to those she cherished deeply in her life.
Abigail and Liberty’s future was bright and their maturity was far beyond their years. Even at 14-years-old, Liberty already displayed strong ambitions to become a science teacher in her future endeavors, because she wanted to solve crimes. Friends and family knew that whichever path they chose in life they would have been successful, but everything changed on February 13, 2017, and the community where everybody knew each other suddenly turned into a catatonic state of horror and untrustworthiness and it hasn’t been the same since.
On Sunday, February 12, 2017, Abigail had a sleepover at Liberty’s home, who was in the primary care of her grandparents, Mike and Becky Patty, knowing that school had been dismissed for Monday, February 13, 2017, because of an unused snow day. The two girls took complete advantage of the opportunity and spent their weekend laughing, painting, playing outside, and staying up late.
The following afternoon they conjured up a plan to go hiking at the Monon High Bridge — a common hangout spot for teenagers. Liberty’s grandmother Becky gave her consent but only if they were able to have a ride back home. Liberty’s older sister, Kelsi German, dropped the two off on her way to work at 1:30 p.m. and the girls arranged to be picked up by Liberty’s father, Derrick German, after running several errands that would take two hours.
Everything was seemingly going as planned. As many teenagers do, Liberty wanted to share their afternoon with social media and began recording their adventure at 2:07 p.m. on SnapChat and uploaded a picture of Abigail smiling as she crossed the abandoned Monon High Bridge. Their happiness and joy from the two best friends were evident but nobody could have predicted what would soon transpire.
At approximately 3:11 p.m. Derrick texted Liberty saying he was about to arrive and urged her and Abigail to meet him at the destination. Three minutes later he pulled into the parking area but the girls weren’t in view. He proceeded to text Liberty once more but he didn’t receive a reply. Knowing this was uncharacteristic, he went on to call her, but once more she never answered.
Worrying began to seep in and he decided to walk the trail to search for the girls. Fifteen minutes later without any luck, he called his mother, Becky, and alerted her to the situation unfolding. She responded by attempting contact with Liberty but after several failed attempts she called her husband at work. Mike immediately took time off to join Derrick, where they spent an hour combing the area but the sun started to dwindle down and they decided to contact the local authorities to report Abigail and Liberty missing.
The word traveled quickly as family members used social media to spread awareness. By 6:00 p.m. hundreds of concerned residents showed up beside the State Police, Carrol County Sheriff and Fire Department, and Natural Resources. During the search, an effort to contact and locate Liberty by calling her cell-phone provider and triangulating her position was made but sadly proved fruitless. The hours rolled on and despite large search groups consisting of drones and K-9 units, they were unable to battle the terrain in the darkness and by midnight they called off the search and would resume in the morning. To reassure the public, Carroll County Sherrif Toby Leazenby issued a statement saying there was “no reason to suspect foul play” at the time.
Family members were in distraught and unable to get any sleep as they wondered where their loved ones were. Once the sunrise emerged the search resumed, and the FBI, dive teams, friends and family, and volunteers scoured the dense woods and thickets. Shortly before noontime, everyone’s worst nightmares came to fruition, when a volunteer searcher stumbled upon the bodies of two young girls near Deer Creek; a half-mile away from the Monon High Bridge.
The bodies were transported to the coroner in Terre Haute, Indiana, for an autopsy. Sgt. Kim Riley of the Indiana State Police and Delphi’s Police Chief Steve Mullins provided a statement to the media saying, “Based on the way the bodies were found, foul play is suspected.” They didn’t publicly identify the victims or release how they were murdered but the community knew, and the hearts of family members collapsed. The rest of the day was spent in utter disbelief, and Delphi’s Community School Superintendent Gregory Briles canceled all related school activities for the week.
On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 15, 2017, Indiana State Police and the Carrol County Sherrif’s Department held a press conference. They officially confirmed the two bodies recovered were Abigail Williams and Liberty German, and that a homicide investigation was underway. In addition to the announcement, a photograph was released of an unidentified male walking across the Monon High Bridge at approximately the same time as the two girls. They didn’t classify him as a suspect but asked if he would come forward to conduct an interview.
As family members were arranging funeral plans, the community of Delphi rallied together to help support the cost. A benefit fundraiser was held on Saturday, February 18, 2017, throughout the town by numerous local businesses, where all proceeds went to the families. Later that evening, visitations for Abigail and Liberty were held at the Delphi High School between 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. The support was so enormous and overwhelming that they had to extend the time to 10:30 p.m. as people paid their respects, said goodbye and released hundreds of lanterns into the sky to paint a beautiful portrait to honor the girls’ memory.
On Sunday, February 19, 2017, Indiana State Police officially declared the unidentified male in the released photograph was the prime suspect in the case. The picture had been captured by Liberty German as she was recording Abigail during the hike. Three days later on Wednesday, February 22, 2017, another vital piece of evidence was made known when the police unveiled a snippet of audio of a male saying “Down the hill” that was recorded from Liberty’s phone.
The police said they are looking for a middle-aged caucasian male between 5’6-‘510 in height, roughly 180-200 pounds, and possibly reddish-brown hair. He’s wearing a blue windbreaker or coat, denim blue jeans, brown shoes or boots, and a brown undergarment that may be clothing or a fanny pack. Indiana State Police went on to say more evidence was obtained from the crime scene but did not elaborate in order to not hinder the potential of a future trial. They also proclaimed Liberty as a hero for having the presence of mind to record the suspect amidst a terrifying encounter.
Over the course of several days, a Delphi Murder Tip Line service was soon orchestrated. The phone calls would be answered by the FBI’s Major Case Contract Center in Washington, D.C. Likewise, a nationwide campaign was launched to provide over 6,000 electronic billboards with information pertaining to Abigail and Liberty’s case across 46 states with the hope to garnish new tips and leads in the case.
On the second weekend of the murders, Carrie Timmons created a beautiful movement called “Light up Delphi,” where she urged the town to install orange porch lights as a tribute to Abigail and Liberty. It wasn’t too long after that many businesses throughout Delphi were sold out because the bulbs were selling at such a rapid pace. Afterward, the two girls were laid to rest at Loof Memorial Gardens in Pittsburgh, Indiana.
In the following week, the family members of Abigail and Liberty were met with even more generous support, when over $200,000 was raised in fundraisers, benefits, and donations from Indianapolis Colts team owner Jim Irsay and former punter but now comedian Pat McAfee. Additionally, Abigail’s grandparents, Diane and Eric Erskin of Delphi, were given a tour of the new headquarters where the investigation was being conducted. They felt so grateful for their determination to help bring justice and closure that they left behind a message that read:
“Where are the police when you need them? I have uttered those words whenever a speeding or reckless driver nearly runs me or someone else off the road. Where are the police when you need them? They are here, in Delphi, with us. We pray for your protection, and we are forever grateful for your service.”
By Friday, March 16, 2017, Indiana State Police Sgt. Tony Slocum said over twelve search warrants had been issued in relation to the Delphi Murders investigation, with the latest being executed by State and Federal police at the property of 77-year-old Ronald Logan, where Abigail and Liberty were found positioned down a steep incline behind his residence. The police made it apparent that he was not considered a suspect and told the public to not jump to conclusions because the search warrant was simply a normal routine part of the investigation.
Nonetheless, the media immediately began swarming the authorities with questions and tried digging up information on Logan. It was soon discovered that he had been on probation for operating a vehicle while intoxicated in 2014. Due to the severity of his conviction, he wasn’t supposed to be driving but on the day of Abigail and Liberty’s disappearance, he violated his parole to drive to the county dump site. In the subsequent hours, he was reported at a bar drinking alcohol. As a result of violating his parole, he was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison but his judgment was later lowered to him serving home detention and being monitored by a GPS system.
After the debacle, the investigation went relatively stagnant, but the police remained adamant the case hadn’t gone cold. The heartache only deepened when friends and family were unable to celebrate what should have been Abigail’s 14th birthday on June 23.
On July 17, 2017, a composite sketch of the grainy photograph captured by Liberty German was released by law enforcement. Their goal was to generate more awareness to the public, and hundreds of new tips and leads emerged from the effort. However, Indiana State Police had to reprimand the public on being “armchair sleuthing” because many Facebook users were posting side-by-side comparisons of innocent people to the newly released composite sketch.
Despite new information being called in ample amounts ever since the new sketch, it wasn’t until September 2017 when law enforcement thought they had finally caught the big break they needed. Indiana State Police received a call from El Paso County Police in Colorado saying they had apprehended 31-year-old Daniel Nations and he seemed to be a viable suspect in the Delphi Murders.
Daniel Nations had connections to Indiana and was living a very troubled and criminal lifestyle. At the age of seventeen, he witnessed his mother Rebecca Smith get stabbed to death by his uncle, who subsequently discarded her body in the woods and covered her up with leaves, sticks, and shrubbery. This had a profound impact on Nations, though he was already menacing. From that point forward, he would hardly hold down a stable job and would continue dabbling in all manners of illegal activity.
In 2007, he had been arrested in Beaufort, South Carolina for indecent exposure and had to register as a violent sexual offender. Thereafter, he had difficulty finding a respectable job and in 2015 more criminal activity started fluctuating heavily. Between March to December, Nations would be arrested throughout several areas in Indiana, such as Greenwood and Bartholomew County. His charges ranged from possession of marijuana, driving with a suspended license, failure to appear in court, pleasuring himself in a woman’s restroom in a Rickers Gas Station, and domestic battery on his wife, Katelyn Nations, that resulted in breaking her nose.
Starting in February 2017, things were quieting down for Nations, but he was still residing in Indiana and was frequently checking in with law enforcement per requirement as a registered sex offender. He was arrested in Martinsville, Indiana on February 24 and spent four days in jail after failing to appear in court. In April 2017, he took up residence at a motel in Greenwood, Indiana, and was arrested shortly thereafter on the suspicion of possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. On May 12, he checked out of the motel, and a warrant was issued for his arrest when he once again failed to appear in court on July 19, 2017.
In late August 2017, several reports were called into the El Paso County Sherrif’s Office claiming a man driving a red Chevrolet compact Sedan with Indiana license plates was threatening people with a hatchet on a Monument hiking trail in Woodland Park. An immediate search began, but the man was unable to be found.
One month later, police in Teller County, Colorado pulled over a man because of a broken taillight. The officers noted the vehicle matched descriptions provided by eyewitnesses from a month earlier. They discovered the male to be Daniel Nations. Inside of his vehicle was a hatchet and a .22 caliber rifle, and he was officially arrested on September 28, 2017. The following afternoon, the El Paso County Sherrif’s Office notified Indiana State Police about the suspect and detectives traveled to Colorado to conduct a weekend-long interview and investigation, but to the dismay of many, they announced on October 3rd that they “can’t specifically include or exclude Daniel Nations as a suspect in the Delphi homicides.”
The latter part of October was difficult for the town of Delphi. Halloween was approaching and the community was still on edge, with residents hesitant on letting their children roam the streets for candy. Family members of Abigail and Liberty were heartbroken knowing they weren’t able to experience their daughters expressing their creativity with their costume designs as they so often did. November was hard to battle as well when Thanksgiving seeped in. The presence of Abigail and Liberty’s laughter echoing throughout the home could no longer be heard, and the cookies Liberty would always bake for the family was now absent. Nevertheless, both families pushed through together as a strong family unit and did their best to keep their spirits shining brightly.
On December 13, 2017 — the 10-month anniversary of Abigail and Liberty’s disappearance and murder — family members and Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter appeared on Dr. Phil’s television show to keep the case remained in the spotlight. After the broadcast, the case hit a major spike in awareness and over 270 new leads were called in that police are actively following up on. A few weeks later on December 27, Liberty German would have turned 15-years-old, and all the family wanted for her birthday and Christmas was closure, but to no avail.
It’s now 2018, and the case remains unsolved. In January, Daniel Nations was sentenced to three years probation for his harassment in Colorado, and in February the Indiana State Police announced he was no longer considered a person of interest in the Delphi murders.
Abigail Williams’ 15th birthday is soon approaching, and the pain and turmoil haven’t lessened. Both families are doing their best to keep Abigail and Liberty’s hopes, dreams, and spirits alive in the hearts of residents in Delphi, Indiana. A $1million sports complex is being constructed in their memory and will be consisting of three baseball fields, batting cages, an amphitheater, and a plaque to commemorate their lives. Even to this day, orange light bulbs can be seen lighting up homes and streets and it continues to be a reminder that just because the girls are gone, they aren’t forgotten. The community has rallied together; friendships have developed tighter; bonds are becoming stronger; generosity is spreading wider, and love is growing deeper.