Notorious 'mountain man' from 1980s is up for parole

He caused a sensation in 1984 when he abducted a biathlete to be a wife for his son.
Published April 15 2012
Updated April 15 2012

HELENA, Mont. — A notorious "mountain man," who abducted a world-class athlete in 1984 to keep as a wife for his son, comes up for parole on April 27.

Don Nichols is serving an 85-year sentence for kidnapping Kari Swenson, then a 22-year-old world-class biathlete. He also was convicted of killing Swenson's would-be rescuer, Alan Goldstein.

Nichols and his son, Dan Nichols, were known to spend long stretches in the mountains living off the land. Prior to the abduction, they had lived for a year poaching game and growing hidden gardens at various camps they set up — earning them both a "mountain man" moniker they embraced.

The elder Nichols has had a good track record in prison, where he has worked on the yard crew, and over the years has reportedly become a bit more apologetic for kidnapping Swenson.

The parole hearing comes as Dan Nichols — paroled in 1991 from his kidnapping and assault sentence received for his role in the infamous crime — is in trouble with the law again. Jefferson County officials issued an arrest warrant last month for the younger Nichols after he failed to show up for a pretrial hearing in a drug case.

The younger Nichols could face many more years in prison after being charged last summer with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell at a rock concert.

Back in the 1980s, the abduction and manhunt gripped the state and the nation.

In July 1984 the Nicholses ambushed Swenson with guns while she was on a training run in the mountains above the resort town of Big Sky.

They forced her into the woods and kept her chained to a tree most of the time when would-be rescuers stumbled upon the camp. In a melee, Dan Nichols accidentally shot Swenson. An armed standoff ensued, and the elder Nichols gunned down Alan Goldstein.

The Nicholses left Swenson severely wounded and escaped into the woods. The experienced woodsmen evaded capture for five months living in the Madison Range, until a daring Madison County sheriff and former bronco buster named Johnny France took it upon himself to follow a tip and gave chase alone before storming the Nicholses camp and forcing their surrender.

The sensational tale made the cover of national newsmagazines, and spawned two books and a TV movie, The Abduction of Kari Swenson.