TAMPA — The young woman on the other side of the glass smiled. Her anxiety was gone, she told her brother. She was eating well and sleeping soundly.
"I know this is weird. I just feel so much better," she said.
There was no mistaking the relief in Nicole G. Nachtman's voice, although given her circumstances, weird wasn't the word for it. The 22-year-old former Florida State University student was sitting in a Hillsborough County jail, accused of shooting and killing her mother and stepfather. If convicted, she could face the death penalty.
Just weeks before, on Aug. 20, 2015, neighbors called 911 after hearing gunshots and a scream coming from a single-story house on a Carrollwood cul-de-sac. Hillsborough sheriff's deputies found Nachtman's mother, Myriam Dienes, 56, lying dead in the next-door neighbor's driveway. Finding the door to the couple's house unlocked, deputies entered and discovered the body of Robert Dienes, 67. He had been shot once in the back of the neck.
A neighbor said she had seen Myriam Dienes' college-age daughter slipping out of a bedroom window.
In the days that followed, investigators tracked Nachtman to her dorm room in Tallahassee, interviewed the few people who knew her well, and searched the details of her life for a possible motive. They have released some of their findings in response to a public records request from the Tampa Bay Times and other media outlets.
From court documents, a picture emerges of a young woman most believed to be submissive and meek who felt she could never live up to her mother's expectations. Resentful and extremely isolated, she escaped into role play, publishing fan fiction about Elsa, the ice queen star of the movie Frozen, and other animated characters, on Tumblr.
Placed in an interview room with a Hillsborough County detective, she declined to answer questions without a lawyer present, then talked for hours about movies like Rise of the Guardians and The Snow Queen, made for children half her age. "Do you know any good jokes?" she asked the detective at one point, before curling up on the floor and appearing to go to sleep.
A number of people who interacted with Nachtman regularly said it didn't cross their minds that she might be suffering from a mental illness. She seemed to them eccentric or "off," they told authorities.
"I knew that something was wrong with her from the beginning," Nachtman's freshman-year roommate at Florida State University, Jackeline Roman, told detectives.
During move-in, Nachtman arrived alone, with no family members to help her get settled. Roman noticed that her new roommate slept almost all day and stayed up most of the night, typing away on her laptop. Obsessed with Frozen, Nachtman ordered movie-themed coloring books and posters, later dying her hair blonde to match Elsa's. At one point that year, she began sleeping in the dorm's study room, Roman said.
If Nachtman had one real friend, it was Laura Hessemer, an FSU student who told detectives the pair were like sisters. They helped each other with homework, slept over at each other's places and wore matching friendship necklaces.
But Nachtman's mother didn't approve of their relationship, Hessemer said. Although Hessemer had a boyfriend, Myriam Dienes became convinced that her daughter's friend was a lesbian, and she insisted the two spend less time together, according to Hessemer.
A registered nurse and captain in the Navy Reserve, Myriam Dienes had firm ideas about how her daughter should occupy her time and how she should look.
"Her mom . . . never liked her figure," Hessemer told detectives. "Every time she saw Nicole, she was saying she was fat and she had to work out, so she worked out all the time."
Nachtman hid her body under layers, often wearing three jackets at once, Hessemer said. She joined the campus ROTC program, biked to classes and walked around campus with weights strapped to her ankles.
In interviews with detectives, friends and relatives described a young woman so terrified of displeasing her mother that she would do almost anything to avoid criticism.
Although she wanted to study history, at her mother's insistence she changed her major to international affairs, she told detectives. And when her schoolwork suffered, she gave her mother a doctored transcript, the grades changed to reflect the perfect student she was supposed to be.
During her freshman year, Nachtman lost her bicycle on campus, but she didn't call home and admit the mistake. Instead, she rented a storage unit in Tallahassee where she could stash her books and school supplies during the summer. She told friends that if she left everything there, her mother couldn't fault her for what was missing.
"My mom was . . . I don't want to say abusive. . . . She'd just say a lot of mean things," Joseph Carey, Nachtman's half brother, told detectives. His sister "snapped at some point."
Before FSU police officers knocked on her dorm room door and drove her to their headquarters, Nachtman called Carey. He, like the rest of her family at that point, believed their mother had died in a murder-suicide. But on the phone with his sister, he listened as she tried to tell him about the loud, uncontrollable screaming in her head, the voices that turned into nightmares. Her uncle had noticed her talking to herself nearly a year earlier.
Much of what she told her brother has been redacted from court records, excised because it could be interpreted as a confession. To detectives, she said that she had been on FSU's campus at the time the murders occurred, although none of her roommates saw her until the following day.
When her brother visited her in jail weeks later, she smiled brightly, called him her superhero, and talked about what she would do when she got out.
"I actually weighed myself and I wasn't even scared," she said. "My head's been clear and no stress, no anxiety, been able to sleep better."
There was a mirror in her cell, she said, marveling that it didn't bother her to look at her reflection anymore.
"I'm just hoping you don't go kind of crazy in there," Carey told her.
"Oh, I don't think I can," she replied.
Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354. Follow @annamphillips.