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Neighbors wonder if backyard dig is related to Kristi Nikle cold case

Kristi Nikle's dad once lived on the street, and the teenager used to play with family and friends on the lot until the house was moved there.

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Police dig in the backyard of 1020 1st Ave North in Grand Forks.
Matt Henson / WDAY News
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GRAND FORKS — When Robert Bergeron and other neighbors saw the police digging at 1020 1st Avenue North, it didn't taken a seasoned detective to figure out what was likely going on.

"I came to the conclusion that it's probably about Kristi Nikle," Bergeron said.

The 19-year-old has not been seen since Oct. 3, 1996, when her family said she went to play bingo, and she never came home. Police believe she was murdered.

"Over time, you kind of forget about it, but this brings it all back home again," Bergeron said.

Nikle's dad lived on the other end of the block, where the house where the dig took place sits today. That used to be an open field where Kristi played with her family and friends. The home was moved to the property around the time of the 1997 flood. A family rents the home today.

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Bill Behm used to work in the neighborhood and remembers the days Nikle used to run around. That's why he crept by the house several times to see if police found anything.

"Like everybody else, I suppose there's a body in there," Behm said.

Grand Forks police refused to comment on whether this search is related to Nikle's case. They would not say what led them to decide to dig up the yard and if they found anything. All they would say is that it's part of a criminal investigation.

"(It's) kind of alarming, because I don't like the unknown, so obviously you don't hear anything, and your mind wanders," Amy Hellerud said.

The prime suspect in the case, Floyd Tapson, is serving a life sentence in Montana for kidnapping and trying to kill a woman there. He was known to work at group homes that provided services to the mentally disabled, including one in Grand Forks that Nikle frequented. She had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old.

There were seven children and one bus driver on board at the time of the crash. The driver and three children went to the hospital, but are expected to be OK.

Tapson is also a person of interest in the disappearances or suspicious deaths of several other women, including in Moorhead and Wadena.

"It would be nice to finally know what actually happened to her and possibly who did it," Bergeron said.

Grand Forks police said they will release more details about the search later this week.

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The Nikle family said they were not aware of the search. They declined to comment.

Related Topics: GRAND FORKS
Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at mhenson@wday.com and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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