Someone beat 17-year old Kim Nees to death.
And ended Barry Beach’s life, too.
On the last night of her life, two weeks after graduating as valedictorian of the Poplar High School class of 1979, Kim Nees left home with her boyfriend, Greg Norgaard, to attend the drive-in theater east of town. The two may have argued, as Greg dropped Kim off at her home immediately following the movie and went on to the Poplar Legion Club to drink.
Kim’s younger sister, Pam Nees, who was home when Kim arrived home from the movie, told authorities that Kim stayed at the house for about 15 minutes and then left in her father’s pickup truck at about 12:15 a.m. on that warm Friday night. Several witnesses observed Kim Nees sitting alone in the parked pickup at the closed Exxon gas station on Highway 2 across the highway from Poplar High School on the west end of town between 12:30 and 1:00 a.m.
One witness said she saw Kim at the station at about 12:45 a.m. talking through the window to a man standing outside the pickup. However, another witness who had graduated from high school, with Kim Nees said she observed Kim driving west on Highway 2 at 1:00 a.m. heading down the hill from the Exxon station toward the Poplar River bridge and the turn-off to the road into the river bottom. There were several vehicles ahead of her and the witness said she thought at the time that Kim might be following them.
At 4:00 a.m., two tribal police officers driving through a government housing area on a bluff overlooking the Poplar River and river bottom observed a pickup truck parked in a riverside park on the far end of the deserted field. They saw no need to check it out at that time.
At 7:00 a.m., as the two police officers were driving back into Poplar on Highway 2 from the west and crossing the Poplar River bridge, the officers noticed that the pickup was still there and turned off the highway to investigate.
Peering into the locked vehicle, the officers observed that the seat was smeared with blood. There was also a large deposit of blood a short distance from the passenger side of the pickup, along with a bloody clump of human hair. Following a drag trail that led from the blood near the pickup truck to the riverbank, the officers then discovered Kim Nees’ semi-submerged body face up in the river.
A collection of investigators from various law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, the Roosevelt County Sheriff’s Department, the Fort Peck Tribal Police Department, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, descended on the crime scene early that morning. When the victim’s body was removed from the river, massive head injuries strongly suggested she had been bludgeoned to death. Later, the rumor around town was that a crescent wrench was the murder weapon.
Evidence inside the pickup, including the bloodied upholstery and blood spatters on the ceiling and rear windows of the cab, led investigators to conclude that Kim Nees was initially attacked inside the cab of the truck, then pulled out through the passenger side door and beaten further as she lay on the ground where the pool of blood was found.
In the drag trail that led through the grass and dirt to the bank of the river, investigators found several differing footprints, including a set of bare footprints. The most significant clue found at the crime scene, however, was a bloody palmprint on the passenger side of the pickup immediately above the door handle.
One of the FBI crime scene investigators stated the obvious: that the person who left the palmprint on the door panel undoubtedly was responsible for the murder. (Later analysis of this palmprint determined that the print was not left by Kim Nees, nor was it left by Barry Beach.)
The autopsy report listed the cause of death as skull fractures and brain injuries resulting from more than 30 blows to the head. Also, according to the medical examiner, Kim Nees had not been raped, nor had she recently engaged in sexual intercourse before her death.
Despite the fact that Kim Nees’ clothing had not been disturbed and that she had not been raped, years later at the murder trial of Barry Beach, the state maintained that Barry Beach attacked and murdered Kim Nees because she rejected his sexual advances.