Montreal police have confirmed the man recently charged for the murder of Jewell Parchman Langford was considered a person of interest when she was reported missing by her family in the summer of 1975.
Parchman Langford was a well-known businesswoman from Jackson, Tenn.
According to several sources, she met the accused, Rodney Nichols, in Florida, and the pair lived together in Montreal for a short time before she disappeared.
When she was first declared missing, the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) investigated and shared news of her disappearance with the media and other police forces. By that time, Parchman Langford was already dead.
Investigators did not realize a body found 150 kilometres west of Montreal several months earlier was actually Parchman Langford.
Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) found the woman floating in Nation River just off Highway 417 near Casselman, Ont., in May 1975.
The remains were wrapped in scraps of cloth, towels and rags and her hands and feet were bound with neckties. According to the OPP, she had been strangled. She went unidentified for the next 45 years. During this period, the woman was known as the “Nation River Lady.”
Lack of communication, scientific techniques
When asked why the SPVM did not make the link between Parchman Langford’s disappearance and the unidentified body, spokesperson Anik de Repentigny said it was difficult because there was no DNA analysis at the time.
It was further complicated by the fact two separate jurisdictions were involved in two different provinces.
“In 1975, everything was done by telephone, fax or mail,” said de Repentigny in an email. “Now, information about a body found can be shared rapidly with all police services in the province, the country or even internationally, making identification much easier.”
Former SPVM detective Minh Tri Truong believes the investigation would have had a much better chance of success in 1975 if police had connected the discovery of the body with Parchman Langford’s disappearance.
“If they had made a link, it would have changed [the investigation] on several fronts,” says the 30-year veteran of the SPVM. “Murder charges without the body being found, in the history of Canada, there have been four or five, no more.”
Truong never worked on the disappearance of the then 48-year-old woman, but he notes that a police interrogation proceeds very differently if there’s a body or not.
“Until we find the body, it’s still a disappearance,” said the former police detective.
Florida man charged with murder
The OPP said Parchman Langford was only identified in 2020 after a successful DNA profile match using forensic genealogy.
Two years later, they charged Rodney Nichols with the woman’s murder and began extradition proceedings, since he now resides in Florida.
The SPVM said Nichols is the same man investigators questioned several times when Parchman Langford first went missing.
“We worked with the OPP for several months on this investigation and shared information essential to the conclusion of the case with them,” said de Repentigny.
According to the Parchman Langford family, they stopped hearing from Jewell in April 1975.
In June 1975, a concerned family member travelled to Montreal to look for her and spoke with police, but police said an official missing person’s report was not made until August 1975.
After Parchman Langford went missing in 1975, Nichols continued to use her car — a Cadillac — for personal use, according to several sources.
At the time of her disappearance, Nichols played with the Westmount Rugby Club, where he served as the team captain for a few years.
“Rodney was a fun guy to be around. He was entertaining and gregarious. A very social individual,” said Henry Rozenblat, a former teammate who played with Nichols from about 1973 to 1983.
Rozenblat recalled meeting Parchman Langford a few times and said Nichols described her as a “love interest.”
When Rozenblat and other teammates later asked about Parchman Langford, Nichols told them she had left and he didn’t know where she had gone
He was shocked when he heard about Nichols’s arrest.
“This whole thing is out of character from the person I knew,” said Rozenblat.
Nichols is still the subject of an extradition request by Canadian authorities. He has yet to appear in court and has not entered a plea.
Citing confidentiality, neither the American nor Canadian departments of justice would confirm if an extradition hearing date has been set.
Nichols is now 81 and currently lives in an assisted living centre in Hollywood, Fla. Radio-Canada was unable to reach him for comment.
Rozenblat said Nichols told him he was born to Canadian parents who were posted in the United Kingdom during the Second World War.
Nichols was born in Middleton, N.S., in 1942 and joined the British Army in 1961. According to a U.K. Ministry of Defence spokesperson, Nichols served with the Wessex Brigade for about a year but did not complete his training.