A Johnson County man killed his parents—Arlene Nickell, 70, and James Wayne Nickell, 75—in their home on Sunday. He then traveled to another apartment and killed his girlfriend, Lindsey Vanhoose, 41, and her mother, Patricia Vanhoose, 57.
Initial interviews with friends, relatives, and witnesses revealed that Joseph Nickell, 45, struggled with drug addiction for years. The problem became worse after his sister, who also had drug problems, recently passed away.
“This boy . . . he just never did really get over that. I think it just inflamed his addiction,” James Kelly Caudill, pastor at Tom’s Branch Free Will Baptist Church, where the Nickells were members, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “It just [came] to a head.”
Nickell also mentioned his sister in a note he left behind, according to Johnson County Coroner J.R. Frisby.
Joseph Nickell loved his parents and they loved him back, according to Caudill, their pastor. The family had had a good day before the shooting, according to Frisby, the coroner. Arlene cooked a meal and baked a cake before Joseph began shooting, reportedly without warning.
“It is crazy,” Frisby said.
Joseph and his parents attended both the morning and evening worship on Feb. 4. Joseph appeared to be under the influence of a drug throughout the evening session. He said something incomprehensible and Arlene had to calm him down.
Court records reviewed by the Herald-Ledger show that Nickell was arrested in 2015 and charged with alcohol intoxication, fourth-degree assault and fleeing from police. Officers cited several instances in which Nickell was found with visible residue on his nose from snorting pills he had crushed.
“Working a murder is never easy. Working the murders of four innocent people that are part of your community is even tougher,” County Sheriff Dwayne Price wrote on Facebook. “The scenes are never the same but the chilling outcome is always heart-wrenching.”
The Sunday shooting was reported by Joseph Nickell’s teenage son, who was present during the incident and managed to escape before calling 911. Deputies who arrived at the scene found two people dead in the kitchen.
Joseph Nickell fled the house in a black Toyota Camry and police kicked off a multi-county search for the car. It was eventually found in Paintsville near an apartment building.
Deputies who searched the building found three people dead in an apartment, including the alleged shooter.
Despite several pieces hinting at a potential motive, police are still investigating.
“There’s going to be a lot more investigation,” Petry said.