RIDGE MANOR, Fla. (FOX 13) - For the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, it has been over 30 years of unanswered questions in the rape of a 12-year-old girl in Ridge Manor, Florida.
Since 1983, investigators have searched for the man who raped the girl, in her home, while holding her 9-year-old sister and 10-year-old friend at knifepoint.
Now, the sheriff's office has a break in the case, but it's bittersweet for the investigators and the victims of this haunting crime.
More than 30 years after the attack, Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis described the horror the girls went through.
"He took one of the little girls at knifepoint and instructed the 12-year-old that if she did not do exactly what he said, he was going to injure or kill one or both of the younger girls in the house," Nienhuis said.
Back then, DNA was testing still in its infancy and there was little information on the suspect. The case eventually went cold - until detectives got their first major lead in the early 2000s.
"That evidence was submitted for DNA testing," said Nienhuis. "It was around 2005 that we got our first full DNA profile."
However, there was no match in any database, so detectives were again at a dead-end.
Investigators never gave up. A new, recently-performed DNA test was able to create a profile for the suspect.
"That person we identified was William Louis Nichols. He's a white male. His date of birth was 7-18 of 1941. And he had a history," said the sheriff.
Nichols' history includes a number of arrests in Wisconsin, including rape and attempted rape charges in three different cities. His record sheds light on the twisted past of the man who was also a husband and a father.
Despite the discovery, no arrest was able to be made.
Nichols died in Orlando in 1998 from cancer.
The sheriff's office said investigators were glad to be able to give the victim and her family the news they had long awaited, despite the suspect being dead.
"She wanted to see a photo and she wanted to know who he was. I explained everything to her and she was very happy, very thankful, and now she can put it all behind her," said Detective George Loydgren with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
The sheriff's office believes it is likely that Nichols committed other rapes throughout the state of Florida that have yet to be solved. Investigators hope that the new DNA evidence that led to a break in their case may possibly be the missing piece for other cases, giving answers and closure to other possible victims.