George Carter casually pulled the razor through the shaving cream that covered his stubbly face as another work day awaited. The bathroom door then opened just wide enough for his wife, Rose, to poke her head inside.
“You seen the baby?” Rose asked calmly. “She’s not in her crib.”
“No,” responded George, amused that his baby had probably found another hiding place somewhere in their three-bedroom home.
Moments later, the bathroom burst open and Rose stared wildly into the eyes of her husband.
“Baby is gone!”
Nima Louise Carter wouldn’t be seen again for nearly a month when she was found dead next to a refrigerator in an abandoned house four blocks from home, her 19-month-old body badly decomposed. Detectives concluded Nima was placed inside the refrigerator by her kidnapper shortly after her abduction on Halloween night 1977 and left to suffocate. Her frigid body tumbled from a makeshift tomb only after a group of neighborhood boys unlatched the refrigerator and ran away in terror when she spilled out.
Fort Sill soldier Gary Goodall later called authorities when he stumbled onto the same scene the day before Thanksgiving.
George Carter is still haunted by the shadows of his daughter’s abduction and murder.
“My wife and I lived for years with the what-ifs,” said Carter, now 57 and a recovering alcoholic who likes to minister. “Nima cried that night when we put her down to sleep. We never got up to check on her. We figured we didn’t want to spoil her; that she would eventually go to sleep. I now believe that person was already in her room, probably hiding in the closet. What if we had opened the closet? What if we had gotten up to check her that night? What if we had brought her in to sleep with us?
“What if? What if?”
Carter, whose wife died in 2000, is dogged by one other disturbing thought: No one was ever charged with his child’s murder.
Three decades have eased the pain for Carter, but the unanswered questions still burn within. Long ago police detectives became convinced they had identified Nima’s killer, but they too were left with a tide of unanswered questions and the sense of unfulfilled justice.
Then-Comanche County District Attorney Don Beauchamp refused to file charges for fear the evidence was too flimsy.
Now only the mystery remains and the nightmares of long ago …
A terrified community
Lawton has always been a rough-and-tumble town, from its infancy in the aftermath of the 1901 Land Lottery to its steady growth as a military community. Bars and pool halls once dominated the downtown night life, as did an occasional bare-knuckle brawl, knifing or even shooting.
Police were accustomed to barroom brawls.
But the abduction of children was unheard of in Lawton until April 8, 1976, when twin sisters Mary Elizabeth and Augustine “Tina” Jacqueline Carpitcher were stolen in broad daylight while they watched television in their grandmother’s home.
A young female whom the children knew unlatched a living room door and coaxed the children outside. Three and half years old at the time, the girls followed the woman, at first blindly.
Then the children became scared.
Area resident Thelma McCaig once described the odd scene that day in her neighborhood while she and her husband installed siding on their home. McCaig noticed a teenager she would later identify as 16-year-old Jacqueline M. Roubideaux dragging two “dark girls, about 2½ years old.” According to McCaig, Roubideaux “had ahold of the two girls’ arms by the wrists and they were trying to pull loose.”
McCaig didn’t report the incident to authorities, reasoning, “… I guess like other people, I didn’t want to get involved.”
So the nightmare continued.
“She took us to a house … It was white, near railroad tracks,” Tina Carpitcher would testify years later as a 10-year-old. “There was broken furniture inside. When we got inside she took us to the refrigerator and told us to get in. She said our aunt (Augustine Williams) will be there to get us out and take us for ice cream later.”
The abductor shut the latch-protected refrigerator door and left.
“I remember people were scared,” recalled Ray Anderson, then a young investigator for the Comanche County district attorney who is now retired and living in Lawton. “How could this happen? Parents were going out and buying new locks for their doors. People were terrified.”
Two days later, children were playing in a deserted house when they heard the cries of another child coming from a grungy refrigerator. Kathy Ford and another neighborhood child bravely opened the refrigerator door, and Tina Carpitcher miraculously jumped out alive.
Tina survived by breathing through a tiny hole in the refrigerator. Her twin sister wasn’t so fortunate.
Mary died of asphyxia.
“I tried to wake up Mary,” Tina testified, “but she wouldn’t wake up.”
The then-11-year-old Kathy asked Tina who put her and her sister in the refrigerator, and she replied, “Jackie Boo or Jackie Burr,” meaning Jacqueline Roubideaux — the child’s babysitter and friend of her aunt, Augustine Williams.
Roubideaux instantly became the target of a police investigation, but a lack of physical evidence and the youthfulness of their surviving witness left them desperate for a confession. The investigation soon stalled.
Roubideaux, meanwhile, remained free.
She maintained a quiet, shy demeanor around those who came in contact with her, and attended local bingo halls with relatives whenever possible. She also found an occasional job as a babysitter.
By 1977, she agreed to sit for a young American Indian couple known within her family circle. The husband and wife both held down full-time jobs during the week, but on weekends, they liked to party hard.
The weekends were when the couple frequently called upon Roubideaux to watch their baby girl — Nima.
Lurking in the shadows
Nurses at the Indian Hospital in Lawton told George Carter to go to work. They expected his wife to undergo a lengthy delivery.
The father-to-be sheepishly agreed, but by the afternoon, became concerned. He called the hospital to see how his wife was doing.
“You’re George Carter?” a nurse asked him over the telephone. “Well, you’re the father of a brand-new baby girl.”
Carter nearly fell out of his chair.
He smiled wide at the fond memory. Nima’s lively, coal-black eyes still stared back him, if only in his soul.
“She was very intelligent,” Carter continued. “She was very quiet and very laid back, but always observing — she learned things quickly. I remember she used to take out the kitchen drawers, stacked them like stairs, and climb up into our cabinets and hide.”
“You know, I’ve learned to appreciate all the little things,” he said. “When Nima was a baby, I look back at all the time I wasted — partying and drinking. I felt like I was bullet-proof.
“Man, I wasted a lot of time — time I can’t get back.”
Carter often reflects on that wasted time whenever he recalls that Halloween night 30 years ago. He shakes his head at the chilling reality of what unfolded that night.
A shadowy figure stood menacingly over Nima and stared into the blackness. The intruder then lifted the child from her crib, and with the windows locked, crept into the hallway of the tiny three-bedroom Lawton home and boldly past Nima’s sleeping parents in the living room.
Police later determined the intruder exited through one of three doors in the home.
“I remember the next morning,” Carter recalled. “It was one of those cool, crisp Oklahoma mornings — a day I might have otherwise enjoyed immensely.”
Instead, he and his wife lived every parent’s worst nightmare. Their baby was gone.
George’s heart raced. His mind, like his eyes, darted about uncontrollably. He and Rose checked the kitchen cabinets, the closets, outside by the doghouse, underneath the house, in the field behind the backyard fence.
Nima was nowhere to be found.
“I was in a panic,” George said. “That’s when I called the police.”
Detectives immediately suspected George and Rose given the high percentage of parental involvement in missing child cases.
“Naturally, we called them in for questioning,” recalled Cecil Davidson, a retired Lawton police detective who worked the case and now lives outside Meers at the foot of Medicine Mountain. “They agreed to take lie-detector tests, and passed with flying colors.”
Everyone fell under the net of suspicion, including neighborhood babysitters Joy Smith and Jacqueline Roubideaux.
“Then someone remembered Roubideaux had been questioned in the Carpitcher case — almost identical circumstances,” Davidson said. “I remember we looked at everybody … but each time, we kept coming back to Roubideaux.”
Davidson finally confronted Roubideaux about Nima’s abduction and murder. Roubideaux said she was playing bingo the night Nima disappeared.
The alibi didn’t deter detectives.
“She was very quiet,” Davidson recalled. “She never looked you in the eyes; her eyes were always somewhere else or looking at the ground. She would always get right close to telling you something critical, and then she’d back off. She wasn’t that intelligent, but she was intelligent enough to know not to say something that would hurt herself.
“We could never get her to confess. The frustrating part was we had no physical evidence — no fingerprints, no footprints, no hair, no blood, nothing. It was all circumstantial.”
Mostly Davidson remembers an odd response from Roubideaux that sticks with him to this day.
“She was very angry about the fact that everybody got to play bingo, and she would get stuck babysitting,” said Davidson, scrunching his eyebrows. “And she was angry. Over bingo? I found that very peculiar …
“To this day, I’m convinced Jackie Roubideaux murdered Nima. But the DA never felt we had enough to prosecute. That always bothered us.”
Not everyone is convinced Roubideaux abducted Nima that Halloween night, including George Carter.
Two months prior to Nima’s abduction, the Carters found their dog poisoned. A few days later, they returned home to discover vandals had left it trashed.
“I find it hard to think all those events were mere coincidence,” Carter said. “The Jackie Roubideaux we knew? No, it just doesn’t add up. I never sensed that about her. Whenever Jackie came over, Nima would run up to her and give her a hug. But several years ago, I saw an interview with Jackie in a newspaper. She said she was on drugs at that time in her life.
“Now that, as a recovering alcoholic, I can understand. Was it someone we knew? I think so, someone who was familiar with our house. But I’ve never been fully convinced it was Jackie.”
Police and prosecutors felt differently.
Detective Ray Anderson was tired of the cat-and-mouse games. Three years had passed since the Carpitcher twins were shoved inside a refrigerator, and still no charges had been brought against the lone suspect, Roubideaux.
The Carter case also hung like a dark cloud.
“Finally, one day I said, ‘Enough of this,’ “ recalled Anderson, who is on hospice and breathing through oxygen tanks these days. “I figured I’d confront Jackie and take my one shot with her. Of course, had she asked for an attorney I knew we’d be finished.
“We needed a confession.”
Anderson, now 79, brought her down to the local Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation office, noting she had “low self-esteem and looked like a trapped mouse.”
“She never really came out and admitted to sticking the Carpitcher twins in that refrigerator, but she said enough,” Anderson said as he puffed on a cigarette. “She confirmed things we already knew and some things we didn’t.”
Roubideaux remained mum about Nima’s murder.
District Attorney Don Beauchamp charged Roubideaux with the first-degree murder of Mary Carpitcher Oct. 19, 1979. Roubideaux sat in prison for more than two years before having her bail reduced from $50,000 to $5,000 on the eve of her 1982 murder trial.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, built a strong case against Roubideaux. More than 75 witnesses would be called to testify on behalf of the state. They also planned to introduce Nima’s case into the trial to show there was a pattern of heinous behavior by Roubideaux.
Surprisingly, District Judge Jack Brock allowed Nima’s murder to become part of the trial record despite her not being charged for the crime. Roubideaux was eventually convicted, and her attorneys later appealed her life sentence because Nima’s case was allowed to influence the jury, but to no avail.
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals upheld Roubideaux’s sentence by a vote of 2-1 in August 1985.
Pain and peace
“I’d like to talk to Jackie now,” Carter said. “If I did, I’d ask her if she killed Nima. I’d hope she would tell me the truth.”
Carter will never get the opportunity.
Roubideaux died Aug. 26, 2005, of liver cancer at the Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McCloud. She was 46.
Audrey Carter, Nima’s grandmother, doesn’t remember Roubideaux fondly.
“I thought she (Roubideaux) was capable,” said Audrey, 83. “I look back now at so many curious-like things with her. She was just weird.”
Still, her memories are consumed by the granddaughter she never got to watch grow up.
“I remember crying so much,” she said. “We were just tired of crying … I just can’t help but think about the way Nima died. If she were ill, I could live with that. But knowing how she suffocated in that refrigerator, that’s what hurts.
“How could anyone be so cruel?”
Erin Steen, George’s 28-year-old daughter, never got to know her older sister. She was born two years after Nima’s murder.
Even now the mention of Nima’s name brings tears flowing down Steen’s cheeks.
“I remember the day my parents told me I had an older sister who had died,” Steen said. “I remember crying. I was happy because I had an older sister, but I was sad because I knew I would never know her. I think about Nima all the time — what she would be like, how her kids would play with mine, how we would talk.
“I’ll never know those things, but I will always love her.”
As for the mystery around Nima’s murder, George Carter found his peace years ago.
“I don’t need to know because the person who did this will have to ultimately answer to God,” he said. “You know, I’ll never forget the act, but I forgive the person. I really do. And that alone has set me free.”
– Ron Jackson
CONTRIBUTING: Assistant State Editor David Cathey contributed to this story.