Abilene Police Chief Investigator describes Niblo’s murder as ‘one of the most brutal’


The lead detective in the 2016 murder of Thomas “Tom” Niblo was surprised to enter the bedroom where the Abilene broker was shot eight times.

“It was one of the most brutal murder scenes I’ve seen in my career,” Det said. John Wilson, now retired from the Abilene Police Department.

His statement Friday morning in the 350th court began Day 4 in the trial of Luke Sweetser, who is charged with the death of his brother-in-law Niblo. He was arrested on September 17, 2020.

Judge Lee Hamilton presides.

Wilson was with APD for 14 years before retiring in December.

When Assistant District Attorney Erin Stamey asked Wilson what made the crime so brutal, he said it was the amount of blood loss and the number of gunshots.

Jurors also heard testimonies Friday from other APD detectives and an officer, an FBI electronics forensic specialist and a 16-year-old who in 2018 found a Glock 0.40-caliber handgun in the creek behind his grandparents’ property about 880 meters of the crime scene.

Tracking down Sweetser’s whereabouts

Prior to Wilson’s testimony, APD Det. Jonathan Merrick testified on data evidence from Sweetser’s cellphone. Police collected the device while executing a search warrant at the suspect’s home.

Based on cell phone data, the device was turned off and no cell towers the night before the shooting, which happened around 6:15 a.m.

Luke Sweetser, September 18, 2020

The first activity on Sweetser’s cell phone was at 9:18 a.m. on the day of the shooting when he received a text from his wife’s cell phone that read, “Where are you?” He replied a few seconds later, “I’m here.”

Sweetser’s wife, Ellouise, was identified in court as Anne Campbell when she appeared to testify on Thursday. The couple divorced in 2021.

Merrick discussed how police initially conducted the investigation, first contacting neighbors, searching the area and issuing search warrants to gather evidence of the crime scene and Sweetser’s residence.

Two detectives in waders also walked through Elm Creek behind the Niblo residence to drag a large magnet across the bottom. Merrick said the water deepened further away from the Niblo residence and began to fill his partner’s waders.

A diving team from the Texas Department of Public Safety came to help search for the creek, but no evidence was found, Merrick said.

When attorney Lynn Ingalsbe asked if they checked the creek about 880 meters from the Niblo residence, where a firearm was later found, Merrick said he didn’t believe it.

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How Sweetser became an interesting person

During his nearly two hours in the stands, Wilson said Sweetser was quickly identified as a person of interest in the investigation.

Stamey asked why.

Wilson cited ongoing family feuds over the estate, the Sweetsers’ financial troubles, and the defendant who missed the morning of the shooting. He had, as usual, failed to show up for work on time at the Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Abilene location in Texas.

At BCBSTX, the police obtained Niblo’s timecard data – when he clocked in and out. From the time he started working there on November 15, 2016, until before the day of shooting, Sweetser clocked in on time or early.

He arrived late on the day of the shooting. His BCBSTX tenures will end on December 16, 2016.

Sweetser’s cell phone records also indicate that when the device was turned on at 9:18 a.m. on the day of the murder, he was near the family storage warehouse at 342 Mesquite St., Wilson said.

The police also obtained magazines from Sweetser’s home in a nightstand next to the bed. The magazines belonged to Sweetser, based on information from Campbell and writings about his family in the magazines, Wilson said.

The diaries show that Sweetser was focused on having money, the detective said.

During the first 120 days of the investigation, Campbell did not cooperate with police, Wilson said. She then came to the police station to talk to him and stated that her husband had left the family home.

Wilson said he had discussed the diaries with her.

“It seemed like the more I talked to her, the more she realized he was doing it,” Wilson said.

When cross-examined by Ingalsbe, Wilson said Sweetser’s TSWT was not on evidence collected at the crime scene.

Follow other leads

Merrick said police interviewed a man whose cell number was on Campbell’s cell as an incoming call. The man told police that he often borrowed his phone and had no information about the case.

The man was living in a shelter at the time, and police knew where he was the morning of the shooting, Merrick said.

Police initially considered Cheryl Niblo an interesting person and had her hands swabbed for gunshot residue on the morning of the shooting. The swabs tested negative, Wilson said.

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Then-APD Sgt. Will Ford, who has since left the department to work for Taylor County District Attorney’s Office, also testified that he asked Cheryl Niblo “tough questions” in an April 2017 police station interview. He said he used aggressive interviewing tactics, including saying she lied.

Cheryl Niblo was composed during the interview. Her story matched previous police interrogations, Ford said, and she was ruled out as a suspect.

Following Sweetser’s electronic trail

Before Ford took the stand, Sgt. Chris Milliorn of APD’s cybercrime unit and FBI digital forensic investigator Hazem Naguib testified about the analysis of the computers, laptops and cell phones collected at the Sweetser residence.

Ford later explained to the judges the documents, emails and Internet searches found on the electronic devices, including:

Email from a company that sold knives and swords, confirming the purchase of an unspecified machete and other knives. The message did not mention the models purchased.

Visiting Amazon.com referring to Ontario Knife Company, which manufactures machetes and other knives. An Ontario Knife Company machete was found in the creek behind the Niblo residence on the day of the murder.

An email from Sweetser in 2012 referencing his recording on his Twitter includes a statement that when he dies, he wants it to be with a machete in one hand, an M16 rifle in the other and that he has as many possibly taking down zombies.

Emails discussing conflicts related to the Niblo family’s partnership and correspondence with a Dallas attorney regarding the matter.

A 2013 email in which Sweetser writes that he is more accurate with a 0.40-caliber Glock than any other firearm at headshots.

Ford also testified about finding in Sweetser’s diaries plans for financial success and personal success.

What made these entries stand out, though, was that next to one list was a photo of a woman sodomizing. Other pornographic images were also found, Ford said.

Gun found in creek

Hayden Hall, 16, testified in the afternoon about finding a gun in Elm Creek behind his grandparents’ house at 1201 S. Leggett Drive on Aug. 9, 2018. Hall said he often visited the creek to look for “sticks and like this’.

He walked down the path from his grandparents’ backyard to the wooded creek area to retrieve a beach ball that caught his eye. Much of the creek was muddy, with debris and some puddles, based on photos of the scene presented by Assistant District Attorney Dan Joiner.

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As he was retrieving the beach ball, Hall spotted a gun in the mud. Hall said he thought it was a toy and picked it up. There was a spider in the empty warehouse room, so he hit with the gun.

Hall said he then remembered seeing a YouTube video of a man picking up a gun with a stick. The teen dropped the gun, picked it up with a stick, and took it to his grandparents’ backyard. The grandparents called the police.

Grandfather Donald Steele then testified that about 12 APD officers came to the residence and searched the creek, which has two bends along his property. Steele said officers had previously searched the creek, which can range from muddy to running water.

Steele stated that an officer. on the day the gun was found, previous police investigations said it ended at the first turn closest to the Niblo house.

The gun, which Steele recognized as a .40-caliber Glock, was found closer to the second turn. The gun was in “pretty bad” condition, Steele said.

APD officer Chris Hall then testified about taking the muddy gun as evidence. The officer wore a glove to wipe the mud to see the serial number, which was photographed.

Officer Hall was the last witness of the day.

Lawyers did not ask at the trial if there was a connection between the teen who found the weapon and the officer with the same last name.

The trial will resume on Monday.

Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist, curating online content for the Reporter-News. If you value local news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.

Testimony Day 3:Conflict between Tom Niblo, brother-in-law described in the testimony of Evelyn Niblo

Testimony Day 2:Cheryl Niblo testifies at husband’s murder: ‘Jesus help me,’ she said as she heard gunshots

Testimony Day 1:Prosecution in opening speech says gun in Niblo murder has been found

Jury selection:Niblo murder case jury seated; Hamilton chairman instead of sick Wheeler

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Chief detective describes Niblo’s murder as ‘one of the most brutal’


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