A man has been arrested and charged with the 2010 murder of a long-missing Wasilla woman after her body was discovered on a hiking trail in Indian last month.
A grand jury has indicted 34-year-old Simon Smith with charges of first- and second-degree murder in the death of Nichole M. Millsaps, who was 26 years old when she was reported missing in 2010.
In February, remains of a woman and her clothing were found by a hiker off Indian's Boretide Road on the morning of Feb. 9. Less than a week later, Alaska State Troopers positively identified the remains as Millsaps.
It was the first break in a case that began with Millsaps’ disappearance in May 2010, and the latest turn in a four-year investigation by troopers.
Millsap’s sister Andrea Borsetti, who now lives in Ocean Springs, Miss., said her sister and Smith had been dating for about “a month or two” before she disappeared. She said they were both involved with meth, and said her sister was addicted.
But Smith held Millsaps in fear, Borsetti said: there was physical violence early on, and though she and her sister spoke frequently on the phone, she said her sister had to hide the calls from Smith.
"A lot of our conversations were in the middle of the night, or she'd have to whisper to talk to me because she'd have to sneak his phone," Borsetti said.
According to U.S. Attorney Tom Bradley, Smith was the last person to see Millsaps alive, and prosecutors went to unusual lengths to connect him to the crime.
In 2010, when Smith was arrested on charges related to meth and firearms, Bradley said investigators already believed he was a suspect in her disappearance.
That’s when the state District Attorney’s Office began working with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to place an informant in Smith's cell and wire the cell with a recording device. The goal of the surveillance was to learn more about Millsaps’ disappearance.
In more than 400 hours of recorded material, the informant “elicit(ed) statements from Smith … about the missing girl.”
Smith later challenged those recordings as inadmissible in court as a violation of his 6th Amendment rights. Smith later pleaded guilty to the drug and firearms charges so the recordings would be admissible at his May sentencing, said Bradley.
Prosecutors ultimately dismissed the state charges in favor of federal drug and weapons charges, which carry stricter penalties. Bradley says Smith has remained in custody since he was arrested in 2010.
Borsetti describes the past four years as incredibly difficult, but said knowing details of her sister's death does not make it any easier.
"It's like lifting a heavy heart, she said. "You just have to try to find a way to move on and for me, it's really hard."
"It's been horrible. It's turned our lives upside-down," said Millsaps' mother Judy Nistler who lives in Kenai. "I couldn't believe that they found her body. I never thought they would and I was shocked."
The state medical examiner conducted an autopsy of the remains found but the state is consulting with a forensic anthropologist to determine Millsaps' cause of death in what investigators characterize as a domestic violence crime, said state Deputy District Attorney Clint Campion.
"There were many factors at play but the exact events, only Nichole could tell us that," Campion said.
If convicted on the murder charges, Smith faces a sentence of 20 to 99 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.
Smith is expected to be arraigned in Anchorage Superior Court on Friday.
Channel 2's Abby Hancock contributed to this story.
This is a developing story. Watch Channel 2 broadcasts and check KTUU.com for updates.