Nichole Yegge couldn’t wait for her 18th birthday.
No more fears of being picked up as a runaway, she told family and friends. No more worries about overbearing child welfare workers.
The pretty brunette said she would have her own life. She would get an apartment, a job, her equivalency diploma.
Eventually, she’d get married, have children.
But that was before she encountered 31-year-old Gabriel Yates and 21-year-old Anne Osburn, a couple who met in Texas and moved to a low-rent apartment behind the MGM Grand.
Accused of beating Nichole, choking her to death and burying her body in a shallow desert grave, Yates and Osburn are scheduled for a preliminary hearing Wednesday morning in Las Vegas Justice Court. They are charged with kidnapping and murder.
Nichole Yegge was just trying to make it to Aug. 8.
She came up 16 days short.
• • •
Her life was rarely, if ever, stable.
Custody disputes between Nichole’s parents, documented in Family Court records, provide an outline of her life. Her father and stepmother declined requests for comment.
Nichole Elizabeth Yegge was born in August 1990, the product of a “brief encounter” between Adrienne Antwiler and Paul Yegge when he was on leave from the military.
Antwiler and Yegge got married and had another child. The family bounced from Oklahoma to Germany to various parts of California. Adrienne Yegge’s drug abuse haunted the marriage.
As a pre-schooler, Nichole “often had to get her own breakfast in the morning while Adrienne sat around all day watching TV while Paul Yegge was at work,” according to court documents filed by Paul Yegge.
By 1996 they were divorced. Paul Yegge won custody of Nichole and her younger sister, and remarried.
In May 2004, Adrienne Yegge gained visitation rights, contingent on her passing regular drug tests. Two months later, she died at 37 from cardiac arrest related to congestive heart failure.
In August, just months after her mother’s death, 14-year-old Nichole told North Las Vegas police she’d been sexually abused by her father.
She said that her father had molested her on three different occasions that year, including once during a family trip to Kansas.
He then asked her for forgiveness and a second chance, she told police.
When detectives interviewed Paul Yegge, he denied molesting Nichole. The girl’s aunt and stepmother also told police they doubted the allegations “because of Nichole’s past behavior,” according to his arrest report.
But he admitted to cuddling in the same bed with her during the Kansas vacation and said he might have grabbed her breast.
Police arrested Paul Yegge on two counts of sexual assault, but the case was later pleaded down to one count of open and gross lewdness, a gross misdemeanor, and he received a one-year suspended jail sentence and two years’ probation.
Nichole’s maternal grandmother, however, downplayed the significance of the event.
“She forgave him for it,” said Diane Antwiler, who is 75.
• • •
Shortly after her father’s conviction, Nichole and her family agreed that going into foster care was best for her, the grandmother said.
In July 2007, she joined Boys Town, a unique setting in which she lived with five other girls and a specially trained married couple.
“She was one of those kids you see who has the potential,” Executive Director Tom Waite said.
And Nichole, who according to her grandmother suffered from bipolar disorder, did see success while at the center. A source familiar with Nichole said she jumped a high school grade and a half in the fall semester and had straight A’s.
But she felt pressured from all sides, including the seedier side of Las Vegas.
Friend Kaitlin Lupiani, 17, recalled a time in the spring when she was at the Meadows Mall with Nichole.
“This guy comes up to her and goes, ‘You could be a model. I’ve got a friend in the modeling industry who thinks you could be a model,'” Kaitlin said.
The man pursued the two of them through the mall and kept asking for Nichole’s number.
“He was like, ‘You’re so gorgeous. I have so many jobs for you,’ ” Kaitlin said. “She wasn’t the type of girl really to say, ‘Hey, get the heck away from me.'”
Nichole eventually took the man’s business card “out of politeness,” she said, but Kaitlin doesn’t know whether Nichole ever called the man.
In mid-April, Nichole ran away from Boys Town and stopped going to school. She joined another foster family and ended up running away from there, too.
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Nichole was reported as missing June 16.
It was around this time that she met Yates.
GABRIEL WAYNE YATES
In 1993, 16-year-old Gabriel Wayne Yates arrived from Nebraska to visit his grandmother in the small Florida beach town where she lived. On a warm September night, Yates met up with two gang members who were enlisting a 13-year-old boy.
During a brutal gang initiation, the boy was severely beaten and eventually drowned. His body was found floating in the Gulf of Mexico the next day.
Two years after the crime, Florida prosecutors tried to pin the death on Yates. He was suddenly, though honorably, discharged from the Army and arrested the same day.
He pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge, and a jury acquitted him after hearing conflicting testimony and inconclusive evidence.
His mother recounted the car ride from the courthouse with her son.
“He said he had a lot of time to think about stuff in jail, and he wasn’t going to waste his life — he was going to do something with his life,” 51-year-old Marie Stevens said from her home in Omaha, Neb.
She wouldn’t hear from him again for several years.
Stevens had tried everything to get her young son on the right track, she said. From the beginning, he was filled with rage.
“He was born like that,” she said. “You couldn’t put him down when he was a baby. He would scream until he was just hyperventilated and purple.”
She added, “Three-year-olds don’t normally kick holes in the wall.”
As he grew up, she noticed a detachment and that he couldn’t stay on task. He didn’t maintain interest in sports and other activities.
She enrolled him in different schools, both public and private, to give him fresh starts.
He enlisted when he was just 17.
“I went ahead and put him in the Army,” Stevens said. “I thought, ‘I’ve kept him in school. I’ve kept him out of jail, and maybe he’ll find what he’s looking for.'”
In the Army nine months, he went AWOL after sleeping with another soldier’s girlfriend, his mother said.
“He just has a bad habit of sleeping with other people’s women,” she said.
After he was suddenly discharged, and then acquitted on the murder charge, Yates disappeared. He had a habit of doing that, his mother said.
“He just kind of creates his own reality and expects everybody to play along,” she said.
In Texas, he married, had two children and divorced. After a smattering of odd jobs, he created an insurance company in the east Texas city of Tyler.
The company, Gabriel W. Yates & Co., experienced mild success. He bought a house and enrolled his children in private school. His mother thought he was on the right track.
Then in 2006, he suffered a head injury in a motorcycle accident and, she said, stopped remembering things. He stopped calling people back. Again, he dropped off the map.
“The next thing I knew, he was in Vegas,” she said.
The last time Stevens saw her son was over Easter weekend, when he drove up to Nebraska with a 20-year-old woman he had met in Texas and taken with him to Las Vegas.
Osburn was already pregnant when Stevens met her.
“It seemed like she was really trying to keep him straightened out,” Stevens said. “I thought she had more energy than I did, even when she was pregnant.”
When he left, Stevens hugged her son and couldn’t shake the feeling that she wouldn’t see him again.
“There was something almost final about it that you can’t really explain,” she said.
• • •
Before Nichole met Yates, she met Eric, who became one of her few remaining close friends.
Eric, who agreed to an interview on the condition his last name not be used, met Nichole in May, while he was working the graveyard shift at a convenience store on Boulder Highway.
The 25-year-old said Nichole wanted to use the phone after claiming to have walked more than 20 miles across town from where her boyfriend had dropped her off.
“All I saw in those eyes was someone crying out for love and happiness,” he said.
The two ended up talking, and he dropped her off at a friend’s house when his shift ended.
In the coming months, they became closer but were never romantically involved, Eric said.
She fell in love with his family, and the several small children Eric’s mother cares for, and felt that she was in a safe place at the home, he said.
“She loved those kids,” Eric said. “And all these little kids would hug her and give her kisses.”
But when county foster care workers found out that Nichole was spending time at a house where a 25-year-old man lived, they threatened to revoke the family’s foster care license, he said. Officials with Clark County Child Protective Services have declined comment on the case.
Nichole came over less and less.
“She just wanted love, wanted a family,” he said. “And doors kept closing on her.”
Diane Antwiler said about Eric: “He’s an upstanding person. He went aboveboard to help her.”
• • •
Nichole told Eric two different stories about how she came in contact with Yates and Osburn.
One was that she was kidnapped, taken to Mexico, and forced into prostitution before Yates and Osburn rescued her and brought her back to Las Vegas, he said.
The other was that the couple had taken advantage of her and then felt guilty, so they were letting her stay at their apartment for free.
He doesn’t know which story, if either, is true.
What police said is that Nichole was being put up for prostitution by Yates on Craigslist, the free classified advertising Web site.
A posting from July 4 on the site advertised “HOT COUPLE lookin for that LATE NIGHT ACTION wanna join” and shows a picture of Yates with his shirt off holding the head of a girl who appears to be Nichole near his waist.
The three were likely involved in a romantic triangle, according to police.
On July 28, a local FBI agent called Las Vegas police saying that a fellow agent in Alabama had heard from a “concerned source” about a murder in Las Vegas, according to Osburn’s arrest report.
The source had said that Osburn told her she had killed Nichole, and that after the teen was dead, she and Yates removed her teeth and cut off the tattoo of a fairy she had on her hip to disguise her identity. Then they stuffed her into a hockey bag and buried the body in the desert.
They threw the teeth and flesh into a lake.
When police contacted Yates and Osburn, just three days after their newborn came home from the hospital, the couple said they hadn’t seen Nichole for several days.
Police received warrants for Yates’ BMW and the couple’s apartment and began surveilling them. On Aug. 1, police heard Yates say that he worked in a slaughterhouse as a teenager skinning animals, that blood did not bother him, and that he knew how to get rid of a body, according to his arrest report.
The next day, detectives saw him drive out to a desert area near the Snow Mountain Golf Course, off U.S. Highway 95 near Kyle Canyon Road, and sit in his car for a few minutes before leaving.
Detectives found Nichole’s body at that spot. Police believe the couple killed the teen when she threatened to go to police after they hit her.
• • •
At his arrest, Yates told police they “had the body and had the right man.”
Osburn refused to talk to police, and her publicly appointed attorney said she plans to plead not guilty.
Yates’ attorney didn’t return calls seeking comment. Stevens said her son had been undergoing a psychological evaluation.
As when her son was a teenager, Stevens again wonders if he’ll end up in prison, and grieves for the victim’s family.
“I feel so bad for her family, and her,” she said about Nichole. “I mean, I’m glad nobody will hurt her anymore. I think that’s what’s keeping me sane right now. She doesn’t have to be afraid of anybody any more.”
Nichole’s friends feel a sense of guilt. Both Eric and Kaitlin expressed that they should have done more to help her.
Her grandmother, who spoke about Nichole because her granddaughter “needed a voice,” is “absolutely devastated.”
“She was such a sweet, wonderful girl. She’d never done anything wrong,” Antwiler said.
Nichole’s father and stepmother kept the teen’s funeral services private. They didn’t invite Nichole’s grandmother.
The last time Antwiler talked to her granddaughter was the day before she died.
Nichole was asking her how to get a new Social Security card to get her GED.
Her grandmother said, “She was excited to be 18 and be able to move forward.”
Nichole died July 23.
Review-Journal reporter Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at lmower @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440.