Kim Nicholson's troubled son disappeared last year, but he sent his parents disturbing text messages and they learned he had placed a 911 call. Fearing he might have died, they hired a private investigator in early February to track him down.
Just days later, on Feb. 13, police found Nicholson, her husband and their housekeeper dead in the family's home in a gated community in Southern California's Newport Beach. One of the women's eyes appeared gouged.
Authorities had been summoned by the Nicholson's missing son, Camden, who had gone to a hospital, called police and confessed to the killings, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. He said he killed his parents because he didn't want them to send him to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation, Newport Beach Detective Richard Henry wrote in an affidavit for a warrant to search the family's cars and home.
Camden Nicholson, 28, is to be arraigned Friday on three counts of murder for the deaths of his mother and father, Richard Nicholson, and their housekeeper, Maria Morse. His attorney, Jessica Ann Watts, did not return messages seeking comment.
The case shocked the affluent community where the Nicholsons lived and volunteered at a nearby Mormon temple. Some who knew the couple said they were unaware of their son's troubles.
Police documents and a lawsuit filed by Morse's husband and adult children describe Camden Nicholson as a disturbed man apparently fueled by drugs.
He went missing in December and his mother filed a missing person report advising that her son had Asperger's syndrome, depression and anger issues, Henry wrote. Police found Nicholson at a nearby hotel and determined there weren't grounds to place him on a psychiatric hold.
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Camden Nicholson did not return home and in January his parents canceled a credit card after their son used it to leave a $1,000 tip. They also received disturbing text messages and on a cellphone call log saw that in early February he had dialed 911, said Michael Youssef, the investigator hired by the couple.
Youssef said Kim Nicholson told him her son had been healthy until he went on a Mormon mission to Florida in 2010. Prior to that he played golf at the University of Utah.
Kim Nicholson said her son had been using steroids and marijuana and the couple wanted to seek a conservatorship to get him treatment, Youssef said.
"What I understood is he's not physically dangerous — he could get mad and angry, but not to a physical point," Youssef said.
But the Nicholsons had been threatened by their son and Kim Nicholson left home for some time in 2018 fearing for her safety, said Edward Susolik, an attorney representing Morse's family in a wrongful death lawsuit.
Camden Nicholson had been injecting steroids at the family's home and told his mother he wanted to kill his father and made violent threats toward his mother, according to the lawsuit. But the family continued to have Morse, who worked for them for 12 years, clean their home on a weekly basis, the lawsuit said.
"Based on my understanding of the facts, the Nicholsons were in denial regarding their responsibility for their son's violent tendencies," he said.
When he was arrested, Nicholson had cuts on his fingers and was sweating. His speech was incoherent and he shook randomly at times, leading police to believe he may have taken narcotics, Henry wrote, adding that officers later found at least 200 loose pills in a bedroom at the family's home, with several crushed into powder.
At the home, police found the victims had been killed by blunt force or stabbing. Nicholson's father appeared to have been hidden in a closet after he was killed, and his mother killed in the garage, Detective Michael Fletcher wrote in a separate court filing.
Police found a barbecue fork lying by one victim and blood smeared on the floor. They found food in several rooms including a tray of ribs on the kitchen counter and cookies in the master bedroom, Henry wrote, adding that it appeared the victims had been dead for several hours and that Nicholson had sat at a desk, eaten and used the computer.
Richard Nicholson had a long history in the clinical laboratory industry and previously served as president of the California Clinical Laboratory Association. He also was on the board of Orange County Coastkeeper, a clean water advocacy organization, and had a knack for marketing, said Garry Brown, the group's executive director.
"The tragedy of this whole thing is he was such a great, positive force," Brown said. "He was always, always extremely positive, always had a smile."