Here, Tammy tells the story in her own words.
L￼ike all parents, I was protective, but I had even more reason to worry about my 13-year-old daughter Nicole.
At just two months old, she’d needed a liver transplant. Then aged four, she’d contracted MRSA and almost died.
A year later she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but again, my brave girl pulled through.
‘You’re my little fighter,’ I was always telling her.
Loved by everyone, my sassy and kind Nicole had gone on to lead a normal life. But now she’d started getting bullied at school. It was devastating for a teenager who just wanted to be accepted after battling so many health issues.
With her best interests at heart, I started monitoring her Facebook page and mobile phone.
Then one day, I found a number in her recent calls that I didn’t recognise.
Nicole told me a friend had borrowed her phone and she didn’t know who the number belonged to. But after that I noticed it a few more times – then there was at call at 1am. Ringing the number, I was shocked when a man answered. ‘Who is this?’ I asked.‘I go to school with Nicole,’ he said. ‘We’re in love.’ ‘You sound so much older,’ I screamed. ‘You need to leave her alone!’
With that, I smashed up the phone. I wasn’t having my precious girl talking to any strange men, particularly when she clearly wasn’t telling me the truth.
But a couple of weeks later, she persuaded her grandfather Fred, who lived with us, to buy her another phone.
‘It’s okay as long as you only speak to people you know this time,’ I told her, and she agreed.
Soon after, Nicole and I were on the couch together when a crime show came on the TV. It was about online predators who go on to murder and rape people they’re speaking to. I wanted Nicole to hear it so I let her stay up and watch it. ‘See how dangerous talking to strangers can be?’ I said gently.
‘Yes Mum,’ she said. ‘I promise I won’t contact anyone.’
When the program had finished, Nicole kissed me goodnight and I felt like things were back on track.
But two days later, when I went to wake her for school, I found the door jammed with a light stand.
Pushing it hard, it flew open and I felt a cold breeze.
I saw that her bedroom window was open and her bed hadn’t been slept in. ‘Dad, she’s gone!’ I screamed, my heart beating.
I knew something was seriously wrong because after her transplant Nicole needed anti-rejection medicine daily. She’d never miss it, I panicked, calling police.
Desperate, along with my fiancé Dwayne and Nicole’s brothers, Anthony, 27, and Blaine, 24, I spoke to family, friends and neighbours.
When no-one knew where she was, we put up flyers and went on TV begging for her to come back. More than 1200 people from our town organised a massive search. I tried to remain hopeful but deep down, I had a terrible feeling.
Then a few days later, at 4pm, the police knocked on my door – they had a pastor with them, so I just knew.
My sweet girl’s naked body had been found 140 kilometres away. She’d been stabbed in the throat and chest 14 times, then covered with bleach to remove finger prints.
They told me that before her body had been found, officers had scoured her social media and found a
Kik account, an instant messaging app where people can remain anonymous.
On that, Nicole had been messaging a man called Dr Tombstone – university student David Eisenhauer.
At 18, he was five years older than her and from the messages it was clear they were in a relationship.
Officers questioned David and his best friend and classmate Natalie Keepers, 18, after he gave her name as an alibi witness.
During interrogation, Natalie eventually confessed to helping plan the murder and to helping David hide Nicole’s body.That’s how the police had found her. It was the worst day of my life. Who were these people? And why had Nicole snuck out her window to meet him? I tortured myself.
At her funeral, I was still in deep shock. My girl was really gone. And as we waited for the court case, I struggled to cope with the guilt. If I’d paid more attention to who she was speaking to online, this wouldn’t have happened, I thought.
Finally, in February last year, David Edmond Eisenhauer, 21, appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to murdering my daughter, Nicole Lovell. His trial began and horrifying details emerged.
Prosecutor Mary Pettitt said David and Nicole had communicated online for months and met at least once. He’d warned Nicole not to tell anyone of their relationship because ‘they will find a way to hurt you’.
Pettitt said they met again when David lured Nicole out of our house with the promise of a ‘secret date’.
So she’d slipped out of her bedroom window at about 12.30am to where he was waiting for her in the car.
A video of him being questioned by police was played to the court. In it, he explained he saw ‘someone who is maybe 11 years old climb out of a window’ and thought ‘uh-uh, not for me’.
He claimed he’d then left without her, but the prosecution argued that he’d taken her to a wooded area and killed her so she wouldn’t expose the fact he’d been in a relationship with an underage girl.
Officers also discovered internet searches on his computer in the weeks before the murder including,
How long does it take to burn a body? and How does the TV serial killer Dexter get rid of bodies?
Nicole’s DNA was found in the boot of his car and his DNA was under her fingernails.
Then, a few days into the trial, David Eisenhauer suddenly changed his plea – pleading no contest to murder, abduction and concealing a dead body. It meant that while not admitting to the crimes, he would no longer fight the prosecution’s case.
After being found guilty on all counts, he was later sentenced to 50 years in prison.
My voice shaking, I stood up to read a statement. ‘I was blessed to be Nicole’s mother,’ I said. ‘To be her friend for 13 years. We fought every fight together but this last one.’
Last August, Natalie Keepers, 21, admitted to helping to dispose of Nicole’s body but pleaded not guilty to being an accessory before the fact to murder, and her trial began.
The court heard she’d helped David buy a shovel, pick out the location for the murder and frequently text him about their plan, where they discussed switching out Nicole’s medication with cyanide capsules or making her death look like a suicide.
Her lawyers argued she never actually believed that David would go through with it and she wasn’t there when the murder happened. They also said she’d never even met Nicole but ‘loved being part of the plan, not because it was a plan to murder but because it was a plan to be close to David.’
It took the jury just over an hour to find her guilty. She was sentenced to 40 years. For me, it wasn’t enough. I have to live with the fact I will never see my daughter again. It tears me apart knowing I wasn’t there for her when she needed me the most.
Now all I can do is visit her grave. It seems so unjust to lose her like this after all she fought through when she was alive.
I would just say to other parents to get your kids off their phones and if you can’t monitor who they are speaking to, delete anyone you think is suspicious, and communicate more.
I wish that’s what I had done. I wish I had been more attentive to what she was doing on social media. That monster groomed my vulnerable daughter into thinking they were in love so that he could murder her. Every night I go to bed hoping it was a nightmare, but it’s not.
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