Police finally crack 1975 cold case

One of Canada’s best-known cold cases has been cracked, with ramifications in Ontario, Quebec, Florida and Tennessee.

‘Nation River Lady’ identified decades after body was found, former Montreal resident accused in her killing

A black and white photo of a woman and a close-up of a clay bust of a woman.
An undated photograph of Jewell Parchman Langford, left, and a bust of the Nation River Lady, created by OPP in the mid-2010s as they were trying to uncover the identity of a homicide victim found east of Ottawa in 1975. (CBC)

One of Canada's best-known cold cases has been cracked, with ramifications in Ontario, Quebec, Florida and Tennessee.

Found dead floating in the Nation River after being dropped from a bridge on Highway 417 between Montreal and Ottawa in 1975, an unidentified woman was known for decades by a single moniker: "Nation River Lady."

According to information obtained by Radio-Canada, the victim has now been identified as Jewell Parchman Langford, a longtime resident of Tennessee who was 48 at the time of her death.

Her identity was recently uncovered by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), which also laid a murder charge against Rodney Nichols, a man who had been among Langford's acquaintances in Montreal in the 1970s.

Nichols is now 81 and residing in Florida, where he is the subject of an extradition request.

Mysterious disappearance

Langford came from a family of seven in Madison County, where her parents owned a farm.

While she was in Canada at the time of her disappearance, Langford had long worked in the fitness industry in Jackson, Tenn. According to local newspapers, she and her then husband Atlas Langford had opened a centre dedicated to exercise and weight loss called the Imperial Health Spa in 1972.

WATCH | Jewell Parchman Langford went missing in 1975: 

Ontario police cracked 48-year-old 'Nation River Lady' cold case

3 months ago
Duration 2:35
Police crack a 1975 cold case, charging a former Montreal man with the murder of a missing woman finally identified more than 40 years after her body was discovered in the Nation River east of Ottawa.

According to a source, Jewell Langford was reported missing in the spring of 1975 to police authorities in Montreal, where she had recently moved.

She's believed to have been seen for the last time at the end of April 1975, and police started to look into her disappearance later that May. Montreal police investigated the case but never solved it.

According to the source, the "link was never made" between this missing woman in Montreal and the body that was found about 150 kilometres west, near Highway 417 in Casselman, Ont., on May 3, 1975.

At the time of her discovery, the woman's decomposed body was wrapped in scraps of cloth, towels and rags, while her hands and feet were bound with neckties, according to OPP. She could have been thrown from the bridge over the highway, where traces of blood were found, into the Nation River, police said.

For decades, her identity remained a mystery to police, who referred to her as the Nation River Lady in their public comments.

OPP quietly laid murder charge

Rodney Nichols was a well-known rugby player among fans of the sport in Montreal, mainly among the English-speaking community in the western portion of the city.

According to documents filed at the courthouse in L'Orignal, Ont., east of Ottawa, he was formally charged with Langford's homicide on Sept. 8, 2022.

OPP never publicly announced the laying of the charge in this case, which was initially subject to a publication ban pending Nichols's return to Canada. The publication ban has since been lifted, but the case had not yet been reported in the media.

Two officers sit at a table with a clay bust reconstruction.
Const. Duncan Way, left, and Const. Guy Prévost, right, hoped the reconstruction would look enough like the victim that people who knew her would recognize her face. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

Nichols currently resides in Hollywood, Fla., and is the subject of an extradition request by Canadian authorities. He has yet to appear in court in connection with this charge and has not entered a plea.

Nichols could not be reached for comment at his residence in Florida.

OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson said he had no further comment on the matter, as did a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.

Case reopened

The filing of a murder charge in this case came after the OPP decided in the mid-2010s to reopen the cold case.

In 2017, OPP experts unveiled a three-dimensional clay bust based on the body found in the Nation River in 1975, hoping to generate tips about her identity.

However, the breakthrough came from the use of DNA testing and genetic genealogy, which helped OPP to identify the victim. Once they had Langford's name, investigators were able to make significant progress on the case.

A gravestone in the grass.
The gravestone of Jewell Parchman Langford at a cemetery in Jackson, Tenn. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

For years, Langford's unidentified body remained in Canada while a plaque commemorating her disappearance was installed at a cemetery in Jackson, Tenn.

"Missing, but not forgotten," it read.

After Langford was identified, her body was brought back to the United States and laid to rest under a new monument that says, "Finally home and at peace."

Radio-Canada made contact with Langford's family, but a spokesperson said they are withholding comment for now at the request of law enforcement.