TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Detectives began detailing digital evidence during Day 4 of the trial for the murder of Abilene realtor Tom Niblo, revealing some alarming internet searches from the suspect around the time of the crime, as well as emails that further show his interest in the victim’s family estate, and an Abilene teen who found the murder weapon while playing in the creek says a YouTube video showed him how to safely get it secured.
Friday’s afternoon session began with testimony from Abilene police Sgt. Chris Milliron, who was tasked with reviewing digital evidence after Tom was shot and killed inside his home on Woodridge Drive December 12, 2016.
Sergeant Milliron was asked about some of his findings from the numerous electronics he searched, which were seized during search warrant execution at the home of Tom and Cheryl Niblo on Woodridge Drive, the home of Luke and Ellouise Sweetser on Sylvan Drive, offices Luke Sweetser had access to at the Alexander Building in downtown Abilene, and the Niblo Family warehouse on Mesquite Street.
Dozens of files, emails, pictures, PDFs, internet searches, and more items of interest were found on these devices, but prosecutors asked Sergeant Milliorn to highlight the following 7 in more detail:
- An email drafted by Luke Sweetser on December 12, 2016 at 10:01 a.m. that was titled ‘Arrest Insurance: Legal Liability Project’
- An email drafted by Luke Sweetser December 13, 2016 at 9:05 a.m. sent to a business associate that reads in part “Hi Mike, I don’t believe the annual premiums will be [a problem]. . . my brother-in-law was murdered by home invaders. . . his body was sent to Ft. Worth for an autopsy, but I don’t know when the funeral will be. While I feel bad for his wife, my brother-in-law weren’t close, so I don’t expect it to upset my business schedule too drastically.”
- Emails about the family partnership sent on December 9.
- A google search about “if member dies” on December 11.
- Documents about late payments and payments declined in regard to Luke’s business on December 12.
- Documents/files/emails in reference to “Tom Niblo called autistic son a retard”
- A powerpoint that was titled “What Makes Serial Killers Tick” that was last accessed December 9, 2016.
Next, Harem Naguib with the FBI briefly testified to confirm his agency investigated some of the electronic data after Abilene police asked for help, specifically searching numerous computers and laptops, as well as at least 4 cellphones.
Sergent Will Ford followed on the stand. Sgt. Ford was the lead supervisor during the duration of the Niblo homicide investigation, starting on Day 1 when he was briefed on the crime scene, noting right away that it must be a crime of passion or personal due to the brutal nature of death (Tom was shot 8 times, including twice in the face) and lack a burglary or other crime.
Sgt. Ford also recalled interviewing Cheryl Niblo in April 2017 in an attempt to finally clear her of any involvement in the crime. During that interview, he said she maintained composure, even when he was calling her a liar and questioning her story, not because he didn’t believe her but because he was using an interviewing tactic and wanted to see what she would do.
He says Cheryl’s story remained consistent, and she was cleared as a possible person of interest after that day.
After that, Sgt. Ford discussed some of the writing in Luke’s personal journals seized from his home on Sylvan Street, saying he had a plan for financial success and success in life, and he would journal about these things daily, and in the middle of these entries, there would also be laminated pornographic pictures.
Finally, Sgt. Ford also unpacked some of the digital evidence, saying this case had far more than he had ever seen in his nearly 4 decades of experience with Abilene PD.
He was asked to go into more detail about the following 6 areas of interest to the investigation:
- Machete. He found that Luke had been researching for machetes, knives, and other survivalist equipment. There was also a hit for Ontario Knife Company, which was the same company that made the machete that was found stuck in the bank by the creek behind the Niblo’s home after Tom was killed. There is an email from a catalog showing he purchased several survival items, including a machete. Sweester’s Twitter bio, created in 2012 also reads, “When I die, it’s going to be with a machete in one hand and an M16 in the other, taking out as many zombies as I can.”
- Emails About Estate. Luke was part of several emails regarding a meeting that took place between Tom, Ellouise, and Evelyn Niblo regarding the Niblo family business the Thanksgiving before the murder. There was one email from Tom to Ellouise apologizing for his behavior at this meeting.
- Niblo Estate Conflict. There were several files that Luke and Ellouise had access to that detailed the family history and issues with the estate. These were in Luke’s dropbox account along with documents referencing the family LLC and what the Sweetsers were planning to do. They were also meeting with lawyers in the DFW area in regard to the LLC.
- Glock 40 – Luke sent an email in 2013 to a friend in reference to a zombie movie that read in part that glock handguns, “pack more umph than 9mm” and says he’s “way more acclimated with 40 than 45 if I need to be making headshots.”
- Ontario Knife Company. There was a hit on Amazon showing Luke ordered an item from Ontario Knife Company but there is no way of knowing what that item was.
- Email from Luke to Ellouise. This is email is titled “Niblo-Sweetser Matter” and is dated December 15. Luke tells Ellouise “nicely done email. You didn’t need my input at all.” He’s referencing an attached email, which Ellouise had sent to a law firm in DFW.
Look it’s a murder weapon’: Abilene teen says YouTube video helped him snag gun from creek
16-old Hayden Hall testified next, describing a day when he was playing in the creek behind his grandfather’s house on the 1200 block of S Leggett Drive in August 2018.
Hayden says he was down in the creek exploring, which was typical during his visits with his grandparents, when a beach ball caught his eye.
He went into the creek to get the beach ball and noticed something else – what he first thought was just a toy gun.
The creek was completely dry in 2018, and Hayden says the gun was lying flat on the ground, covered in leaves and a lot of mud and dirt. He says it looked like it had been there for some time.
Next, Hayden says he briefly picked up the gun and noticed there was no magazine – instead a spider and some cobwebs in its place. He then banged out the spider before remembering a YouTube video he watched, where a diver had recovered a gun from a creek.
In the video, the diver used a stick to carry the gun, so that’s what he did to bring it up to show his grandparents. He says he jokingly told them, “look, it’s a murder weapon” but he had no idea what he had actually found. That’s just what had happened in the YouTube video he watched.
His grandfather Donald Steele followed with his version of events, saying he was away when his wife called to tell him what Hayden found, asking him to come home and look.
When Steele arrived home and saw the gun, he thought it may be of importance, even possibly related to the Niblo homicide investigation that happened just down the street, so he called police immediately.
Police arrived and collected the gun before using a magnet and a search party to comb the creek for the missing magazine, though it was never found.
Steele also noted he overheard some of the responding officers say they never checked the area where the gun was found when they initially searched the creek in 2016.
Finally, Officer Chris Hall with Abilene PD testified about collecting the gun from the Steele residence.
Photos admitted into evidence showed the gun was heavily caked in dirt, weathered, and possibly rusted.
Testimony will resume Monday of next week as Luke Sweetser stands trial for Murder. Check back for the latest information.