IN JULY 1970, 18-year-old Nick Rice was shot and killed on the KU campus. The circumstances of the killing were murky, and the shooter was never publicly identified. Now, with the help of newly obtained investigative documents, Lawrence Times reporter Conner Mitchell is shedding light on the case in this extended series.
The Times thanks Nick Rice’s brother, Chris, for his dedication to finding out the truth — not to mention the countless hours and thousands of dollars to gain access to the documents that expose it all — and for trusting the Times to tell this story.
We also thank the Times’ subscribers for making this series possible. We couldn’t do this without you. This kind of intensive research and storytelling takes a lot of time. If you believe journalism like this is important for Lawrence and Douglas County, please support us with a voluntary subscription to the Times.
A Lawrence Times investigation shows that Nick Rice was an innocent bystander when he was shot and killed by a Lawrence police officer on July 20, 1970. So why is there still so much ambiguity about his life and death?
Friends said Nick Rice was a nice, carefree guy who didn’t pay much attention to the unrest around him. So how did he get swept up in the tense protest at KU the night of his death?
Some protesters tried to set a VW on fire as tensions rose on July 20, 1970. Lawrence police officers fired tear gas, then guns. Suddenly, Nick Rice’s fiancée realized Nick wasn’t holding her hand anymore.
Hours after Nick Rice was killed in July 1970, Lawrence police officer Jimmy Joe Stroud asked authorities if he’d be charged with shooting the teen. But then the coverup began.
Five decades later, Stroud still says “They didn’t have no evidence.”
The KBI determined that Nick Rice was not the man who tried to torch a car on KU’s campus in July 1970. But following his death, local officials sowed doubt about that fact in public statements. Even five decades later, one former officer likened Rice to BTK or John Wayne Gacy.
Nick Rice was shot and killed in the 1200 block of Oread Avenue on the night of July 20, 1970 — an innocent bystander in a crowd of more than 150 protesters. These key figures were involved in Nick’s life, his death, and the subsequent investigation.
There were so many questions surrounding Nick Rice’s death in Lawrence in July 1970, but most local media failed to ask them. Instead, false narratives were allowed to thrive.
KBI laboratory testing released 50 years after Nick Rice was killed revealed that a bullet found almost exactly where the teen’s body lay was fired from the gun of Officer Jimmy Joe Stroud. But a Lawrence police captain had tampered with that evidence, rendering it inadmissible.
For years after Nick Rice’s death, his family fielded an untold number of letters, phone calls and the occasional in-person visitor telling them Nick deserved what he got.
As an epilogue to The Lawrence Times eight-part series on the death of Nick Rice in July 1970, read a personal account of the night’s events from a bystander just feet away from Rice when he was killed.
Make sure you don’t miss future deep-dive series:
Other related coverage:
The KBI will, at least temporarily, continue to keep in the dark records that could finally shed light on a case of police violence that has been imprinted in the fabric of Lawrence for exactly 51 years.
In the nine months since the Lawrence City Commission unanimously approved creating historical markers to memorialize two teenagers killed by Lawrence police, the conversation on what those markers might look like, where they’ll be placed, and how much they’ll cost has mostly gone silent.