Longform

DEATH IN THE DESERT

Page 3 of 5

Her mood began to chill--she remarked to Seliga that Chambers made her uncomfortable, but she wouldn't explain why, and, instead, started talking about a man in her apartment complex she thought was a peeping Tom. Chambers has no idea what Kimberly was referring to.

About 1 in the afternoon, she stopped at the apartment of an acquaintance named Tor Stobbe, whom she had run into on campus the Friday before. Stobbe is a bit of a cosmic dabbler who studies massage and martial arts and other, more esoteric Oriental disciplines. The message on his answering machine ends with this koan delivered in a dramatic voice: "Remember, the deep source of everything is nothing--yet it is everything."

On the previous Friday evening, Kimberly and Stobbe had met to climb Camelback Mountain, and, under the full moon, they discussed Kimberly's family and religion, and she described it in her diary as a pleasant outing.

On Sunday afternoon, however, Stobbe later told police, Kimberly acted as if she had something on her mind that she was afraid to talk about. He claimed that he had made some herb tea for her, and she had snapped at him almost rudely, saying something along the lines of, "Oh, so now I have to drink the tea before I leave."

He noted that she left without giving him a hug, a gesture she regularly made on greeting or leaving her friends.

At 3:30 in the afternoon, as Kimberly's roommate, Donna Zingaro, later recalled, Kimberly was in the bathroom vomiting, and when Donna knocked at the door to ask if she was okay, Kimberly answered, "Go away. Just leave me alone."

Kimberly called in sick to work and went to bed and slept until about 5:30 p.m., when Bob Leet, her workout partner, called. They chatted about tickets he had bought for Lollapalooza, expecting that he would take a date and Kimberly would bring her former boyfriend. They arranged to meet the next morning, and she pooh-poohed her illness, telling Leet she probably just had a bug.

Then she started making peculiar phone calls. She called friends in Flagstaff, thinking she had called her ex-boyfriend; they recognized her voice, though it took a moment for her to recognize theirs. She apparently then tried to call the ex-boyfriend at work, but never got through to him.

At 7, she called Leet again, this time going on and on incoherently about some dream she had about not being able to trust him or Tor. "She never could tell me exactly; she never could quite get clear what had scared her," Leet recalls. But she seemed racked with guilt that she had not told Tor about the dream and that she had not hugged Tor when she left his apartment because she was afraid to.

"I fucked up," she told Leet. She was standing on the balcony of her apartment, and passers-by told police that they thought she might have been saying, "I'm fucked up."

After 50 minutes, the batteries in her cordless phone went dead. Leet called back, but no one answered. Passers-by recalled seeing Kimberly still on the balcony, sitting with her head between her knees as if she were sick again.

Her roommate, Donna, told police that Nilson's eyes were dilated and that she was acting irrationally. At 9:30 p.m., Nilson called another casual male friend so she could drop by his house and wish him a happy birthday. She left the apartment, and shortly afterward, returned saying that she couldn't find her friend's house and that she needed to call for better directions--which was peculiar because she had been to his house at least eight times before.

She left again, returned again, even more frustrated, and, at 10:30 p.m., left for good. Donna at first reported to police that she thought she saw Kimberly in bed the next morning when she passed by the room on her way to work. Days later, she realized that she had not.

The next morning, August 22, Nilson's car appeared, neatly parked in a driveway in north Scottsdale. It had not been there when the homeowner left the house to run errands at 7:40 a.m., but was blocking the garage when she returned at 9. It did not seem to have been parked hurriedly or under stress, but rather carefully, as if in a parking lot. The keys were in the ignition, Kimberly's checkbook and identification were on the front seat and the pullout stereo that she would remove and carry with her even if she stopped at a Circle K was still in the dashboard. Under one of the floor mats, investigators found a page torn from her diary with a map to Tor's house drawn on it.

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Michael Kiefer