In a significant breakthrough in May 2023, the cold case surrounding the murder of Sarah Yarborough was finally solved, leading to the conviction of Patrick Nicholas on charges of murder with a sexual motive. Intriguingly, it was revealed that merely eight years before the attack on Sarah, another young woman had a harrowing encounter with the same killer. Anne Croney bravely shared her story on ’48 Hours: The Hunt for Sarah Yarborough’s Killer,’ expressing deep regret over the possibility that Sarah’s life could have been spared if things had turned differently after her encounter. The details of her experience shed light on the extent of the danger posed by Patrick Nicholas and the potential implications of an earlier intervention.
What Happened to Anne Croney?
In June 1983, 21-year-old Anne Croney visited a park along the Columbia Riverfront in Richland, Washington, relishing the scenic views from the hood of her car. She wanted some time to herself and chose solace. She recounted the experience of encountering the young man, later identified as Nicholas, who approached her with seemingly polite conversation. The interaction appeared ordinary and Anne asked if he had ever tried water skiing in the nearby river. He responded negatively, citing a lack of swimming skills. However, as their conversation progressed, Anne sensed a shift, noticing a tremor in his voice that made her feel uneasy. Recognizing the discomfort, she quickly conveyed her need to depart, promptly beginning to close her car door.
He suddenly approached her from her side of the car window, took out his knife, and ordered her to take off her clothes. In the episode, she shared that this was the time when she felt everything had stopped for her. He stuffed her underwear in her mouth so that she would not make any noise and made her walk to a quiet area by the riverbank. Due to her presence of mind, she remembered that he could not swim so she ran towards the river. She jumped into the river and started swimming. Remembering the incident, she said, “I swam for my life.”
Nicholas faced arrest for the attempted rape of Anne, and during police interrogation, he confessed to having a problem. It was during his time that the police learned that he had also been in juvenile prison for the rape of two girls and the attempted rape of a third. He approached them the same way in which he approached Anne and proceeded to threaten them with a knife, order them to undress themselves, and then sexually assault them. While in police custody, he said, “I realize that I have a problem concerning raping girls. I was going to force the girl to have sex with me that day in the park, and I realize that is not right. I want help for my problem.”
Subsequently, he underwent a trial in which Anne provided testimony, leading to a judge sentencing him to ten years in prison. However, after serving just three and a half years, Nicholas was released on parole in 1987 under the condition that he would participate in an outpatient sex offender treatment program. His prison records show that he did participate in any deviant behavior while in prison and did not have any drug or alcohol problems as well. Unfortunately, the duration of his involvement in this program remains unclear.
Where is Anne Croney Now?
Over the years, Anne believed that justice had been served, and she moved forward with her life, putting the experience behind her. However, in 2019, a knock on her door shattered the semblance of closure. The police informed her about the developments in Sarah’s case, revealing that the man she had encountered years ago was involved in a heinous crime. This revelation profoundly altered Anne’s perspective, forcing her to confront the realization that she had narrowly escaped not just a potential rapist but a murderer. In the interview, she expressed her shock, unaware that he had been released early and assuming he had served the full ten years of his initial sentence.
Expressing her dismay, Anne voiced her disappointment at Nicholas’s early release, pondering that if he had served the complete ten-year sentence initially given to him, he would have been incarcerated during the time of Sarah’s tragic murder, potentially preventing the attack. She said, “The system failed. It really failed. He should have been locked up.” Currently residing in the Washington area, Anne’s decision to come forward and share her harrowing experience is not only a step towards personal healing but also a contribution to the pursuit of justice for Sarah. By recounting her encounter, Anne has ensured that the full extent of Patrick Nicholas’s criminal actions is revealed.
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