A Wife’s Betrayal: The Murder of James Nibbe
On August 31st, 2010, Jennifer Nibbe made a 911 call to report an intruder was in her home. She told authorities that the intruder cut her with a knife and shot her husband. James Mervin Nibbe, who was just twenty-six years old, was dead. Jennifer and her teenage son appeared shaken and disturbed. Jennifer told authorities the intruder had a stocking over his head, so she couldn’t provide a great description. Police were suspicious of the widow’s story from the start.
James Nibbe, known as Jim to family and friends, was born October 30th, 1983. He was a 2002 graduate of Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School. He grew up with his parents and siblings in Vernon Center, Minnesota. He was a member of the FFA, Ducks Unlimited- Lake Crystal Chapter, Garden City Rod and Gun Club, and Minnesota Pheasant Inc.- Blue Earth County Chapter. He loved to fish, hunt, and enjoy everything outdoors.
Jennifer Gilman also grew up in rural Minnesota. She was six years older than Jim, born in 1977. Jennifer had been a pretty and popular student in high school. When she became pregnant at age sixteen, Jennifer was determined to be a successful mother. She gave birth to her son and set out to be the best mom she could. She was dedicated to providing him a future and pursued a degree in nursing. She eventually was able to purchase a home and land in rural Blue Earth County, Minnesota.
Jennifer’s dedication to her son and career didn’t leave a lot of time for dating, but in 2007 she met twenty-four-year-old Jim Nibbe. He was helping a friend who was having a medical crisis and Jennifer was the nurse responding to that emergency. The two started to date and found they both enjoyed hunting and spending time with each other. Before long, Jim was in love and decided to propose to Jennifer. First, he asked her son’s permission, which was granted. Jennifer said yes and the two were married in May of 2008.
Jennifer was still working as a nurse, often working two different jobs to make ends meet. Jim was an apprentice electrician, not earning a fraction of his wife’s income. This may have been frustrating to Jennifer, who was used to financial stability. Jennifer’s family has said publicly that she was frustrated with being the breadwinner and other aspects of her marriage. Jim was deeply in love with Jennifer, however, and tried to make their marriage work. In the summer of 2010, he bought his wife her very own shot gun. Shortly after giving his wife this gift, Jim Nibbe was dead.
The weapon used to kill Jim Nibbe was, in fact, his wife’s shot gun. Jennifer said she left the gun outside after target practicing with her husband the night before. In the house, police found very little evidence of struggle, despite Jennifer’s claims that she fought off the intruder. Jennifer had cuts on her legs, which she claimed were from fighting off the alleged intruder. The police believed that they were too neat to be caused amid a struggle and believed they were self-inflicted. Police also noted that it was rainy and muddy outside, but no tracks were found in the house.
Family and friends of Jim and Jennifer Nibbe told authorities that Jim and Jennifer had grown apart and were having marital problems. Jennifer and Jim had financial issues including a second mortgage on their home, for which they were behind in payments, and high credit card debt. Jennifer’s cousin also revealed that Jennifer had been sending sexually explicit text messages and pictures to another man after growing bored with her marriage.
Jennifer’s family noticed that in the months leading up to the tragic shooting, Jennifer had been losing lots of weight. The pretty blonde was already thin, but now she was looking almost anorexic. It wasn’t long before police discovered another of Jennifer Nibbe’s dirty little secrets. Jennifer, a licensed nurse, was abusing prescription pills that she was stealing from her patients. She was also obtaining tramadol through the mail. She had been stealing prescription pads from her job to forge prescriptions for opiates. This was the major reason Jennifer and Jim were broke.
Jennifer had also kept a journal. In this journal, she described having an affair with her another man. She also described how her husband was a good man, but she did not want to be with him anymore. The police were able to confirm the affair once Jennifer was under surveillance. She was caught going to her lover’s apartment shortly after the death of her husband. Police then found the insurance policy. Just months before Jim’s death, Jennifer had taken out a $250,000 insurance policy on her husband. Could money have been the motive for Jim’s murder? Jennifer called the day after Jim’s death requesting the payout.
Jim’s family wanted to bury him next to the plot his parents had picked out for themselves. Jennifer refused this request and insisted on a separate burial plot. She also withheld Jim’s belongings from his family, who desperately wanted items of sentimental value. Jennifer wanted to control the situation without regard to Jim’s parents and siblings. According to those in attendance at the funeral, Jennifer did not shed a single tear.
Police arrested Jennifer Nibbe in early September, just days after Jim’s funeral. In custody, she admitted to being addicted to prescription pills. She said that the pressure of keeping the family financially sound was just too much stress and she turned to prescription pills. She was now taking 100-180 pills per day.
That wasn’t all Jennifer admitted to. She told authorities that there had been no intruder. She admitted to shooting her husband in the head that morning as he lay in their bed. She admitted to self-inflicting the cuts to her legs as well. She admitted to staging the crime scene to look like an intruder had been in the home. She told police Jim was a good man. Jennifer was charged with murder, facing life in prison without parole.
Jennifer made some statements about hearing voices when she committed the crime. After securing a defense attorney, a psychiatric evaluation was requested. Her defense claimed that due to her prescription drug use, Jennifer Nibbe had no memory of the night Jim died. The defense claimed Jennifer was not liable for the crime, but she was found competent to stand trial. Mental health experts said she was competent at the time of the crime. She was indicted on first degree murder charges.
According to the defense’s own therapist, Jennifer Nibbe was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of physical and sexual abuse from Jim Nibbe. Jennifer had never shown signs or told anyone about the alleged abuse until she was charged with Jim’s murder. In fact, when she confessed, she told police Jim was a good person. Her journal never mentioned any abuse from Jim. The family of Jim Nibbe and the prosecution weren’t buying Jennifer’s crocodile tears.
The defense felt that a part of Jim Nibbe’s autopsy results supported Jennifer’s claims of abuse because a screening test on the postmortem showed he was HIV positive. However, the medical examiner said that the test is not conclusive and often gives false positives. In fact, Jim had been tested for HIV in June when Jennifer took out the life insurance policy on him and had tested negative. According to Medscape, false positive results to the rapid HIV screening test can result from human error, Epstein-Barr virus infection, pregnancy, receipt of immune globulin therapy, hyperbilirubinemia, autoimmune disorders, and recent influenza vaccinations (2020). A scientific study on the postmortem spread of HIV to autopsy professionals concluded that the screening is not diagnostic in nature, is meant to protect those performing the autopsy, and there are false positives (Mehta et al., 2012). The screening test alone is not considered sufficient to diagnosis HIV infection. To the Nibbe family, this was another slap in the face from Jennifer as she attempted to drag Jim’s name through the mud. Meanwhile, Jennifer’s family was still trying to collect the life insurance on her behalf.
The prosecution was determined to get a conviction but wasn’t sure how the trial would go given Jennifer’s new memories of being abused and claims of not remembering the crime. The Nibbe family entrusted the decision on how to proceed to the prosecutor, and he decided to offer Jennifer Nibbe a deal. He would drop the first-degree murder charge if she would plead guilty to second degree murder. Jennifer accepted the deal.
In July of 2012, nearly two years after Jim was murdered in his own bed, Jennifer Nibbe was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. This meant she would be eligible for parole in fifteen years. She was also ordered to utilize her prison earning to pay for Jim Nibbe’s funeral expenses which totaled more than $11,000. She has yet to pay anything towards the services. The sentence didn’t seem like enough to the Nibbe family who felt manipulated and betrayed beyond comprehension.
“The only tears that you have shed so far have been in court… for yourself. You are not sorry that you took Jim’s life, you’re only sorry that you told investigators he was a wonderful person that didn’t deserve what you did to him”, Jim’s sister told Jennifer in her victim impact statement (Nienaber, 2014).
“I understand the Nibbe family not forgiving me. I understand that. I understand the pain that I have caused. I loved my husband. I have protected my husband. I’m not here to damage his reputation or integrity. But I don’t care how close you are to somebody, you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors”, Jennifer said in court, not offering an apology.
The Nibbe family has developed a memorial scholarship in Jim’s name entitled The James Nibbe Outstanding Character Award Scholarship, which is provided to a student at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School each year. They have also fought to have legislation passed, called Jim’s law, that protects the families of victims when the victim is killed by a spouse. The law ensures that the family of the victim has the rights to his property, something the Nibbe family says Jennifer instructed her family to keep from them. They just recently, in 2022, received the guest book from Jim’s funeral from her family.
Jim’s father passed away in September of 2011, just over a year after he lost his son. He never received the property of Jim’s that he wanted or saw justice be served. As a healthcare professional, I can attest that grief can have disastrous consequences on a person’s physical health. Jim’s father died of a broken heart. The Nibbe family asked the cemetery board to allow Jim’s parents to change their plot so that they could be laid to rest next to their dear son. Jim’s father was buried next to his son.
Jennifer Nibbe was not an abused wife suffering from psychological distress. Jennifer Nibbe was a woman who was frustrated in her marriage but had dug herself a hole she couldn’t get out of with her addiction to prescription pills. Jennifer had been having an affair and sending explicit text messages and nude photos of herself to another man. Jennifer had always been seen as successful and didn’t want to risk damaging that reputation or her professional career. Jim Nibbe was executed in his sleep by the woman he loved at age twenty-six. He never had a chance to become a father, to build his career, or to enjoy his adult life. Jennifer stole Jim’s life and future and inflicted unimaginable pain on those who loved Jim. Jennifer is eligible to be paroled in August of 2027. She will be fifty years old. She has never expressed remorse for her actions.
Associated Press (2010) Wife of man shot to death is arrested. St. Cloud Times. 11 Sep 2010
Simmons, A. (2010) Lake Crystal man found shot to death in his home. 01 Sep 2010
Associated Press (2010) Shooting death of man ruled homicide. 03 Sep 2010
Snapped (2013) Jennifer Nibbe. Season 10 Episode 6. Available on Peacock
My personal communications with the Nibbe Family