On April 9th, 1988, a vehicle was found abandoned in the woods near Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. The vehicle was found by locals who were shocked to find a dead body in the trunk of the partially burned car. The body was missing the head, quickly confirming that the cause of death was homicide. The body was that of missing twenty-three-year-old Michael Miley of Murphysboro, identified through his fingerprints.
Michael Miley (above) was reported missing by his father after he failed to return from church service in April of 1988. Michael worked at a restaurant in Carbondale and was a part of the local gay community. Crab Orchard Lake was known as a gathering spot for the gay community at night in the late eighties. However, a series of hate crimes were occurring at Crab Orchard Lake and police believed Michael Miley to be the most recent victim.
The police quickly added local man Richard Nitz to the suspect list. Richard Nitz had a significant criminal history including intimidation, aggravated battery, theft, and damage to property. A few months before Michael’s death, Richard Nitz had been chasing gay men around Crab Orchard Lake and smashing their cars with a baseball bat. One of those men was Mark Miley, Michael’s twin brother. While Richard seemed like a likely suspect, there was no evidence to tie him to the crime.
That was, however, until Mr. Miley’s credit cards were used at a mall in Kentucky. Store clerks quickly identified Richard Nitz and his wife Rita Nitz was the people using Miley’s credit cards. Upon searching the Nitz’s property, several items purchased with Michael Miley’s cards were found. In addition, Miley’s car radio was found in the garage and his gold watch was found in Rita’s car. Rita admitted to using the cards but told police she wasn’t aware they belonged to a murder victim.
Authorities learned that Ritz Nitz had purchased a gun a few weeks prior to the murder. The gun, however, was no where to be found. Police theorized that Richard Nitz assaulted Michael Miley, drove him to the location the car was found, shot him in the head, and then decapitated him to destroy evidence and make identification more difficult. They made Rita an offer of ten years to testify against her husband, but she declined claiming that she knew nothing about the murder.
Ritz Nitz was born Rita Brookmyer. She was raised primarily by her mother, whom she claims was abusive. Her brother, Jon Brookmyer, described her in “Women Behind Bars” as someone who was a liar and manipulative. He also said that he believes Rita would have flipped on Richard to save herself if she knew about the murder (Women Behind Bars). Rita had been married three times and had a teenage son in 1988. She had been married to Richard Nitz only a few years at the time of the murder.
Rita’s temporary roommate, Betty Boyer, told authorities that she looked outside the window of Richard and Rita’s home the night of the murder and saw Richard beat Michael Miley in the head with a baseball bat. She said she watched Rita and Richard both put the body in the trunk of the car. She claimed Rita drove Miley’s vehicle and Richard followed her off the property. This testimony would play a key role in the case. Richard and Rita Nitz were arrested and charged with the murder of Michael Miley.
Richard Nitz went on trial first. He pointed the blame on a seventeen-year-old neighbor. However, there was no evidence to substantiate his claim. Betty Boyer was the key witness in the case, claiming she was babysitting Rita’s son the night of April 6th. She said Rita was out with Richard that night. Richard agreed with this, stating the couple spent the night driving around talking and working on their marriage. However, Betty says they came back to the property, and Richard beat Michael Miley to death as she watched through the window.
Richard’s defense pointed to the lack of physical evidence in this case. Since Michael’s head was not found, it was impossible to know the actual cause of death. However, a pathologist testified that a hair found in the car belonging to Miley showed evidence of head trauma. There were no fingerprints or evidence in Miley’s vehicle to confirm that Richard or Rita had been in the vehicle. The defense claimed Betty Boyer was coerced into lying by the state. In September of 1988, the jury found Richard Nitz guilty of three counts of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping, and robbery (Davis, 1988). Richard Nitz was sentenced to death.
Rita, now divorced and legally using Brookmyer as her last name, went to trial in 1989. She claimed that she was doing laundry at a friend’s house that evening and then at home with her son. She claims Betty Boyer was not at her home that evening. She said she fell asleep, and Richard woke her up in the middle of the night. She claimed that she went with Richard to help him move his car, which was stuck in the ditch. She testified that she saw what she thought was oil on the ground, but she now thought it may have been blood (Davis, 1989). “At that point, I believe that’s when he asked me if I had ever seen a dead body” she told the jury (Davis, 1989). She denied knowing Michael Miley had been murdered and called her now ex-husband and former friend liars.
At some point, Rita had told police that her neighbor admitted to robbing and killing Michael Miley and “he had done something to the victim to conceal his identity” (Davis, 1989). This however was proven false as the man was out of state at the time of the murder. Rita also apparently claimed the items bought with Miley’s credit cards had been gifts from Betty Boyer. However, she later admitted to using the credit cards. This testimony portrayed her as a liar to the jury. Rita has found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Richard Nitz filed several appeals and was granted a new trial in 1998 on grounds that he was taking anti-depressants and should have had a mental fitness hearing prior to trial. He was once again found guilty, but this time sentenced to life in prison without parole. In 2004, Richard’s sentenced was reduced to sixty years on appeal because of testimony that one juror in his 1998 trial had doubts about his guilt and that the decapitation was post-mortem, thus “not indicative of wanton cruelty” (Advocate, 2006). In 2006, however, the Illinois Supreme Court found that while the decapitation was post-mortem, it was “cold-blooded to severe and conceal a victim’s head” (Advocate, 2006). The Supreme Court reversed decision and reinstated Richard Nitz’s life sentence. He is still appealing his case and is currently incarcerated at Hill Correctional Center.
Rita Nitz continues to appeal her case as well, but all appeals have been denied. Some people believe that Rita is truly innocent and a victim of spousal abuse at the hands of Richard Nitz. Larry Franklin wrote a book about Rita’s case, entitled The Rita Nitz Story: A Life Without Parole. Larry told Women Behind Bars that Rita’s conviction is a gross miscarriage of justice. On his website, a post claims that Betty Boyer recanted her testimony in 2013, claiming the prosecutor forced her to lie. Rita currently is housed in Logan Correctional Center.
IDOC (2021) Brookmyer, Rita; Retrieved at: Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)
IDOC (2021) Nitz, Richard; Retrieved at: Individuals in Custody (illinois.gov)
Homan, J. (2004) Court upholds Rita Nitz sentencing; The Southern Illinoisan; Retrieved at: COURT UPHOLDS RITA NITZ SENTENCING | Local News | thesouthern.com
Advocate (2006) Life sentence reinstated for gay man’s killer; Retrieved at: Life sentence reinstated for gay man's killer (advocate.com)
Judici (2021) 1988CF162 Nitz, Richard C; Retrieved at: Williamson County, IL | Case History (judici.com)
Franklin, L. (2013) Twenty five years later, Betty Boyer has recanted her testimony that convicted Rita Nitz of murder; Retrieved at: Twenty five years later, Betty Boyer has recanted her testimony that convicted Rita Nitz of murder. | Larry L Franklin (authorllfranklin.com)
Women Behind Bars (2008) Rita Nitz & Chanel Boyd; Season 1 Episode 12; retrieved at: Women Behind Bars - Season 1, Episode 12 - Rita and Chanel - Full Episode - YouTube
Davis, L. (1989) Police: Ritz Nitz says neighbor admitted murder; Southern Illinoisan; 09 September 1989, Page 3
Davis, L. (1988) Nitz guilty of murder; Southern Illinoisan; 23 September 1988, page 1
Davis, L (1989) Rita Nitz declares innocence; The Southern Illinoisan; 19 September 1989; Page 3