An arrest has been made in the homicide of Abilene Realtor Tom Niblo, who was shot eight times in his bedroom Dec. 12, 2016.
Luke Sweetser, 48, Niblo’s brother-in-law, was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the killing and taken into custody at 5:05 p.m. Thursday at an apartment in Dallas, Abilene Police Chief Stan Standridge said during a hastily called Thursday evening news conference.
His bond was set at $750,000, Standridge said.
“People have asked me consistently, ‘Why has it taken so long?’ Because there was a plethora of electronic evidence that had to be culled through,” Standridge said. “When you’re dealing with terabytes of electronic information, that takes a considerable amount of time.”
Sweetser was arrested by the North Texas Fugitive Task Force, which is comprised of officers with the U.S. Marshals Service, the Dallas Police Department and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.
Officers and forensics specialists from the Abilene Police Department also were on scene of the arrest, Standridge said.
“The FBI has also assisted over the course of several years, and I am very thankful for the help in processing electronic evidence,” Standridge said.
An arrest warrant was issued for Sweetser by a Taylor County grand jury Thursday, Standridge said. The suspect was taken to the Taylor County Jail early Friday, according to jail records.
The police chief declined to discuss the evidence that led to the arrest in the almost four-year-old case.
“The last thing I want to do is anything to jeopardize the prosecution of Sweetser,” Standridge said.
A grand jury court document filed Thursday states that Sweetser caused Niblo’s death by “shooting him with a firearm.”
The family was notified of the arrest before the news conference, Standridge said.
“The Niblo family is looking for some justice. It’s been a long time coming, but it is here. The day has arrived,” Standridge said. “This is a day that I have been looking forward to for so many reasons, and so, today, I join the Niblo family in saying Luke Sweetser has been arrested.”
The day of the shooting
A prominent real estate agent and the son of late bank president Sydney “Syd” Niblo and Evelyn Niblo, a well-known Abilene artist, Niblo was a native Abilienian and McMurry University graduate.
Niblo’s wife, Cheryl, told police she had been in a bathroom early that Monday morning three years ago when she heard multiple gunshots.
She placed a 911 call at 6:18 a.m. at a neighbor’s house after leaving her home through the back door, police said.
Tom Niblo was found in his bed by first responders and was transported to Hendrick Medical Center, where he died.
Police said the gun used to fire the shots likely was a .40-caliber handgun, based on finding spent shell casings.
An early suspect
Abilene police named Sweetser as a suspect early in the case.
Officers executed a search warrant at Sweetser’s home, about a half-mile from where the Niblos resided, looking for a .40-caliber handgun, ammunition, spent shell casings, blood, fibers, and muddy, bloody or wet clothing or footwear, according to Reporter-News files.
Police discovered evidence there had been a rift between the two families, stemming from the execution of the will following the death of Syd Niblo, according to affidavits.
“The victim and his mother had been named as executors, but the victim’s sister, Ellouise Niblo Sweetser, and her husband, Luke Sweetser, had specifically been excluded as executors of the will,” an affidavit said.
Sweetser provided no alibi for the night before or morning of the shooting, according to Reporter-News archives.
Around 36 hours later, police searched an office associated with Sweetser in the Alexander Building downtown.
Hours after that, police also searched a storage facility at 342 Mesquite St., according to another search warrant affidavit, with the assistance of Niblo’s daughter, Elizabeth Wallace.
Inside, police found a green safe that, when searched, contained seven stolen firearms along with scopes and ammunition, according to Reporter-News files.
Sweetser was arrested Dec. 14, 2016, charged with theft of a firearm, a state jail felony. But a .40-caliber handgun was not among the guns recovered.
He spent a month in jail until the initial $400,000 bond set by a judge was reduced to $75,000.
He also sought unsuccessfully through his attorney, Lynn Ingalsbe, to suppress evidence collected in the safe.
Ellouise Sweetser, the victim’s sister, filed for divorce from Luke Sweetser on April 28, 2017, as well as for a temporary restraining order. At the time, the Sweetsers had been married for 18 years, according to Reporter-News files.
In the divorce court documents, Ellouise Sweetser cited a “discord or conflict of personalities” that “prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation.” She also sought sole custody of their two sons and child support, according to Reporter-News files.
In July 2017, Ingalsbe told the Reporter-News that Sweetser had moved to Dallas.
Standridge commended the many officers and forensics specialists who were involved in the investigation, naming specifically at least 10 officers, two evidence analysts and two retired officers.
“We have not ever stopped investigating this offense since its inception,” Standridge said.
The investigation generated “hundreds, if not thousands of pieces of evidence,” Standridge said.
“There’s been a lot of incredible work, perseverance and diligence to see this case forward,” he said.
Laura Gutschke is a general assignment reporter and food columnist and manages online content for the Reporter-News. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Brother-in-law arrested in connection with murder of Tom Niblo