By Dan Nienaber
Free Press Staff Writer
LAKE CRYSTAL — A cable television show that focuses on the rare cases where women become murderers will be sending a crew to the Mankato area to interview people involved in the Jennifer Nibbe case.
A website describing the “Snapped” show on the Oxygen network says women are responsible for only about 7 percent of the 16,000 murders in the United States each year. The show has profiled dozens of those murders since it started in 2004.
A film crew hired by Jupiter Entertainment, the business that produces the show, will be traveling to Mankato next week to interview law enforcement officers who investigated the Aug. 31, 2011, murder of James Nibbe, 26, in Lake Crystal.
Nibbe’s wife, Jennifer Nibbe, was eventually arrested for the murder. Nibbe, now age 35, pleaded guilty in June to shooting her husband in the back of the head while he slept and attempting to blame the murder on an intruder.
Investigators have been waiting for Nibbe’s appeal deadline to expire before going on camera to discuss the case, said Capt. Rich Murry of the Blue Earth County Sheriff’s Department. That deadline passed Tuesday, so plans are moving forward to do the interviews next week.
Murry said he is one of the investigators who will be interviewed. Leslie Nibbe Johnson, James Nibbe’s sister, said Special Agent Mike Anderson with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also has agreed to be interviewed.
“They contacted the family, then they contacted our department,” Murry said. “We’re doing it out of respect to the Nibbe family — so they can get their story out there.”
One of the show’s producers contacted her family several months ago, Johnson said. That person said “Snapped” was doing an episode on Jennifer Nibbe with or without the family’s cooperation.
Having a show focus on the facts surrounding James Nibbe’s murder will be hard on his family, especially his mother, but the family decided it would be best to cooperate, Johnson said.
“Why not shed a little bit of light on who my brother was? He was a great person and we want to provide insight on who he was as a man,” she said. “The story is about Jen, it’s not about Jim, and that’s unfortunate. I don’t have a goal in helping them more than to shed some light on who Jim was.”
No one is being paid to participate, Johnson said. The production company is paying the family for some photographs, but that money will be used for the annual James Nibbe Outstanding Character Award scholarship.
Before Jennifer Nibbe reached a plea deal that sent her to prison until at least 2027, her attorneys filed motions suggesting she was the victim of abuse that pushed her to the point of murder. Those filings could have been what drew attention to her case by the producers of “Snapped.”
The show’s description says the episodes try to answer whether the women accused of murder really committed the crime and, if they did, explain why they did it.
“Whether the motivation was revenge against a cheating husband, the promise of a hefty insurance payoff, or putting an end to years of abuse, the reasons are as varied as the women themselves,” the show description says.
Dan Gilman, Jennifer Nibbe’s father, said he also has been contacted by a producer. He said it’s his impression that the show is going to investigate things about James Nibbe that didn’t come to light through local media coverage of the case. Gilman said he believes there’s more to uncover than a coroner’s report that said James Nibbe tested positive for HIV and a collection of pornography that investigators didn’t see as evidence.
“They’re going to ask, ‘How could this person, who seemingly had it together, all of a sudden snap and kill someone?” he said. “What they wanted to find out is what happened.
“There is more to the story. There was plenty of other background about him. There was two victims in this deal. Whatever the truth is, it’s going to come out.”
Johnson said the evidence is clear that Jennifer Nibbe’s motive for murder was a selfish one. She was pursuing a sexual relationship with an old boyfriend and a large life insurance policy had been purchased for James Nibbe shortly before he was killed.
A journal that was confiscated from the Nibbe house after the murder, which prosecutors said was written by Jennifer Nibbe, talked about her boyfriend. It made no mention of abuse by her husband.
“Before she was arrested, there were no accusations of any abuse at all,” Johnson said. “Investigators did hundreds of interviews with her and her family. She had the journal that never mentioned abuse. It talked about dissatisfaction with her marriage, but nothing about any sort of abuse. That journal was key.”
Johnson had heard of the “Snapped” show before the producer called, but only because her brother and Jennifer Nibbe watched it regularly. So James Nibbe would tell Johnson about certain episodes he had watched with his wife.
Johnson admits she has some concerns about how the show will portray the situation.
“Sometimes you just do things and see what happens,” she said.