Family of 'Saltair Sally' brings her remains home after 12 years

Published: Thursday, Aug. 23 2012 3:00 p.m. MDT

James Bakoles, left, and Adrien Koch, second from right, comfort their mother Nancie Bakoles during a press conference about the death of their sister and daughter Nikole Bakoles in South Salt Lake, Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. At right is Kai Candler, sister to Nikole. The picture below shows Nikole Bakoles and her daughter Chloe Chaudoin.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SOUTH SALT LAKE — Nancie Bakoles remembers watching her daughter — her "born again hippie" and "flower child" as she lovingly called her — walk down the ramp to catch a flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City.

Nikole "Niki" Bakoles was carrying her newborn daughter, Chole, as she boarded the plane.

That image is the last one Nancie Bakoles has of her daughter.

For 12 years, she was simply known as "Saltair Sally," a random name chosen by investigators because of where her remains were found. It wasn't until earlier this year that detectives were finally able to solve the mystery of Saltair Sally's true identity, and discovered her real name was Nikole Bakoles, 20.

Bakoles' remains were discovered in October of 2000. Hunters found bones, some hair, a white sock, a T-shirt and a woven, blue choker-style necklace in an area of tall grass about 90 feet from the frontage road off I-80 along the Great Salt Lake.

Thursday, Bakoles' mother, brother and two sisters traveled to Salt Lake City to pick up the remains of their loved one and take them back to Washington.

"It's been a long time coming, and we really feel blessed to begin the closure stage to bring (her) home," said brother James Bakoles.

He and Niki were best friends growing up in the Puget Sound area. She was just one year older than him.

"We spent everyday together," he said.

Niki was a free spirit, James Bakoles said, and an "artistic girl" who loved poetry, painting and drawing. "She was an active, adventurous, down-to-earth girl that was really living a wonderful life," he said.

Material items weren't important to Niki, her family recalled. She often said all she wanted was a house with a white picket fence and a family. Her mother recalled one Christmas when she asked her daughter what she wanted, and all she said was a pair of jeans from the local Goodwill.

By the time Niki Bakoles turned 16 or 17, her brother recalls they started spending a little less time with each other as they "started to grow up a little bit" and she began "spreading her wings," doing things like getting a driver's license and hanging out with other friends.

In 1998, Niki Bakoles and her boyfriend, Joel Chaudoin, moved to Utah for his work. The two had a baby together in Utah. Her family traveled to Salt Lake City for the birth. Niki also went back to Seattle to visit shortly after the baby was born.

But after that, Niki Bakoles' family began to lose track of her address and phone number because they said she was moving so much.

The last time Nancie Bakoles saw her daughter, she remembers it as a positive visit.

"I got to rekindle that connection. She talked about life and how exciting it was to be a mom," she said.

Niki's mother also encouraged her to move back to Washington. Instead, she returned to Utah. She and Chaudoin were living in "difficult circumstances" in Midvale and lost custody of the child, according to Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder. The child now lives with Chaudoin's relatives in Wisconsin.

"We believe that circumstances after the birth of that child may have led to her disappearance," Winder said.

The woman's family lost contact with Niki Bakoles, which they attributed to tension regarding her living situation. They assumed she just needed time to herself because of all that had happened. Even though they were concerned, family members didn't feel at the time that they could report her to police as a missing person because they weren't even sure where she lived.

In 2003 — three years after Saltair Sally was discovered — the Bakoles family felt they finally had enough information to file a missing person's report.

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