In August 1996, Debbie Dorian was a 22-year-old student at Fresno State studying economics and working as a waitress to help pay her way through school.
In August 1996, 45 miles to the south in Visalia, Nickey Duane “Nick” Stane was 29 years old, with a wife, two children and a mortgage.
In August 1996, Fresno police believe, their paths crossed in violent fashion. Stane, now 52 and divorced, is accused of raping and killing Dorian in her northeast Fresno apartment. If detectives are right, Dorian’s murder is the first known case – and the most violent – in a six-year string of sex crimes for which Stane now stands accused.
Stane was arrested Oct. 1 by Visalia police after DNA evidence connected him to the first of a series of sexual assaults of women across the city between 1999 and 2002. A few days later, police in Fresno named Stane as the suspect in the Dorian case, indicating that DNA found in Dorian’s apartment was a match to one of the Visalia cases.
“We have a DNA match from Nickey Stane that matches the DNA taken from the semen that was found on Debbie Dorian,” Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer told reporters at a news conference last week.
What remains largely unanswered by Visalia and Fresno investigators: How did Stane become a suspect in their cases? Were there possibly other crimes by the same assailant preceding Dorian’s death? Are there other crimes that occurred in the three years between when Dorian was killed and the first of the Visalia assaults in 1999? And did the crimes simply stop in late 2002?
One of Stane’s ex-wives declined to be interviewed when contacted this week by The Bee. Neither his daughter, now 29, his 25-year-old son, nor another ex-wife responded to requests by The Bee to talk about Stane or their reaction to the accusations against him.
A search of social media and public records offers only a fragmentary picture of Stane, who at the time of his arrest was working as the manager of a restaurant in a mall food court. Before most of his publicly visible posts were scrubbed late Monday, Stane’s main Facebook profile suggested a man who brought homemade caramel apples to his staff about a week and a half before his arrest, who took pride in his now-grown children, and who enjoyed playing with his step-grandchild.
Stane or ‘Steel’?
Since October 2017, however – several months before he filed for a divorce from his most recent wife – Nick Stane maintained a second Facebook profile under the alias “Nick Steel,” describing himself as “Chairman of the Board of Directors at Fortune 500.” That profile shows a much different side of Stane – one with multiple selfies, references to nightlife and drinking and women.
Earlier this year, one post shows Stane in a restaurant booth wearing a tuxedo shirt and jacket, flanked by a pair of women and holding a Dos Equis beer – a scene reminiscent of the beer brand’s “Most Interesting Man in the World” advertising campaign. In another, Stane posted a selfie video behind the wheel of an SUV with a disco light ball flashing in the back under the heading, “My party Cadillac.”
The contrast between a normal family man and a self-perceived playboy isn’t unusual among sex offenders, said Eric Hickey, a forensic psychologist who teaches criminal psychology at Fresno State. “Sex offenders can live normal lives, be married, have kids,” Hickey told The Bee, speaking in general and not specifically about Stane. “But then they go out and do things.”
The idea of having two vastly different social media profiles, he added, is a manifestation of that dichotomy. “They live a double life, and many have that kind of narcissism, and they can’t contain the narcissism,” Hickey said. “They’ll post nice pictures of their family, but there’s also the narcissistic ‘Look at me, I’m so wonderful’ attitude. It tells you a lot about somebody, because underneath that narcissism is a lot of insecurity.”
There were apparently other red flags occasionally popping up on social media, too. In early May, Stane posted a listing to a Facebook group advertising to rent a fully furnished room in his house on East Willow Court, but only for a single female.
Eviey Drew, the administrator of the Facebook group, said she received complaints from several women who contacted Stane about the room; she said they told her about Stane making sexual advances, sending photos of his private parts, or offering money to them for sexual favors. One of the women, she added, reportedly went to Visalia police to report his inappropriate advances but was told that little could be done because no crime was committed.
“The one that really got to me was a woman who was getting ready to move in and saw a video camera set up in the room,” Drew said.
Stane’s ad was up for only a few days before Drew decided to ban him from posting additional ads and blocked him from the page. “I just had a bad gut feeling about him,” she added.
Visalia Police Sgt. Gary Williams said that when police served a search warrant at Stane’s home, they found a small video recording device hidden in a guest bathroom used by three of Stane’s female roommates. That led to a misdemeanor charge of invasion of privacy, in addition to the charges for the years-old sexual assaults.
Williams, however, said he had no information that any police report was filed as Drew indicated.
Drew said news of Stane’s arrest as a suspect in the Fresno and Visalia cases shook her deeply. “I was just, like, ‘Oh my gosh,’” she said. “I’m more scared for the women on my page. What if he would have done something to one of the people on my page. It literally hit me really hard.”
Asking for nude photos
Another Facebook user, Lorenzo Mesta of Visalia, said that in March or April, several of his female friends were telling him about receiving Facebook messages from a stranger who was sending them pictures and asking them for nude photos in exchange for money.
“They showed me his messages; I just thought it was pretty creepy,” Mesta said. “I didn’t think much of it at the time, just that this was a random perv. … He was just randomly messaging them on Facebook, initiating conversations at first, but it got creepy from there, talking weird and flirting with them.”
In May, after Drew posted a warning about Stane’s room rental to her Facebook group, Mesta recognized the profile photo and showed it to his friends, who he said told him it was the same man.
Stane’s arrest last week, months after his friends’ Facebook encounter, came as “a complete shock” to Mesta. “My first emotion was to be flabbergasted,” he said. “You know, when you have a bad feeling about somebody, it’s in your gut and you feel obligated to warn people. … But I couldn’t believe he was even capable” of the crimes, including Dorian’s rape and murder.
Working at the mall
Also taken by surprise was the owner of the Charley’s Philly Steaks franchise in the Visalia Mall food court, where Stane had worked as a manager for almost two years. Stane was arrested at the restaurant.
“I got a big shock” when employees called to tell him of their manager’s arrest, said the restaurant owner, who asked that his name not be used. “When I hired him, I did a criminal (background) check and everything was clean and nice. He had a lot of experience in other restaurants, and I fully trusted him.”
The last public post by Stane to his regular Facebook profile, which has since been deleted, was on the morning of Sept. 20. It included two photos of “homemade Caramel apples to take to my staff today.”
Exeter High Class of ‘85
An Exeter High School yearbook indicates that Stane attended there as a member of the Class of 1985. By 1993, he and his then-wife purchased a home in a cul de sac on East Willow Court in east Visalia. The couple filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in 1999, but access to those records has been restricted or sealed by the federal bankruptcy court for California’s Eastern District.
A spokeswoman for Lyft confirmed this week that Stane formerly was a driver with the ride-share service, but had not been active on the app since 2017. “Safety is fundamental to Lyft,” the company said in a statement. “Based on the (recent) information his access to Lyft has been permanently removed and we stand ready to assist law enforcement with their investigation.”
On Monday, Stane transferred the deed to his property and assigned power of attorney to his son, according to information from the Tulare County Recorder’s Office.
How did Stane become the focus?
For two decades, police in Fresno and Visalia did not know who they were looking for. Fresno police had DNA evidence from semen found at the Dorian crime scene, and Visalia police had DNA from a July 1999 sexual assault. But it wasn’t until 2002 that the connection was made between the two cases.
Even then, however, there was nothing to tie a specific person to the crimes. “Over the years, numerous DNA databases have been searched for a match to the DNA profile in this case with no matches,” Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said when he announced Stane’s arrest. But, he added, police used lessons learned in the capture of Joseph James DeAngelo, the accused Golden State Killer — also known as the “Visalia ransacker” for crimes committed in Tulare County. That detective work eventually pointed investigators to Stane as a suspect through “genetic genealogy” — a term that suggests that Stane’s DNA was compared to DNA samples submitted to genealogy websites by people seeking to learn more about their own ancestry and family backgrounds.
“A DNA sample was obtained from that suspect and the (state Department of Justice) lab was able to confirm a match of that suspect to the DNA profile obtained in this investigation back in 1999,” Salazar said. He added that identifying Stane “was a lead that was just recently developed, within this past year.”
Neither Salazar nor Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward would go into more detail about what led them to focus on Stane. “The accused in this case deserves a fair trial and we are committed to ensuring the integrity of that process,” Ward said. “We cannot and will not divulge any more specifics about what led us here today.”
Dyer said Fresno police “have been working with the Visalia Police Department for the past year on this case, specifically the last six months. And we actually coordinated with them on the execution of the search warrant (at Stane’s Visalia home)“ on Oct. 1.
Stane remains in custody without bail in the Tulare County Adult Pre-Trial Facility. He faces eight felony charges for the 1999-2002 Visalia cases including sexual battery, kidnapping to commit another crime, attempted forcible oral copulation, forcible oral copulation and kidnapping to commit robbery. Each of the charges includes a special allegation that a gun was used in the commission of the crime. His next scheduled court date is Oct. 16.
Dorian’s mother: ‘I know it’s going to come out right’
Debbie Dorian’s mother, Sara Loven, told The Bee on Thursday she never doubted that a suspect would be identified and caught in hear daughter’s death. “It’s what we’ve been hoping for and waiting for and praying for,” said Loven, who lives in Morro Bay. “I knew that eventually it would happen; I was just hoping it would happen in my lifetime. I knew whoever did this would get justice, whether here or in front of God.”
Loven added that her “gut feeling” is that police have the right person. “I think he’s going to be put away forever, and that’s a good feeling,” she said. “We’ve done so much hard work to keep this thing going, and the detectives have worked so hard through all these years. … I know it’s going to come out right.”
She said news of the breakthrough stirred a flurry of emotions for her. “It’s like coming upon a whole flock of birds and they all take off at once,” Loven said. “There are just so many thoughts that go through your head at one time.” She added that she plans to attend all of the important court proceedings, such as a preliminary hearing and trial, after charges are eventually filed against Stane for her daughter’s death.
“Someone needs to be there to represent Debbie; it’s horrible what was done to her,” Loven said. “I’m not looking forward to hearing things that I don’t want to hear. But I trust the people who are working on our case.”
“I’m sure there are many more victims that we just don’t know about,” she added.
Hickey, the forensic psychologist, said it is quite likely that Dorian’s rape and murder was not the first crime by the same assailant, nor was the latest case identified by Visalia police in August 2002 the last one.
Sexual predators typically “go through phases of development, they fantasize about weird sexual things, and then go and act them out,” Hickey said. For a violent rape such as that against Dorian, in which the victim is bound, gagged and dies from asphyxiation, to be the first act by an offender “would be very unusual — if that were true. … But I can assure you, there’s going to be more to this case.”
He also predicted that more recent cases would likely come to light as investigators continue their work. “Offenders who have a history of acting out … don’t just stop one day,” Hickey said. “Sex offenders don’t age out, especially sexual predators. They may change their (mode of operating), but they don’t just stop acting out. … They may appear to be dormant, but there’s something going on.”