This case takes place around Christmastime of 1993 in Humboldt, Nebraska.
Brandon Teena was born Teena Renae Brandon, and raised in Lincoln, Nebraska – smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt. Not a good thing for him, considering how closed minded people were – especially back in the 90’s, when the phrase “transgender” was not at all well understood nor anywhere close to being accepted.
Brandon’s father had passed away when he was just a baby, so he and his older sister, Tammy, were raised by their mother and grandmother; both he and Tammy were sexually abused by an uncle during their childhood. Brandon had always been a tomboy; he began identifying as male early on, and he definitely liked the girls. His mother flat out refused to accept any of this, in her eyes he was an abomination; she continued to call him Teena, and always referred to him as “her”.
In December of 1990, once Brandon had turned 18, he began to bind up his chest and live his life as a man. During the Summer of 1991, Brandon entered his first real relationship with a girl named Heather. At this time mother had Brandon to undergo a psych evaluation, which concluded that he was having a severe “sexual identity crisis” and Brandon was committed to a mental health facility to treat this “condition” of his.
Once he was released from the hospital, Brandon understandably got the hell out of dodge; he just wanted to live in a place where no one knew him, so that he could live his life on his own terms. Sadly he chose Humboldt, Nebraska, a place which was just as closed minded as his home town had been. Still, Brandon quickly made friends, and for a short amount of time he was finally truly happy. He met and fell in love with 19 year old Lana Tisdel; Brandon never did tell Lana that he was trans, she had believed that she was in a relationship with a person who had been born a biological male.
It was through Lana that Brandon was introduced to his future rapists and murderers: John L. Lotter and Marvin Thomas “Tom” Nissen. Initially he was good friends with them all; Brandon was finally just one of the guys – until December 19th of 1993 when he was arrested for forging checks.
When Lana went to bail him out, she was told that Brandon had been placed in the women’s jail; putting two and two together, she realized that, anatomically speaking, it could be possible that her boyfriend may actually be a she. Brandon did his best to simply explain it all away, he told Lana that he had been born with both male and female parts, but that he identified as male and that he was planning to have an operation to fix it all very soon. Lana wasn’t too judgmental, and she easily accepted her boyfriend’s explanation. Plus, the pair had been intimate, and Lana hadn’t noticed that anything was amiss; the happy couple just moved on with their relationship. This may have been the end of the story, except Brandon’s arrest had been posted in the local newspaper, which had effectively outed him to the entire town.
On Christmas Eve there was a party at Lana’s house. As Lana cried and begged them to leave him alone, Nissen and Lotter forced Brandon’s pants down so that they could personally see exactly what he was packing down below; at this point there was no more denying that Brandon had been born Teena. Later that night, Lotter and Nissen got Brandon alone; the men viciously beat Brandon, then dragged him out to their vehicle where they took turns brutally sexually assaulting him. Brandon had technically been, in that way, still a virgin. His assailants threatened to kill Brandon if he ever told anyone what they had done to him; after the assault the men drove Brandon to their house and forced him to shower. Brandon climbed out of a bathroom window to escape; he ran straight to Lana’s house, and she talked him into reporting what happened. He was taken to the hospital where a rape kit was performed.
Now, if you’ve been following my work for any substantial amount of time then you probably already know that I really do try not to interject my opinions into my work as a writer often has a ability to sway their audience’s general opinions. I like for y’all to read the facts about a case and to tell me what you think, I love hearing the differences of opinion. I’m sorry, but I just can’t hide my thoughts, my disgust, when it comes to Sheriff Laux. This is the man who dealt with Brandon’s sexual assault, and he is a terrible human being. During the interview this man who had vowed to serve and protect actually poked fun at a person who had just survived one of the most traumatic things a human can endure – whether the victim be male or female; Laux’s questions were brash, uncaring, and even downright cruel. He was more interested in Brandon’s sexuality than he was with the rape which he’d survived, and the sheriff seemed to find every bit of this terribly amusing. Several times this sheriff flat out told Brandon, “I don’t believe you”.
Brandon told the police that his life had been threatened by his rapists and that he was very much afraid; nevertheless, Nissen and Lotter were quickly brought in for questioning, and they were informed of exactly what Brandon had told the police. Of course the men denied it all, of course! Just like magic the rape kit which had been taken from Brandon disappeared from evidence, and the rapists were allowed to go on their merry way without an arrest. Maybe the police had believed that this would be the end of it, but Lotter and Nissen weren’t known to make empty threats; they’d promised to find and kill Brandon if he told on them, and that’s exactly what they’d planned to do. They were on a mission now. Due to this, a rape victim and two other innocent people were tragically murdered.
Brandon, who had known for a fact that his life was in serious danger and that the law was not at all willing to protect him, found sanctuary at a friend named Lisa Lambert’s house. For 6 days Brandon was safe, and he was able to recover in peace. At 1:00 am on New Year’s Eve of 1993, Nissen and Lotter broke in to Lisa’s house. Lisa had been sleeping in bed, and her baby was laying in the crib. First they shot and killed a friend named Phillip DeVine, who had simply been unfortunate enough to be staying the night at the home. Next they shot Lisa, saving their intended victim for last. Brandon was not simply shot, he was also stabbed. Thankfully Lisa’s baby was left alive, but only because the child was too young to bear witness against these brutal killers.
Of course the police immediately knew exactly who had committed this triple homicide, their refusal to prosecute Brandon’s rapists had made this all possible! Once the killers were picked up, Nissen accused Lotter of committing the murders. In exchange for a reduced sentence, Nissen admitted to being an accessory to the rape and murder; he testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison. Lotter was found guilty of murder and received the death penalty.
In September of 2007, Nissen recanted his testimony against Lotter; he claimed he’d been the only one to shoot Brandon and that Lotter had not committed the murders. In 2009 Lotter appealed his sentence using Nissen’s new testimony. This was rejected by the Supreme Court; it was ruled that, even though the story had changed, both Lotter and Nissen were involved in the murder. Whoever actually pulled the trigger is irrelevant. Today both men are still in prison, and neither seem to feel any remorse at all.
As a final insult to Brandon, his headstone bears the first name of Teena. Even in death he wasn’t fully accepted by his mother. That said, he is so well accepted and loved throughout our country, and even the world. Brandon and his story have opened many eyes to the dangers which transgendered individuals face; due to what happened to Brandon Teena, laws protecting people like him are in place today.
This entire case hurts my heart; the audio of Brandon telling the sheriff what happened during his assault and the way said sheriff respond is infuriating! As promised, you can listen here: