Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Brandon Teena Story

A Grisly Find

The farmhouse in Humboldt
The farmhouse in Humboldt

It was a cold morning on December 31 in Humboldt, Nebraska, the heart of the Midwest. While many households were rising to prepare to bring in 1994, one sat ominously silent. Anna Mae Lambert drove up the driveway of the rented farmhouse just outside town to visit her daughter and grandson. In moments, she was calling the police.

The Humboldt Rescue Squad took the call around 10:20 a.m. They were prepared for a long day, knowing that some people start their festivities early, and those who drink sometimes let loose demons. The Richardson County Sheriff's Department told them there'd been some deaths at the old farmhouse that had once belonged to Frank Rist. They thought one was a baby. Could they check it out?

The rescue crew quickly assembled, picked up a doctor and drove out to the farm, followed closely by Deputy Ray Harrod. No one knew quite what to expect.

Potentially, this was a crime scene, so Harrod entered to secure it. The first thing he saw was a young African-American man with a prosthetic leg slumped against the couch. A coffee table lay over his lap. Going closer, Harrod saw that the man was dead. There was an entrance wound in his jaw and an exit wound on the right side of his head. Yet there were no other signs of struggle in the room and nothing about the corpse revealed what had happened. It could have been a suicide, but there was no gun. Had someone taken it?

A search of the rest of the house was in order. Harrod moved toward the dining room. Oddly enough, a woman sat at the table feeding a baby. It was she who had made the call to police, she explained. She understood not to disturb a crime scene. She was the grandmother to this child and mother to one of the victims.

Victims?  That meant there was more than one body here.

Anna Mae Lambert directed him to a bedroom.

Harrod ventured within, aware right away that the floor was flooded. Lying on a leaking waterbed were two people in their early twenties, a blond woman and a baby-faced young man with brown hair. They both appeared to have been shot execution style. Looking around for a weapon, the deputy found none.  He had no idea who they were.

Teena Brandon
Teena Brandon

When Richardson County Sheriff Charles Laux eventually entered to have a look, he recognized one of the preople on the bed, not as a young man, but as the young woman, Teena Brandon, 21, who'd reported that John Lotter and Tom Nissen had raped her a week earlier, after a Christmas party.

Brandon lay on her back on the lower part of the waterbed, her legs dangling over the edge and her hands bloody. She was fully clothed, but her sweatshirt showed a large area of blood that had soaked through from her abdomen. Her white socks were pink from watered-down blood soaked up from the floor. Lifting her sweatshirt, officers saw a jagged wound, apparently made by a knife. Further up, a small bullet hole was evident under her chin, surrounded by gunpowder residue. That meant she'd been shot at close range. A fracture on her skull indicated that she'd been hit with a blunt object. Of the three bodies, hers was the most ravaged, so it was possible that she had been the primary target.

The body of Lisa Lambert, 24, was partly under the covers, but there was a bullet wound to her right eye. Blood also ran out of her mouth and another wound was found in her stomach. It appeared that's she'd been sitting up in bed when shot.

The evidence collection unit of the Nebraska State Patrol was called in. They came out from Lincoln, but had to get an accident reconstruction expert to look at the tire tracks near the front porch, because it was too messed up to get a cast. They then went in to search for weapons and dust the place for fingerprints. A single footprint and a red spot near the front door were photographed. They assumed that if they were able to located a gun, recovered bullets from the bodies would help them identify it as the murder weapon.

Checking the victim on the couch, they saw another bullet entry point in his neck. From a wallet found in a bedroom, he was identified as Phillip DeVine, age 19, and it appeared that he'd been sleeping there.

Six shell casings were found in the flooded bedroom, along with a spent bullet and a live cartridge. A cigarette lighter was collected as potential evidence, as were the contents of an ashtray. Along with swabs from two blood spots, these were bagged and sent to the criminalistics lab in Lincoln. Then the bodies were removed to the hospital morgue for autopsy. Arrest warrants for sexual assault were issued for John Lotter and Marvin Thomas Nissen, and when apprehended, they would be questioned in the matter of these murders. They were under heavy suspicion.

It didn't take long to find out that three people had needlessly died because two young men had been unable to deal with someone who was different.

 

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