Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Brandon Teena Story

The Hunt for Brandon

One day after the rape, on December 26th, John and Tom were still simmering. They armed themselves with a rope, a hatchet, and a change of clothing, and went looking for Brandon. Stopping first at his home in Lincoln, Nebraska, they failed to find him, so they checked at three other places that they found listed in Brandon's address book. Still he eluded them. The account as we know it comes from a few witnesses and a confession made later by Tom Nissen, in exchange for his life. John Lotter denies the entire episode, although his denial of witness accounts makes his version highly suspect. Tom, too, has an agenda, but his version corroborates that of other witnesses. Where it may be most self-serving is at the scene of the crime. Regardless, they were in this together and they were both involved in premeditated murder.

Feeling thwarted and apprehensive in their initial search, they started to drink. According to Tom, John felt that it was imperative they find Brandon and get rid of him as a witness to the assault. He didn't like people "narcing" on him. They could lure him away, tie him up, and chop off his head and hands to prevent anyone from identifying the corpse. That way their problems would be over (a sentiment they expressed to several people in the period prior to the murders).

On December 28, they were called in and questioned by a police officer about the assault. John claimed that Lana had asked him to find a way to determine Brandon's sex. He also insisted that neither he nor Nissen had sexual contact with him. Yet he would not voluntarily provide samples of his semen or hair, and refused a polygraph examination.

Tom, on the other hand, did offer to give samples, and he said that he'd been there while John had consensual sex with Brandon, but he hadn't participated. He was going back for a second interview, too. Oddly, he told all of this to John, indicating that he was trying to throw the cops off. John seemed unable to perceive what his partner in crime was really doing, but he was troubled.

He sensed they were really in trouble. If they'd had any second thoughts about killing Brandon, they no longer entertained them. They started to make some serious plans.

On December 30, Brandon was supposed to return to the police station for a follow-up interview, but when he got there, he saw that Tom was there, so he didn't go in. He called his mother, who begged her child to come home. "I'll be there on the 3rd," said Brandon, "and everything will be all right."

That same day, Tom and John drove to Rulo, Nebraska to see Tom's mother. He told her he wanted to give power of attorney for his youngest child to her, but didn't explain himself. They went to a local bar and drank all day, and then drove back to Falls City. 

At this time, John decided they needed better weapons. He went to his mother's house to get a pair of golden gloves and a knife. Afterward, they went to see a man named Eddie Bennet, who had a gun. John pretended to be visiting. When he excused himself to use the bathroom, he snatched the gun from Bennet's drawer and once he had it, according to Tom, he claimed that he was going to "take care of Brandon."

They went to Lana's house late that night with the intent of killing Brandon, whether he left with them or not. They knew that meant that they might have to kill everyone else, too. But they were on a mission. This thing had to be done.

Yet once again they struck out. Brandon wasn't there. Lana's mother directed them to the home of Lisa Lambert, who was giving Brandon shelter in her rented farmhouse in Humboldt. Lana later reported that John had said he felt like killing someone and told her that she was next. He also said, "I'm sorry. I hope you all don't hate me," although they had no idea what he meant. Yet no one bothered to call over to the farmhouse to warn the occupants.

Then John and Tom got in the car and started to drive. They now had Brandon in their sights. There would be no escape. By some accounts, Lana was in the car, too, and remained in the car when they went into Lambert's home. She denies this.

When they arrived, it appeared that no one was home, but John was not to be dissuaded. He kicked open the door and went into a dark bedroom where he found Lisa in bed. In a nearby crib was her eight-month-old son, Tanner. John demanded that she tell him if Brandon was there, but she refused to answer. Then they started looking around and discovered Brandon under a blanket on the floor at the foot of Lisa's bed.

Tom grabbed him and pulled him up, and then everyone started to yell, which woke the baby and made him cry. Tom turned toward the baby and when he looked back, Brandon was lying on the bed clutching his stomach, although Tom claimed he had not heard the gun fire. He saw Brandon twitching, so he asked for John's knife and used it to stab Brandon in the stomach.

"Why are you doing this?" Lisa screamed.

Tom ignored her and went to pick up her baby. He handed the boy to her. When she set the child aside on the bed, he claims that John shot her in the stomach. She jumped up and screamed. Tom picked up the child and returned him to his crib, and then asked Lisa if there was anyone else in the house. In that moment she signed another death warrant: that of Phillip DeVine, who was in another room. He'd had a fight with his girlfriend that day, so he was staying just by chance with Lisa.

John went off to find him. He returned with the young amputee in tow, who was shouting hysterically. Then John shot Lisa once again.

Phillip insisted he'd tell no one if they'd just leave him alone, but John and Tom took him into the living room and instructed him to sit down on the couch. Then, according to Tom, John shot him twice. He returned to Lisa's room and fired a few more rounds.

The two killers left the house, tossed the gloves and weapons into the river (they thought), and went back to Falls City.

They were arrested that afternoon, and Tom wasted no time in letting the deputies know that he'd witnessed John Lotter shoot three people to death in Humboldt.

The police went to the river and saw the golden gloves lying on top of the ice on the frozen river. Retrieving them, they found the gun and a knife inside a leather sheath in which the name "Lotter" was printed. Now they had their suspects tied clearly to the murder weapons. These two were going to trial, possibly to their deaths.

 

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