The Tragic 1993 Murder Of Brandon Teena Explained

On December 24, 1993, 21-year-old Brandon Teena was attending a party with several friends and acquaintances in Richardson County, Nebraska, when he was emotionally and physically assaulted and ultimately raped. As reported by Investigation Discovery, two of the other attendees, John L. Lotter and Thomas "Tom" Nissen, learned Teena was transgender and became obsessed with removing his pants to look at his genitalia. The two men forcibly removed Teena's clothing and humiliated him in front of everyone at the party. However, they were not done with their brutal assault.

Later that same evening, Nissen and Lotter physically beat Teena and dragged him out to their car. They then drove him to a remote location, where they took turns raping him. According to Investigation Discovery, Nissen and Lotter then took Teena to Lotter's house, where they told him if he reported the assault, they would kill him. Nissen and Lotter told Teena to go take a shower. However, Teena managed to escape out the bathroom window. Less than one week later, Brandon Teena was found brutally murdered.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

He struggled in school and did not have any support from his family

Born in Lincoln, Nebraska, Brandon Teena was the youngest of two children. As his father was killed in a car accident before he was born, Teena was primarily raised by his mother. As reported by Biography, Teena enjoyed playing several different sports, including basketball and football. However, he struggled in school, as the curriculum was religious-based and the rules were often strict.

Although he was assigned female at birth, Teena began living as a male in high school and started using the names Billy Brinson and Brandon Teena. Although he had several friends at school, Teena's mother refused to use either of the names he chose and continued to refer to him as her "daughter." By the time he was 18, Teena had lost interest in school and began skipping classes. Although he attempted to join the United States Army, he was unable to pass the required exam. Biography reports he was ultimately expelled from school only three days before he was expected to graduate, as he missed too many classes and did not meet the requirements for graduation.

Teena had several relationships in his late teens. However, he also experienced depression, as he did not have the acceptance and support of his family. According to Biography, he also struggled with his gender identity and sexuality. As his depression intensified, Teena attempted suicide and was ultimately admitted to the Lancaster County Crisis Center.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

He moved to Humboldt, Nebraska, to escape his problems

As reported by Biography, a psychiatrist formally diagnosed Brandon Teena with "a gender identity crisis and personality disorder." Although Teena attended therapy to address his depression, he eventually stopped going. He also started getting into trouble with the law. By 1993, Teena had several outstanding warrants for his arrest for a variety of crimes, including forgery and theft. As he wanted to leave his troubles behind and start over, Teena moved to Humboldt, Nebraska.

When he moved to Humboldt, Teena introduced himself as Brandon Teena and had short-term relationships with several women. However, he eventually became serious with Lana Tisdel. Although he moved away from his hometown to avoid his legal troubles, The New Yorker reports that Teena continued to have problems with the law. In November 1993, he was arrested for being in possession of an open container of alcohol after crashing his car. Using his cousin's driver's license, Teena convinced authorities he was a man named Charles Brayman. He was ordered to appear in court on December 15.

Brandon Teena's true identity was revealed after an arrest

Brandon Teena attended the scheduled court date as Charles Brayman and entered a not guilty plea to the charges. He asked for a court-appointed attorney and was released on his own recognizance. However, as reported by The New Yorker, he was stopped by a deputy sheriff on his way out of the courthouse. The deputy addressed Teena by name and asked him to join him upstairs for an interview. During the talk, the deputy questioned Teena about his true identity and confronted him about the forgery of several checks. Teena ultimately confessed to using a false name when he was arrested on the alcohol charge and forging the checks. He was subsequently arrested and charged with second-degree forgery.

Following his arrest, Teena was booked into the Richardson County jail as "Teena Brandon" and was placed in the women's cell block. When Lana Tisdel posted Teena's bail, she learned Teena was assigned female at birth. Although Tisdel did not seem terribly disturbed to learn the truth, her friends and family were angry and began harassing Teena.

John Lotter and Thomas Nissen sought revenge after Brandon Teena reported the rape

John Lotter and Thomas Nissen were convicted criminals who met Lana Tisdel in November of that year and had been staying with her when Brandon Teena was released from jail. When they learned Teena was assigned female at birth, they became enraged and obsessed with humiliating him. Although Teena reported that Lotter and Nissen assaulted and raped her, neither of the men was arrested. As reported by The New Yorker, authorities later said there was not enough evidence to arrest either of the men — despite the results of a rape-kit examination. Lotter and Nissen were questioned about Teena's accusations. However, they vehemently denied any involvement.

Despite the fact that Lotter and Nissen threatened to kill him if he reported the assault to authorities, Teena continued to spend time with Tisdel after the assault occurred and was reported to the police. In the meantime, Lotter and Nissen were already plotting his murder. Although it took some time for Lotter and Nissen to figure out where Teena was, they eventually found out he was staying with Phillip DeVine and Lisa Lambert in a farmhouse outside Humboldt.

John Lotter and Thomas Nissen ultimately killed Teena and two others

As reported by The New Yorker, John Lotter and Thomas Nissen burst into the farmhouse and found Brandon Teena hiding under a bed. One of the men proceeded to shoot him, while the other stabbed him in the stomach. They then approached Lisa Lambert, who was holding her son Tanner in her arms. The men removed the child from his mother's arms and placed him in a crib. They then proceeded to shoot her dead. The men then told Phillip DeVine, who was hiding in a bedroom, to come out of the room and sit on the couch in the living room. Although DeVine complied, one of the men shot him in the head as soon as he was seated on the couch. According to The New Yorker, Lotter and Nissen were in the house for five minutes at most. Tanner was the only survivor of the brutal attacks.

According to The Atlantic, the details of the murders were unclear, as Lotter and Nissen told conflicting stories and blamed each other for initiating the attacks. Although he previously denied direct involvement in the murders, in 2007, Nissen admitted he was the one who shot and killed all three victims. Both men were ultimately convicted of murder. Nissen was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole and is currently being housed at Lincoln Correctional Center. Lotter was sentenced to death and remains on death row at Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.