Missing Autopsies, a dead mother on the side of the highway, underage relationships and drugs, all linking back to the two most notorious “hate-crimes” in American history.
It’s been over 25 years since the American people first learned about the death of Brandon Teena, a 21-year-old transgender male who seemingly had been murdered by two ex-cons because he was simply a transgender struggling through a sexuality crisis. It’s been over 20 years since Matthew Shepard’s gruesome death in Wyoming, seemingly also because he was an open homosexual. Both deaths became mouthpieces for gay rights movements across the United States, culminating in the “Matthew Shepard Act” signed in 2009 by then-President Barack Obama that considered attacks on persons for their sexuality and gender now under “hate-crimes” and enhance punishments for those found guilty.
It was looked on as a great victory for gay rights activists and organizations, who hailed it as a step forward from bigotry and hate in America’s heartland. Gays joined a group of minority classes who were now protected under federal hate crime law.
However, fast forwarding to today, the stories of death based on homosexuality and bigotry have begun to be questioned by those who have done extensive research into the stories behind America’s two most-famous hate crimes in history. Revelations of Drug use, criminal gangs and even underage relationships have begun to surface in recent years, challenging the media’s and police’s assumption that the crimes were indeed hate-driven. However, this information has been buried within the depths of the internet, obscured from general public view.
This article will connect the dots surrounding the events leading up to and after the deaths for Shard and Teena. For the first time, the true story of the murders and secret lives of Brandon Teena and Matthew Shepard may finally be pieced together, paving the way for more questions and answering one of the most important questions that has never been answered:
Did the media skew the deaths of two LGBT individuals to push for a new, and dangerous narrative?
On December 31, 1993, 21-year-old Brandon Teena was murdered in the small town of Humboldt, Nebraska by ex-cons John Lotter and Tom Nissen in what was deemed to be a hate-motivated homicide that also resulted in the deaths of two other close acquaintances of Teena. About two weeks prior, Teena had reportedly been arrested by the police for forging checks under a different alias to purchase and send gifts.
Lotter and Nissen discovered, though a newspaper article about the arrest, that Teena was a Transgender and, as a result, raped Teena during a Christmas party and subsequently killed her on New Year’s Eve. Teena’s story became inspiration for the 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry, earning praise and giving more notoriety to Teena’s story and the issues of gay rights swirling around it.
In fact, the original author of the news report of Teena’s murder said her article was ”Transphobic” for the time. The author, Donna Minkowitz, portrayed Teena as a misunderstood transgender who was raised by a white-conservative Nebraskan family who was bullied throughout most of her life.
However, in 1995, a Playboy article written by Eric Konigsberg began to highlight a different side of Brandon Teena that portrayed a completely different person, especially in the latter part of Teena’s life.
Teena had been sexually assaulted by her Uncle, along with her other sister Tammy, during her childhood up until 1990, where she began to exhibit major changes in her sexuality. Teena attempted to enlist into the army to fight in the Gulf War but could not pass the written exam since she had identified as a male instead of a female. She began to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts, against the school’s dress code and began to exhibit flamboyant behavior that seemed odd in the eyes of classmates.
In December, just before the turn of the new year, Teena received a call from a 13-year-old girl who had been told a “hot-sounding guy” had lived at the address. Teena masked her voice and passed herself off as “Billy Brinson” and quickly scheduled a time to meet the 13-year-old at a skatepark. They met on New Year’s Eve in 1990, binding her breasts to look as if she was truly a male, being with the 13-year-old for a few weeks. Teena met another underage girl, a 14-year-old named Heather Kuhfahl, in which became her first true relationship.
However, this relationship began to take a stronghold of Teena’s thoughts and subconscious, only amplifying Teena’s bizarre and attention-seeking behavior.
Aside from the new-found identity she had developed at school using this persona, she had begun to stuff socks down her pants to make it seem as if she had a penis and began to use the men’s bathroom in public. Her outward flamboyance with Heather’s love and her identity cost her a high school degree, numerous jobs Teena was working at, and got to the point where Teena moved in with Heather and her mother to further advance their relationship, while Heather was still a minor. Teena was vehement that the relationship was not physical, reportedly saying that she would be a virgin “till the day she died.”
Teena’s mother, JoAnn, blamed Heather for the recent change in her daughter’s behavior but was able to coerce her daughter into psychiatric therapy in early 1992, where she was identified as having a sexual identity crisis and was required to attend out-patient psychiatric therapy sessions. Teena did not take these sessions seriously and was called compulsive liar by doctors before being let go into the care of her mother.
It was then that Teena’s behavior began to become criminal and potentially violent.
“While living with Sara Gapp, she ran up a $895 phone bill and stole Gapp’s automatic teller machine card. Teena forged checks from the account of her grandmother, who was angry enough to press charges. Her grandmother wasn’t the only one to report her. From March 1991 to the end of 1993, Teena was charged with 18 crimes, mostly for forgery or failure to appear in court. She served several short jail terms. Most of the time, Teena stole only to buy her girlfriends gifts.” Konigsberg wrote.
During this time, Konigsberg wrote, using at least four different aliases, she became acquainted with at least a dozen more underage women, with most not extending more than a week. Teena had reportedly preyed on high-school girls that were seeking male partners and sexual gratification. In some cases, when a woman was about to commit oral sex with Teena, she stopped them before they were able to grab her crotch, where it was sometimes fit with a plastic dildo. In some cases, both Teena and her accomplice would perform dry-humping and other sexual foreplay, such as nibbling and possibly groping.
In May of 1993, Teena met 19-year-old Gina Bartu, who Teena had planned to spend the rest of her life with Bartu. On May 28, 1993, Teena rented out 3 rooms at the Harvester Motel to throw an engagement party and proposed to Bartu, in which she tentatively said yes.
However, between a period of May to August 1993, Teena continued to steal money from close acquaintances and lied to Bartu when confronted about questions about her physical appearance. At one point, Bartu noticed small breasts on Teena, which Teena responded that she had an operation in Omaha to get rid of them and had not completely gone away yet.
It got to the point where Teena stole Bartu’s credit card to buy a $350 ring for their marriage. When Bartu found out, they broke off the relationship and sent Teena into a depressive state.
“It was in November, two months after Gina ended their relationship, that Teena fled Lincoln.” Konigsberg wrote, “She owed money to too many people, some of whom had threatened her physically.”
It was in Humboldt that Teena met a 19-year-old by the name of Lana Tisdel, who was swooned in by Teena as quick as the other underage girls Teena had met. Tisdel was also a former girlfriend of John Lotter and Tom Nissen, both of whom were arrested for a litany of crimes such as Arson and Alcohol-related offenses.
It was not until December 15th that, after Teena was arrested for alcohol possession, did Lotter and Nissen learn that Teena was in fact a woman when it was discovered that it was NOT discovered in the paper, but that Tisdel had told them about her visit to the prison. Teena had been jailed for forging checks again, and was put into the women’s section of the jail.
According to a 1994 Chicago Tribune article, Teena, as she had become older, had a habit of swindling people with romantic favors, then stealing money to buy gifts and for her own personal gain. The New Yorker report in 1997 confirmed this pattern, as well as several other details in the now-forgotten Playboy article, and even adding that Teena had been arrested for possession of stolen property and theft in 1991. In one case in 1992, Teena swallowed antibiotics to kill herself to get out of telling the truth about her sexuality to an underage girl and to get out of a forgery charge.
It was also found out that the money she had stolen off of Lisa Lambert, who Teena was also dating, and was also acquainted with the same people. Nisson and Lotter were also convicted for a major laundry-list of crimes.
“Psychiatric instability, tumultuous family lives, absentee parents, trigger tempers, suicidal tendencies, foster homes, a fascination with lethal objects, juvenile detention, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, crime (theft and attempted burglary for Lotter, arson for Nissen), prison.” John Gregory Dunne wrote in the New Yorker.
The rest of the story is history. But most people forget the story leading up to the fateful crime, including the fact that Nissen and Lotter were substance abusers, robbers and also suicidal, while Teena was also a criminal, and a drifter running away from her problems, continuing her behavior long after she left Lincoln.
Five years later, another alleged “hate-crime” occurred in Wyoming. This time, involving a 21-year-old gay college student who was seemingly brutally beaten and left to die by being tied to a fence and left in sub-freezing temperatures. Shepard was found by a passerby and died six days later at a nearby hospital, in what the media initially reported as a cold-blooded and heartless hate crime.
However, alternative theories have begun to circulate regarding exactly how Matthew Shepard got acquainted with his to-be assassins, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney. While most say that he was approached by two men out of the blue and offered Shepard a ride home, and what appeared to be a robbery-gone-wrong, more evidence has begun to hint that there is amore complex story to how Shepard, Henderson and McKinney got together on that fateful night.
In 2004, ABC News aired a 20/20 special that went deeper into the mystery surrounding the life and events leading up to Shepard’s Murder. The Special was covered in almost every major media outlet at the time and was rebroadcast to almost all U.S. households at the time.
However, the investigation has been wiped from the internet and cannot be found on any video-sharing site. Amazon lists a DVD that claims to bean original recording but cannot be verified and has not sold any copy.
ABC, just before the broadcast of the investigation, published an article documented the life before Matthew Shepard’s murder and questioning the motive as to whether the basis of the assault was drug-related, rather than hate-oriented.
In 1995, Shepard had reportedly been raped and beaten by an unknown assailant while on a high school trip to Morocco. Previously, Shepard had been an outgoing and High-honors student before this incident. The Guardian also reported, referencing The Book of Matt by investigative journalist Stephen Jimenez, who is also gay, that Shepard, who had moved out of the country to Saudi Arabia with his family around 1994, began seeking drugs and sold himself for money, with the behavior continuing when he returned to Laramie, Wyoming.
Shepard’s mother, Judy, said that during this time, Matthew began to have panic attacks and depression, with some of his friends at the University of Wyoming in 1998 saying that his depression may have been attributed to an underlying drug-dependency issue. ABC and Jimenez also reported that Laramie was a drug haven at the time, where McKinney, who was a notable dealer in the area, accepted a .357 Magnum pistol from friend Ryan Bopp, who was desperate for methamphetamines.
Weeks beforehand, according to multiple sources who were approached by Stephen Jimenez, stated that McKinney and Shepard were seen at parties together, in which they would sell meth with one another and test the meth and pay for it. ABC reported that a bartender they had interviewed said that both men knew each other and would sell drugs. When the beating occurred, the bartender assumed and told that it was either based on drugs or money.
Jimenez in a 2013 interview said that, according to multiple sources, both men would be seen at parties and sell meth, and in some cases, sex was involved during these parties and other private encounters. Jimenez also referenced a reported bar-meetup a week in advance that McKinney and Shepard used to test meth that was delivered to Shepard that night, which ended in McKinney storming out of the bar since Shepard would not front the Meth, something McKinney did to other dealers and did not pay back. Jimenez also referenced an impromptu meeting outside of a convenience store in which McKinney told Shepard to “watch his back.”
ABC also reported that a limousine service owner Tom O’Conner said that Shepard had become HIV-Positive at some point in time and considered suicide, and that he had thought of McKinney as a blatant bisexual.
On October 6, 1998, McKinney and another acquaintance of his, Russell Henderson, were at a local bar to commit a robbery of a drug dealer.
“McKinney told [Elizabeth] Vargas he set out the night of Oct. 6, 1998, to rob a drug dealer of $10,000 worth of methamphetamine. But after several attempts, McKinney was not able to carry out his plan.” ABC reported.
Henderson, who was opposed to the plan, attempted to get his friend drunk in order to abort the plan. When Shepard arrived, he was well-dressed and was under the impression McKinney had assumed that Shepard had a lot of cash, or drugs on his person.
When the trio left the bar and were traveling, Shepard reached over the seat and grabbed McKinney’s leg, causing McKinney to pistol-whip Shepard. McKinney demanded Shepard’s wallet, in which Shepard surrendered almost immediately, but continued to violently assault Shepard, and directed Henderson to drive to a secluded area and leave Shepard to die.
Henderson Obliged, but attempted to stop the beating when Shepard was tied up. As a result, Henderson was reportedly struck in the face, causing Henderson to retreat to the truck, leaving both men at the fence. It is alleged that McKinney delivered more blows, which McKinney assumed were the fatal blows.
The men drove off and McKinney planned to rob Shepard’s apartment, but were confronted by two men who were assaulted as well by McKinney. One man suffered a fractured skull, and McKinney was struck with a small bat, when a police car arrived on the scene.
Both men were arrested for the assault and murder of Shepard, in which both men pleaded guilty. Defense attorneys for McKinney argued a “gay panic defense” in which the argument was that McKinney’s anxiety or PTSD, bought on by abuse suffered as a child, was triggered as a result of Shepard grabbing his leg. The Judge lambasted the defense by alleging that McKinney did not approve of the defense though consultation first.
However, two months after the death of Shepard, a second and unusual death occurred in the down of Laramie.
On January 3, 1999, Cindy Dixon, Russell Henderson’s mother, was found dead on a rural road outside of Laramie.
“The Associated Press reported today that Albany County Sheriff’s investigators believed that Mrs. Dixon was driven by an unidentified person about 12 miles out of town to a rural, deserted area popular with hikers and rock climbers.” The New York Times reported on the death.
Dixon had been suffering though alcoholic struggles linked back to an abusive relationship with her husband, who she had recently filed for divorce from. The Sheriff’s office investigated and reported that the death was in no way linked to Matthew Shepard’s death. Jimenez, in The Book of Matt and The Guardian reported that Dixon was raped and killed, in a similar manner to Shepard’s death before being dumped into a canyon and that the perpetrator was a friend of McKinney. The suspect entered a plea deal, but the Sheriff’s office said there was no report of injuries on Dixon’s body.
Then, a second important and unexpected event occurred regarding the Shepard case.
In 2008, Matthew Shepard’s autopsy reportedly was not transferred over to Coroner Tom Furgeson and had turned up missing in an internal investigation. Former Coroner Julie Heggie said the records were turned over and had no idea how they went missing. A preliminary autopsy reported by the New York Times found that he was hit 18 times on the head and kicked. On official copy has never been released to the public.
Since these two incidents, most of this information is not easily accessible to the public on any simple search using a search engine, and some info has been wiped from the internet completely. However, remaining evidence found in witness accounts and news reports, as well as analytical research have opened new possibilities as to exactly what happened to these two victims of homicides.
The cable media, as well as some newspaper wire outlets, may have rushed to judgement in some capacity as it pertained to both victims’ sexual identities and neglected deeper inquires and investigations into the backgrounds of both victims. Whether this was intentional, or a factor of sensationalism is not clear, however it is possible that these media outlets, intentionally or not, shaped a narrative suing incomplete pretenses and factually incorrect information to advance an agenda of a certain group of people.
One thing can also potentially be drawn from the investigation: Some forms of media, depending on who runs it, may have been systematically misleading news-consumers for over 20 years on issues pertaining to social issues by leaving out details or neglecting tips and hints in an effort to gain notoriety by being the first to break news for monetary gain, or advance a hidden, subsequent agenda that executives not only in the media, but political leaders, will pride themselves upon once “change” has arrived.