JoAnn Brandon

JoAnn Brandon holds a picture of the child she named Teena Renae Brandon.

JoAnn Brandon still gets the occasional calls from strangers.

They apologize for the heartache she suffered since two men raped and murdered her youngest child 20 years ago.

“I tell them thank you. I appreciate their thoughts and prayers,” she said Thursday as she sat on her sofa and smoked a cigarette.

Brandon, a thin woman who has a shuffling walk and doesn't work because she is disabled, still misses her little girl. She daydreams about where life would have taken Teena Brandon, who preferred to be called Brandon Teena.

“I wonder about how my life would be different if she was still here with me. She would be such a joy to have around. She was always such a happy kid. I imagine her being a happy adult,” Brandon said.

If being happy meant Teena living as a man, that would be fine, she said.

Brandon also thinks about John Lotter and Tom Nissen, the men who had befriended Teena and were enraged when they learned the person they believed to be a man was housed in the women's section of the Richardson County Jail after being arrested for forgery.

The holidays are particularly hard for JoAnn Brandon.

It was Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1993 that Nissen and Lotter humiliated, raped and beat Teena.

Teena went to the police, and Nissen and Lotter tracked him to an old farmhouse just outside Humboldt. There, they shot and killed Teena and two witnesses, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine.

It was New Year's Day when Lambert's mother found their bodies and Lambert's 8-month-old son screaming in his crib.

Lotter was later sentenced to death and Nissen to life in prison.

Brandon is still waiting for Lotter to be executed and believes Nissen should be, too. Execution of Nebraska's death penalty has been on hold because the state can't get a supply of the sodium thiopental it needs to carry out a lethal injection.

Brandon moved from Lincoln about a decade ago to an eastern Nebraska town to be closer to the family of her remaining daughter, Tammy. She comes to Lincoln at least once a year to visit Teena's grave.

Brandon lives a couple of blocks off the town's main drag in a white duplex decorated with photos of her children and grandchildren. A framed photo of Teena as a high school senior, smiling and feminine, hangs on the wall above the television. Just below it, another sits on the entertainment center displaying a professional photo of Teena as a man with short hair and a collared shirt.

While she isn't a fan of "Boys Don't Cry," a movie based on Teena's life, Brandon is happy the story has helped increase awareness of transgender issues.

“It gave them (gay and transgender advocates) a platform to voice their opinions, and I'm glad of that. There were a lot of people who didn't understand what it was she (Teena) was going through,” Brandon said.

“We've come a long way since then.”

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Reach Nicholas Bergin at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/LJSBergin.


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