Murdered in Florida: The Case of Julie Doe

According to a study done at UCLA “Transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent victimization, including rape, sexual assault, and aggravated or simple assault” Since 2008 the Trans Murder Monitoring report conducted by a project called Transrespect versus Transphobia Wordwide has tallied 4039 total transgender people who were killed. Last year alone claimed 375 victims, making 2021 the “deadliest year of violence against gender diverse people since records began.” 

Nikki Kunhausen was among those killed on the 2019 report after she disappeared from her home in Vancouver Washington that June. She was born Nicholas, but from an early age it was clear that identity simply didn’t fit her, and her loving mom Lisa openly accepted her experimentation as she grew into her own identity. Nikki loved to play dress up at home with wigs and she chose a pink cast for herself when she got a broken arm. In 6th grade Nikki decided it was time to make her true gender identity public, something her mom referred to as when “she started dressing as herself” 

justice4nikki.com

She was loving and kind, and though she could be shy when it came to herself, she was always the first to stand up for anyone who needed her support. She was known as an inspiration among her peers, and had big dreams to be a celebrity makeup artist and a model herself. The close bond she had with her mom is what alerted everyone to the fact that something was very wrong when Nikki stopped responding to her. 

The last time anyone had seen Nikki was when she’d told her roommate she was going out to see a man she’d met earlier that day. Nikki’s phone logs corroborated this, and investigators were able to see that they’d arranged for him to pick her up somewhere around 5am. That man was 25 year old David Bogdanov. Naturally, police attempted to find Bogdanov for questioning as the last person to see Nikki, but Bogdanov was nowhere to be found. He too seems to have vanished. Could he also be a victim? And if not, what is he hiding? 

Four months after Nikki’s disappearance, police receive a phone call from none other than Bogdanov who basically says “whoopsie, phone problems, guess I missed you what’s up?” Detective David Jensen sets up an interview where he tells them that he met Nikki on June 6th when he was out with his brother. She was outside on a street in Vancouver and he offered her his coat because she looked cold. They exchanged information and some shots of vodka from a bottle he had and then parted ways. He messaged her a little while later and they arranged to get together and hang out in his car to drink and smoke and chat. 

During this initial interview with Detective Jensen, Bogdanov then says that while they were chatting, Nikki mentioned that “she’s not a she.” He went on to admit loudly and proudly that he was uncomfortable, really really disturbed, shocked, and he said “I asked her to please get out of the car cause this is just really weird for me.” Bogdanov claims here that Nikki got out, he drove away, and that’s the last he saw her. 

What stands out most to investigators is Bogdanov’s blatant and bold hatred for the LGBTQIA+ community. He goes on a lengthy rant about how he can’t stand to even be around gay people, how disgusted it makes him feel. And though investigators are pretty horrified by what Bogdanov had said, they have no choice but to let him go with a promise to keep a close eye on him.

For 6 grueling months Lisa searched for her daughter, all the while knowing that Nikki’s gender status made her an at-risk target. She also worried about how young and naive Nikki was at 17- that perfect age where you think you know everything and have no idea exactly how much it is you don’t know. Nikki also sometimes used drugs, and had been to rehab but always struggled to stay completely sober. Lisa was in a complete tailspin of worry for her vulnerable and beautiful daughter. The family plastered the area with flyers, desperate to locate Nikki hoping for the best. But Lisa feared the worst. 

Then in December, a man out for a walk on Larch Mountain discovered the skull of 17 year old Nikki Kuhnhausen. For 6 months her body and clothes had been scattered by animals down a steep ravine after what police recognized as an unceremonious body dump. Among Nikki’s belongings was a phone charging cord, double knotted in a circle only about 3.79 inches in diameter. In the knot were tangles of artificial strands matching Nikki’s multicolored hair extensions.

David Bogdanov is brought back in for another round of questioning and at first he repeats his story. They confront him with the evidence that his phone records show him on Larch Mountain the morning of Nikki’s disappearance, despite saying that he was at work at his family’s company. At this point Bogdanov knew he was caught and called for a lawyer, so police say Ok sure, because we found Nikki ad you’re under arrest for her murder. 

Bogdanov, Justice4Nikki

Bogdanov eventually confessed to the murder of Nikki Kuhnhausen, but he claimed it was in self defense. The new version of his story is that the pair began making out and when things got heavier and he discovered that her parts were not what he expected, he freaked out. He says that Nikki kicked him in the chest to get off her and then reached toward the gun which he had sitting on his center console. He says he strangled her with the charger to his phone in self defense because she wanted to kill him for his opinion and rejecting her. He then disposed of her body over the edge of the ravine and fled the country because he was scared he may get in trouble for protecting himself. 

All of us listening know the story is complete bullshit, but the burden of proof was on the prosecution. The phone cord as the murder weapon is significant evidence here because you may remember with the way it was knotted the hole in the center was less than four inches in diameter. The average woman’s neck is 12-14 inches. We also need to keep in mind that it takes 3-5 minutes to strangle someone to death. That means that David Bogdanov, in self defense and fear for his life, knotted his phone cord and strangled Nikki Kundhausen so hard for 3 to 5 consecutive minutes that he crushed her windpipe and esophagus and spine to a mere 4 inch circumference…. By accident in self defense and with no other choice. 

Bogdanov’s trial was held with a live Zoom feed in August of 2021. After two days of deliberations he was found guilty of one count of second degree murder of Nikki Kuhnhausen and one count malicious harassment, a hate crime in the state of Washington. Lisa Woods cried through the victim impact statement, remembering her daughter and mourning for the things they’d never get to do together. Bogden was given the maximum sentence as Lisa requested, 19 and a half years plus 12 months. 

Lisa has continued looking for ways to help others in Nikki’s memory, and she joins the ranks of so many other parents we’ve spoken about on this show. Lisa has taken the bitter tragedy that no one should ever have to suffer, and used it to fuel her fight for justice. The passing of the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act  in Washington state has made it impossible to use what’s called the “trans panic defense” in court. Accused perpetrators are no longer able to say they were so out of control with a diminished capacity when finding out someone is trans that they can’t be held culpable for their own actions.

In my own share of the research I came across a website called LGBTQBar.org which seems to me to be a great resource for people who work in criminology in the LGBTQIA+ space. They’re leading the fight to ban the LGBTQ+ “Panic” defense nationwide and so far we have legislature in CA, IL, RI, NV, CT, ME, HI, NY, NJ, WA, CO, DC, VA, OR, MD, and NM. If I did not list your state you are urged to call your representatives. There are currently bills that have been introduced but not passed yet in a bunch of other states including MA where we’re from so give your rep a call and find out what you can do! 

Luckily for Nikki’s grieving family, the conviction and consequential government action are an honor to her memory. Not every family is able to achieve that sense of closure. Sadly, many cases are never even brought to trial which brings us to our next story. Without an identification, we can’t even begin to put together the mystery of what happened to Julie Doe.

September 25th, 1988 was a sunny Sunday morning in the marshes of Lake County Florida. A man foraging for cypress lumber stumbled upon the remains of a woman among the swampy brush. She was wearing a blue green tank top and an acid washed denim skirt, and her pantyhose were partially rolled down. Her nails were long and manicured, her hair long and bleached. She wore no shoes, no jewelry, and carried no personal belongings or identification.  On scene was evidence that her body had been dragged and disposed of, leading investigators to immediately determine her manner of death was likely to be murder. 

Original Sketch 1988, trasdoetaskforce.org

The Lake County Jane Doe was transported to the CA Pound Human Identification Laboratory, aka CAPHIL. The woman’s remains were suspected to have been there in the hot Florida swamp for many months, so the rate of decomposition made it impossible to determine the event that caused her death, but an autopsy was conducted nevertheless by renowned pathologist Dr. Maples. Based on the mummified skeleton of Jane Doe, Dr. Maples determined that in life she was likely between 24 and 32 years old, would have been around 5 feet 10 inches tall, had an athletic build, and had proportionally sized silicone breast implants. Dr Maples also observed many pit marks in her pelvic bones, which he determined to be caused by the relaxin hormone as it softens the pelvis for birth, leading him to determine she’d given birth more than once. 

Jane Doe’s sketch was distributed with the identifying features, but for many years no progress was made on the case and so she sat nameless in storage at CAPHIL until 2010 when Detective Tamara Dale took over the case for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. Recently she’d had some success with more advanced genetic testing in other Doe cases, and was eager to take a new look. She approached the director of CAPHIL, Dr. Michael Warren, a former student of Dr Maples who just so happened to remember the case. Though it took years of pushing, funding finally came through for some testing which revealed a bombshell. In 2015 the early stages of Jane Doe’s genetic testing revealed she had an XY chromosome, meaning she’d been assigned male at birth. Dr. Warren reviewed the findings of Dr Maples and realized the pit marks were the results of female hormones after all, but not from child birth, for feminizing hormone therapy

The forensic students in the lab who were working on Jane’s case felt it only fair they give her a unique name to distinguish her unique character, and they took their inspiration from the 1995 movie To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Numar. She was officially renamed Julie Doe and a careful and thoughtful fresh reconstruction was done by artist Detective Stephen Fusco. In more recent years, renowned forensic artist Carl Koppelman has recreated a color image of Julie’s approximation. Further DNA testing was attempted, funded by Lake County, but unfortunately there was not enough extract to work with and more information could not be obtained in either attempt. 

1995 Sketch Stephen Fusco trasdoetaskforce.org

This is where the Trans Doe Task Force was formed. The project was originally begun to help engage the public about Julie’s story in an effort to find her identity, but since then it has evolved into something much bigger. It’s become a community fueled by people who want to help close these unique cases. One creative idea that came from the Trans Doe Task Force was using the popular FaceApp on the artist rendering so that we could see what Julie may have looked like as different genders and at different ages. The hope was that distributing these versions of the sketch could lead people who didn’t know she’d transitioned to recognize her from her earlier life. 

Julie Doe’s story isn’t finished yet. The DNA Doe Project fundraised for further testing for Julie in less than 48 hours with the help of the Trans Doe Task Force’s efforts. Her DNA has been uploaded to GEDmatch and research is ongoing. We do know she’s most likely from Southern Florida. 

2018 Sketch by Carl Koppelman trasdoetaskforce.org

While we wait to find Julie’s identity, please take a look at the Trans Doe Task Force website which we’ll link for you on our website. They’re a non-profit that is trans led, and they’re loaded with their own calls to action, ways to help, and resources. There’s even an interactive map of cases they’ve located where the deceased may have been gender variant.  

In honor of Nikki Kuhnhaussen and House Bill 1687 Known as the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act, visit LGBTQBar.org to see where your state stacks up on the LGBTQ+ Panic defense, then call your local government and get involved. 

Please check out our website and see if any of the photos of Julie Doe look like someone you knew prior to 1988. Share the images, especially if you have a long standing family in southern Florida- ask them to share it as well. 

We also have a few organizations to share with you tonight where we would encourage you to donate your time or your money:

  1. The Trans Doe Task Force finds and researches cases of LGBTQ+ missing and murdered persons, especially focusing on unidentified individuals who may have been transgender. TDTF advises and educates the public, media, and forensic professionals about the needs of and differences between Trans Doe cases and other Doe cases. The TDTF can also assist law enforcement departments, medical examiners, and forensic anthropologists with getting their cases worked on by forensic genetic genealogists and has a Trans-led forensic genetic genealogy team in house.

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