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Posted on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

Police: Julia Niswender's death ruled a homicide; details not being released

By Kyle Feldscher

Ypsilanti police said investigators have received the final autopsy report for Eastern Michigan University student Julia Niswender, who was found dead in her apartment in December, and they have ruled her death was a homicide.

Thumbnail image for julieniswender.jpg

Julia Niswender

However, Lt. Deric Gress said police would not release more information about how Niswender died or who might have killed her.

“To release more information could jeopardize the integrity of the case,” Gress said. “We talked it over with detectives. We can’t do that right now, so we’re not going to do that right now. It could jeopardize how we go forward from here. We understand the public’s concerns, but we owe it to the family and to Julia to do it the right way.”

Niswender was found dead in her Peninsular Place apartment off campus at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 11. To this point, police have not released any more information about the circumstances of her death, other than to officially rule it a homicide Tuesday.

Soon after Niswender was discovered dead, police called her death an apparent homicide. Police confirmed that initial ruling on Tuesday.

According to a statement from Ypsilanti police, the final toxicology report on Niswender’s body by the Washtenaw County Medical Examiner’s Office was inconclusive.

Niswender, a Monroe High School graduate, was 23 when she died. Initial reports from an autopsy indicated there were no signs of trauma on her body.

The news comes just days after the Niswender family celebrated the birthday of Julia and her twin sister Jennifer Niswender. Family spokesman Jacob McLaughlin said between 70 and 80 family members and friends remembered Julia’s life while celebrating her twin sister’s 24th birthday Friday.

McLaughlin said the event honored the Niswenders' traditions of celebrating birthdays and other special events, even though this year’s birthday celebration was somber without Julia. He said the family visited her gravesite and reflected before holding a party at a local hall.

“They just had a good time. There was a lot of photographs and sharing memories,” he said. “It would be something Julia would want for her twin sister.”

The Niswender family did have a conversation with detectives Tuesday before the statement was released to the media, but McLaughlin said he wasn’t privy to the details of that talk.

Gress said police have not identified a specific suspect or person involved in Niswender’s death. Investigators continue to interview people in the course of their investigation, but Gress said police were “not going to release what we’ve obtained.”

“If it was my family member, I would want the police to do everything to catch the person,” he said. “But, you still have to prove it and you don’t want to make it easier for them to get away.”

Eastern Michigan University conducted a safety forum and put on additional patrols after Niswender's death. The university had no further comment Tuesday. "This is an Ypsilanti police investigation and we are referring all requests for comment on this case to them," spokesman Geoff Larcom said.

McLaughlin said the family is trying not to lose heart as more time passes with no new details of Niswender’s death being released publicly.

“It’s still a difficult time,” he said. “The family is still continuing to pray and search for answers. Every time we turn around, there’s not much more information. It keeps the family scared in a way (about) when, if ever, the detectives will find out anything.”

Anyone with information or tips in the case is asked to call Sgt.Tom Eberts with the Ypsilanti Police Department at 734-482-9878 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAKUP (773-2587).

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Mon, Feb 11, 2013 : 1:29 a.m.

my thought is how about poison? there are poisons that once they are in a body disappear very quickly with little or no trace.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

Aggravated? Good. The killer is even more worried than you due to the lack of investigation feedback in the news and will eventually make a mistake as a result of the unknown information being held by police. I was almost certain that the toxicology report would disclose something new. I was wrong. Or maybe not.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 1:16 p.m.

They've already called it a homicide. If someone gave her a toxic substance, put something in a drink, injected something, whatever .... I would think that particular person would (or at least SHOULD) be a bit worried at this point that he/she is a focus of the investigation. Hopefully there will be answers soon, especially for the family. It must be very difficult for them not knowing and my prayers go out to them.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 3:40 a.m.

Let YPD do their job. This is a top quality Police Department.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:31 a.m.

It's pretty obvious to me what happened here. It's also painfully obvious the case is in deep trouble and there will never be a prosecution. It's my opinion that they know exactly what happened, and who is involved. They just can't prove anything and making the cause of death public would sully Miss Niswender's memory although this courtesy does not seem to apply to most cases which is actually the most curious thing about this case to me.

Fresh Start

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 3:27 a.m.

It seems like we are in the midst of an epidemic that's affecting college-age students that are being given alcoholic drinks spiked with other drugs, resulting in blackouts, unwanted sexual advances, and death in some cases. There just seems to be an abundence of too many disperate but similar stories for it to be a coincidence.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:48 a.m.

I share that opinion.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:46 a.m.

Some sort of over dose. Thats my opinion.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 12:07 a.m.

There are days that I wish that the internet did not exist.

Are you serious?

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 11:46 p.m.

Kyle - maybe Rich Kinsey or some other retired detective could offer some comments of the general procedures that police are following. All the speculation here is for naught.

Kyle Feldscher

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 10:48 p.m.

That's a good idea, AYS. I'll touch base with him and get his thoughts.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:45 p.m.

In the end, homicide is not murder. I looked up what "homicide" really means, and there's a fair amount of latitude here for police to use the term which encompasses many different outcomes. I get the feeling that the term is not being used in the way that most people expect it to be.

Dennis Guttman

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:30 p.m.

Y'all need to watch more Law and Order SVU. They don't want to share if the person was someone she knew because that would alert the suspect that the police are on to them and he/she would be more careful to cover their tracks and/or more likely to run away and hide. It's hard for detectives to catch a suspect in a lie if they know everything the police know. Also, if somebody confesses to the crime, the police determine whether the confession is legitimate by whether the person knows details that police withheld from the public. If you were an EMU student, what difference would it make in your behavior if the police released whether or not the perp knew the victim? You ought to be taking safety precautions regardless. They can't give the family much additional information on the investigation because a family member may decide the killer is unworthy of a prison cell and seek justice themselves. For all we know, a family member could be a suspect (I'm not saying they are suspects nor is that meant to be insensitive/offensive, just attempting to explain why they wouldn't release extra details to any family in any investigation). Thank you detectives Benson and Stabler and Ice T.

Dennis Guttman

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:08 p.m.

When they release info like "white male, 25-30 years old, with a blue ski cap", they're trying to gather information from the public and need a lead to find out who the suspect is. Like with the Asian guy who allegedly sexually assaulted a student in West Quad a few weeks ago. If releasing those details wouldn't help the investigation, they likely wouldn't release them. It's not like the public has a right to know the race/age/height of a suspect before they're arrested.

Rob Pollard

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 11:02 p.m.

I get what you're saying, but by that logic, if they suspected the killer was a (hypothetical) white male, 25-30 years old, with a blue ski cap, they shouldn't release that info be/c the suspect would be "more careful to cover their tracks."


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:46 p.m.

Well said

music to my ear

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 9:53 p.m.

well I remember there were no signs of trauma to the body, and I did comment it was an internal injury so her death is ruled as a homicide, perhaps it was drug related, and whom ever delivered the drugs is held responsible for her death, maybe like the girl who died of a drug overdose in the same apt complex, so sad these young adults these days. they may have not even realize there was bad intent on their lives by whom ever did this. I pray its not a serial thing starting.

music to my ear

Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:38 a.m.

I did state also that the victim did not realize there was bad intent, I did think someone harm her with drugs intentionally,thats all I was implying, so I did apologize so as I would not want to cause her family any more than they are going through.

music to my ear

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 11:16 p.m.

@ NickDanger you are right. when first reported I did offer my condolences. I apologize to Julies family for my being inconsiderate and hope soon they can put her at rest I know they are grieving and I am sorry.

Nick Danger

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:13 p.m.

The community and family are greiving and you suspect this is drug related.I find your comments offensive and inappropriate

Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:05 p.m.

music - I originally thought it would be similar to what you're describing here. However, the inconclusive results of the toxicology report gives me pause. I would think that, should a drug overdose have been the case, that would have come out with the toxicology reports.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 9:17 p.m.

maybe it's time to put some fresh eyes on this case like the State Police and/or Washtenaw County Sheriff Dept..

music to my ear

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 9:55 p.m.

it happen more than once in the same apt complex.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 9:15 p.m.

And by the way Rob, just because tax dollars are involved in funding our police departments doesn't mean that citizens who aren't trained police officers get to decide how a criminal investigation is conducted. Otherwise I want to be put in control of every project in America that requires tax dollar funding. Way to think it through.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 9:12 p.m.

Rob, What difference does it make, do you know every person that Julia knew? What if they suspect she didn't know the person that killed her, does that make you safer? If they think she might have known her killer but they don't know who that person is, does that make you safer. The answer to the above questions is No, so let the cops do their job and go back to watching Real Housewives or what ever soap opera you enjoy and let the adults have a conversation. At the end of the day the police want to solve this crime for this poor girl and I doubt they care what you belive you are entitled too.

Rob Pollard

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:40 p.m.

Excellent, thoughtful answer. They are not a personal police force for the victim. They are the Ypsilanti police force and work for the public. They don't get to conduct their investigations in secret "because I say so" - I asked for a REASON why their investigation would be "jeopardized" by them releasing more information and your answer don't have one. You're too busy having "adult conversations" with yourself. And what difference does it make this info? Well, if she did know her killer, wouldn't you agree the public, particularly EMU students in the area, would have less reason to be worried (i.e., less need for SEEUS and all the other activities EMU increased after the killing was announced)? If there was a random killer on the loose, you think that information is not relevant? If I was a person, particularly a woman, who lived in that complex, it would make a huge difference to me. And again, if they don't know either way, just say so. Are they afraid of looking incompetent or what? I will now go back to Real Housewives.

Rob Pollard

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:54 p.m.

I don't agree with those who think this is fine. This is a matter of public concern (as the Lt. noted). It is being investigated using public tax dollars and while I appreciate the need to keep many/most details close to the vest, I'm going to need someone to explain to me how it would undermine the "integrity of the case" for them to honestly say a) we suspect that Julie did know the person who committed this homicide, b) did NOT know that person or c) we at this time do not know if Julie knew her killer or not. Are they worried about looking incompetent if it's 'c'? If so, too bad for them - come out with it. It's been six weeks. If it's 'a' or 'b', honestly - how does it 'jeopardize' what the detectives are doing? The police should be specific.

Nicholas Urfe

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 11:17 p.m.

Go watch any cop show, real or fake. It should be obvious why they are not releasing details. The cops do not exist to entertain people. Solving this case has priority over drama, gossip or anything else. As for safety, you now know they believe there is a killer on the loose. Do whatever you think you need to do to protect yourself.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 11:03 p.m.

I don't know why these sort of questions are being downvoted. I agree with you, Rob, and you have my upvote.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:54 p.m.

I just like to know why they still believe the death is a homicide if they are still unsure what caused her death? For all we know it could be by natural causes. I hope the detectives will turn to outside help soon--if they have yet to do so. By the way who did the autopsy, was it done correctly ? Over in Chicago they ruled a death a natural heart attack and months later discovered the person was poisoned and they had to do a second autopsy to figure out how he was poisoned. I hope that doesn't happen here but if a killer is on the lose, nothing should be overlook.

Frank Lee

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

In related news: There is no news. No news is good news unless you're in the news business.

Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:45 p.m.

Frank, I can't talk about John's word choice in his story. It might come down to just that, word choice. We can debate whether possible homicide and suspected homicide are the same thing, but I don't really know if it'll get us anywhere. The frustration is there on all ends. However, it would be doing to community a disservice to simply stop reporting on this case. I can understand your frustration when seeing this headline and, trust me, I felt the same way when I talked to police. But, I believe this is a legitimate story and we'll continue to report on any developments that come about.

Frank Lee

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 10:23 p.m.

Kyle, The last update to this story by John Counts on Jan 18, 2013 states "Ypsilanti police immediately ruled the death a suspected homicide. There's been no indication from police on what was found in Niswender's apartment that led them to rule her death a possible homicide". So her death is ruled a suspected homicide and a possible homicide in the same story, while neither is even a legit ruling of death. Today's story states the autopsy has ruled her death was a homicide which is at least a legit ruling of death and now official. I guess that's news based on previous inaccuracies and who the information is coming from. Over-reporting, inconclusive results, and the fact that there are no details being released by police is a weak premise for an article. Some may feel this article was warranted, but I think it's safe to say that at least one of the total was not. I'm not trying to offend anyone. We are all frustrated over the lack of information and progress in the case. You see the headline and hope for something good, and the disappointment has led to some snarky remarks.

Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:42 p.m.

Actually, Frank, there is news. The facts that Julia's death is officially ruled a homicide and that the toxicology reports were inconclusive are news. As is the fact that there are no details being released by police. All of this constitutes news.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 7:53 p.m.

I hope the police are giving more information to the family. If not, I would not blame them for completely blowing a gasket.

Honest Abe

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 7:28 p.m.

I know YPD will do their best, and they always do, but it seems as if they are following the protocol for any person found dead - It's always a homicide until proven otherwise.

Kyle Feldscher

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:43 p.m.

Abe- I too thought an answer would come from the toxicology reports. The fact that they are inconclusive throws me for a loop. I'm not entirely sure what they'd be focusing on now.

Honest Abe

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 7:31 p.m.

From information released, there is indication they are looking at toxicology for some sort of answer. With no signs of trauma, one would think there would be limited causes they are focusing on.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 7:07 p.m.

I really don't understand why people don't get the fact that revealing details could hinder the investigation, and allow potential suspect(s) an opportunity to avoid detection, apprehension, prosecution and ultimately a conviction.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

Hysterical? Really? the entire student body was hysterical? what do you base that on? one safety meeting the university conducted? I watched a tv report (channel 4?) and each student they interviewed said they felt safe on campus. You can bet if they found one that was unsafe they would have put them on TV --- so what are you basing your broad statement on other than supposition? forget conspiracy - I dont think there was one - but focus on the over reaction by a school that has been burned in the past and understand that not every situation that happens requires such a dramatic response when there are no facts to support it. my concern is the next incident = what happens next time there is a major crime - what measures could you possibly take now that you have upgraded security in this case? Does EMu continually implement these measures (with out fact) every time a major crime occurs? Is that sustainable?


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:44 a.m.

No, that's not acting in circles, that's taking steps to mitigate public/student concern. You made it seem as if they took these steps because EMU was privy to information that it was withholding, and that the campus was unsafe. My point is, the students/University community were hysterical, so in an effort to show that EMU takes safety seriously, and that EMU listens to the concerns of the constituents, they added some extra patrols. I'm sure it lasted about a week, and now the students are back to being apathetic (and still safe), so it's business as usual (at least as it relates to policing/safety measures). Knee jerk reaction, yes. Conspiracy, no.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 2:26 a.m.

You are talking in circles - there MIGHT be a risk so EMU over reacts to cover itself but there is no actual risk (proven) yet because there is no information coming from the police so EMU must get in front of things in case there is an issue? Crisis Mismanagement is the usual norm for EMU; thus the over reaction to this case. Until there is a real threat, the actions remain feel good responses not based on anything other than appeasing possible public concern My statement is accurate - Feel good measures that serve no purpose, actually serve no purpose.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:38 p.m.

EMU more than full complied with the Cleary Act in this instance. It has gone (some would say) overboard when communicating with the public. They have nothing to fear in regards to the Cleary Act. The safety measures were instituted for a reason. If, as a poster states, 70&% of female homicide victims know their attackers and 90% of female college victims know their attacker, what as the point of the increased safery measures if they did not know what really happened? Feel good measures that serve no purpose, actually serve no purpose.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:19 p.m.

But if you know the history (which a lot of people may not), you would expect Eastern to do exactly that if they aren't sure whether something's a homicide or not. A couple years back, they got fined $500K for failing to follow the Clery Act, which requires public notification of violent crimes. They got hammered for this. So I'd expect what might look like overreaction elsewhere, because they'll want to protect themselves.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:16 p.m.

True at first, but after six plus weeks it seems like they don't have a suspect. Are you saying ALL unsolved murder should have a blanket of secrecy unitil solved ? Maybe the public has information that could help.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 7:25 p.m.

I have a theory -- its because of how EMU (over) reacted to this case. Within days of her death, EMU responded by intituting the safety actions I will copy below. It leads many to think people know something and are not sharing it with the public. If they truly did not know anything, why would they instuture these safety meaures? To what point would they do that unless they felt they were a measured response to her death? It would serve no purpose to amend or add more security unless it was warranted, correct? If EMU responded how it did, with no real cause, it would be a dramatic over reaction of feel good measures that serve no purpose. EMU would never do that, right? 1.Extended the SEEUS walking/mobile escort service to 7 a.m. (previously ended at 3 a.m.); 2.Added additional SEEUS escort staff; 3.Designated Halle Library as a station for SEEUS walking and mobile escorts between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m.; 4.Added four additional campus security personnel in the overnight hours; 5.Added two additional officers to patrol from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. in addition to the normal shift coverage. 6.Adjusted lighting sensors to brighten exterior security lighting in the areas adjacent to Halle Library and the College of Business; 7.Adjusted the automatic timing patterns of the exterior lighting in the areas adjacent to Halle Library and the College of Business to have them turn on earlier (4:30 p.m. - 30 minutes before sunset) and to stay on later (8:30 a.m. - 30 minutes after sunrise)


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 6:47 p.m.

Very sad indeed. I hope the family will have an answer in the not-too-distant future and be able to go forward. Keeping details private makes sense to me.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 6:47 p.m.

Hard to imagine what the family is going through. Very sad.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 6:43 p.m.

I find this whole situation a bit odd. I understand the need to keep some things close to the vest in order to apprehend this person, but there are some things in the name of public safety that should be relayed. Perhaps sharing that they feel the person responsible was someone Julia knew. If I were currently an EMU student, I'd be a bit tense.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 10:29 p.m.

@B: My point is that causes of death are usually not withheld, and while they have already clarified there were no outward signs of trauma, they still ruled it a homicide immediately. The withholding of this information is an anomaly.


Wed, Jan 30, 2013 : 7:33 p.m.

@Anna, previous releases/articles have already established her body had no obvious wounds. Do you want them to make something up for you?

Are you serious?

Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 11:43 p.m.

Unless you are in law enforcement I don't think anyone making comments here has any credibility. Just let the police do their job. They know best in these kinds of situations.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 9:41 p.m.

I am under the theory that the manner in which she died might make copy cat killers of how she died to another killer. People do idolize killers. I am of the theory that there is more to this then meets the eyes.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 8:47 p.m.

I agree; I don't understand why they won't share the manner of death - beyond just homicide. Many other homicide-related news stories relay that sort of information - e.g., "The victim was found shot..." or "The victim suffered stab/strangulation wounds..." So I am perplexed as to why releasing similar information would jeopardize this particular case.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 7:55 p.m.

75% of homicide victims in the US know their attacker. Among college aged females it's closer to 90%. Public safety is infrequently an issue.


Tue, Jan 29, 2013 : 6:30 p.m.

From other news reports it looks like YPD detectives are quite capable, but this doesn't seem very promising.