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Posted on Tue, Apr 9, 2013 : 9:30 p.m.

Ypsilanti police chief confirms Julia Niswender was drowned in bathtub

By Katrease Stafford

Ypsilanti police Chief Amy Walker confirmed Julia Niswender was found drowned in her bathtub and said the department is continuing to actively investigate the case as a homicide.

"This case has always been and will continue to be a homicide," Walker said Tuesday evening. "... There won't be a stone unturned."


A reward is being offered for more information regarding the death of EMU student Julia Niswender.

Courtesy photo

Walker confirmed the cause of death of the 23-year-old Eastern Michigan University student was asphyxiation associated with drowning. The confirmation comes after investigators ruled the death a homicide in January. Julia's family released the cause of death to the media earlier Tuesday.

Niswender was found dead Dec. 11 in her off-campus apartment in Peninsular Place Apartments in Ypsilanti.

Julia's twin sister, Jennifer Niswender, told Tuesday that Julia's apartment was found in disarray and "couple of things were missing." Jennifer also said the door to Julia's apartment was locked, but declined to say whether her keys were included in the missing items.

Jennifer said police have told the family there were no signs that a "sexual assault or struggle" took place.

"That's what they said right from the beginning," Jennifer said.

Jennifer said the family believes the individual responsible for her sister's death was someone she knew, although she said at this point, it's just the family's speculation.

Walker declined to provide additional details about the case, including whether Julia may have known the individual responsible for her death.

"I can't get into any of that," Walker said. "These detectives have a difficult case and have been working vigorously. It's not a clear-cut case.There's some sensitive information. ...The fact that the family is going public, I can't control it."

Walker said the public should not be on "high alert" about their safety, but urged people to be aware of their surroundings as usual.

Walker said investigators have interviewed more than 100 individuals for possible leads. Jennifer told that each individual took a polygraph test.

The Niswender family recently announced a $10,000 reward that is being offered for more information regarding her death. The reward is being offered by the Duvall Group Investigations PLLC.

Individuals with information are being asked to contact the Michigan State Police at 1-800-SPEAK-UP or the Ypsilanti Police Department at 734-483-9510.

Katrease Stafford covers Ypsilanti for her at or 734-623-2548 and follow her on twitter.



Sun, Jun 16, 2013 : 1:39 a.m.

i'd be willing to bet she was drowned POST- MORTEM.


Mon, Apr 22, 2013 : 4:38 a.m.

fully clothed she got in the bath tub and drowned?hard to believe.if drowning did indeed kill her someone put her in that tub and put her head under water.more likely she was dead before she was put in the tub.just possible someone got her to take a fast acting poison,put her in the tub,turned on the water pushed her under.By the time the body was discovered 2 days later all traces of the poison were gone and there was water in the lungs so with no other plausible explanation it's decided she drowned. Doesn't ad up.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 2:57 p.m.

The Reason to Share Information: I was not really expecting this kind of revelation long after the fatal incident. There was evidence from the very beginning to think of possible homicide and it could be even premeditated murder. At the same time, it was clarified that there was no forced entry into the apartment. For she was a student at EMU, there is a chance that the suspect could have known her at EMU. To drown an adult, healthy person in a bathtub requires the application of enormous physical force to overcome the resistance. Apparently, she was not incapacitated at that time. This was a brutal, inhumane, and vicious attack. The public, and particularly the student community must have been informed about the nature of physical violence involved in this untimely death. Since the family has hired a private investigator and is willing to speak publicly about this tragedy, the Police had no alternative and belatedly shared this information. The best way to comfort them would be to pray for the success of this investigation.


Fri, Apr 12, 2013 : 4:23 p.m.

@Solitude: Thanks for that response. In the past, for several years I was associated with a private Security and Investigations Company that provides private investigators(retired FBI agents) to clients. To employ a private investigator may need a proper and legitimate contractual agreement even if you do not pay for the cost of the service. There is the possibility of an unknown relationship between the suspect and the victim. Police may have withheld information from the family for that reason.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 8:15 p.m.

Bhavana, the family has not hired a private investigator. As is stated in the article about the reward, the investigator is a family friend. The information released about the case from the very beginning indicated the police suspected homicide and were investigating as such. They already told the public there were no signs of trauma on her body, so you jumping to conclusions doesn't help anything.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 6:10 p.m.

Thanks for that response. I read that interesting story about George Joseph Smith. Those deaths were carefully premeditated, and they conducted experiments to prove that an adult could be easily drowned in a small bathtub if the attacker pulls at the feet of the victim suddenly. In that case, the attacker, and the victim were in a relationship and the attacker took full advantage of that trust. I would be surprised if Julia had trusted another person to the same extent and had allowed the person to get into the bathroom. However, the possibility that you suggested requires premeditation and it must be a planned attack with a prior motive.


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 3:32 p.m.

"To drown an adult, healthy person in a bathtub requires the application of enormous physical force to overcome the resistance" No, it does not. Check out the "Brides in the Bath Murders" case (british; 1913-195).


Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 1:51 a.m.

Pretty much common knowledge: the FBI, at present, has no authority to join this investigation (although they're sometimes invited by local authorities). Homeland Security, OTH, is about 'domestic terrorism.' There's a fuzzy link between the INS / Border Patrol and Homeland Security - for fairly obvious reasons. This proves nothing but "implies" that the person who is a suspect in this case may be (or may have been), for example, a foreign student at EMU. So far, there's no sexual component (reported) in this case. It looks like some other motive will come out in time. "A few things missing" reported by the family does not mean they know everything Ms. Niswender had in her possession on the day of her death. The police know - only through family statements - what should have been present but wasn't there when investigators began their work. Even if police found out there was something Ms. Niswender had that's gone missing - they would not share that with reporters or the public. "The public need not be on high alert." - Is an interesting statement because it too implies that this killing was a "personal matter" and that the killer is not (and was not) a danger to the public. In other words, there's no serial killer out there we have to worry about, at least not relating to this case.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 8:47 p.m.

The most plausible posts are deleted. Come on this isn't a student newspaper do the digging you have the track to follow.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 8:14 p.m.

Can the FBI take this investigation over? The YPD seems and most likely is..incompetent.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 6:11 p.m.

If she was drowned in her own bathtub, there is a dangerous murderer somewhere around who could pose a danger to other unsuspecting individuals.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 7:46 p.m.

I am contradicting the view shared by the Police and a few others who think that EMU need have no fears about this incident. She had lived in housing outside the campus. It could be likely that the suspect may in reality is connected to EMU. It is definitely a high-alert situation and people have been kept in the dark.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 7:30 p.m.

Thank you for your insight.

Kyle Feldscher

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 3:26 p.m.

This has been an unusual case right from the initial time of Julia's death. I've had several conversations with Lt. Deric Gress, who has been the primary contact in the YPD regarding the case, and other members of the department about the investigation. We're trying to confirm with them many of the details asked about here in this thread. Among those is the Department of Homeland Security's involvement. I've spoken with several sources in the past 18 hours to try and get that confirmed and to get an idea of why DHS would be involved in this case. Much of the reason there are so few details being released in this case is the scope of the police investigation. Detectives are loathe to reveal too much to the public and jeopardize any leads. Obviously, that doesn't make things any easier for the public and reporters who are working to find out what's going on, but that's the route the police are going on this case. We're in a tough spot - because this is an active investigation, FOIAs for the police report can be declined. We've talked to family members and friends, they know as much as we do. We're trying to find out more about this case. The YPD are doing their job by investigating it and their interests - trying to find a suspect and make an arrest - may not necessarily align with our job of reporting as much as we can. It's the unfortunate reality of this case so far.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 5:53 p.m.

Maybe they want to protect her privacy, nothing wrong with that.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 5:37 p.m.

We know she drowned in a bathtub and there were no signs of a struggle so far. But how would a toxicology report to go along with what we know now jeopardize the case? Is there something about the toxicology report that may taint the leads? Almost seems like there is something to hide.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:37 p.m.

Whether Julie drowned by her own accord, someone else she knew or a complete stranger. It doesn't much matter in the bigger debate of Eastern Michigan student's safety. The students that live on LeForge street apartment housing have to watch their backs - sometimes more than others (night, summer, etc.) and most students don't get robbed or held up but rather move on to safer housing (e.g. glencoe hills, east of the huron river but west of prospect, near normal street, etc.). . But heck it's a lot better than it was when i first moved here in 2003 --- with all the half way houses being just closed. Place was downright scary for a year or two.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:36 p.m.

Katrease Stafford - Did you confirm with the police that "...police have told the family there were no signs that a "sexual assault or struggle" took place."? If so, did you ask them if she could have accidently drown in her bath tub?

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:50 p.m.

We are working to get police confirmation on several things, but at this point, the police chief has declined to share more specific details about the case. The details thus far have come from the family. Although the chief did tell me they are investigation the drowning as a homicide.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:28 a.m.

She was found in the bathtub drowned. There were no signs of a struggle. 1. Was a lie detector test set used during this investigation? 2. How many people submitted to the test? 2. Did anyone refuse to take the test?


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 5:51 p.m.

I would never take a lie detector test, so that means I must have done it ?

John of Saline

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 3:33 p.m.

I agree with Peter. Polygraphs are one step away from just guessing.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 1:19 p.m.

oyxclean, you ask: does 'disarray' = signs of a struggle It may be a sign of somebody searching the place for valuables after Ms. Niswender died. Stealing from a dead person is repulsive, but it does not prove that the thief was also a murderer.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

Polygraphs are complete pseudoscience and shouldn't be used to evaluate anything.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 12:17 p.m.

Please see previous articles posted on There have been 100 people given polygraphs, and all of them have passed. I'm sure some people refused to take it. If you had nothing to do with it, and the police were asking you for a polygraph (and possibly a DNA sample), would you just give it up? Some people would (I would, what do I care?), and some people would view it as police overreach.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:51 a.m.

Julia's twin sister, Jennifer Niswender, told Tuesday that Julia's apartment was found in disarray and "couple of things were missing." So does 'disarray' = signs of a struggle?

A A Resident

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 10:57 a.m.

Drowning in a bathtub isn't necessarily point to a homicide. I can happen for other reasons, such as having a seizure disorder, or from losing consciousness (which can happen for a variety of reasons). Presumably, there's other information pointing to a homicide.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 4:50 p.m.

A A Resident, your comment makes perfect sense to me.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 1:30 p.m.

But apparently "no signs that a "sexual assault or struggle" took place." Also, some items were missing but the door was locked. So the family assumes it someone she knew. Do they assume this because there was no struggle and the door was locked? Whether she knew them or not, nobody voluntarily gets trusts someone to the point of asphyxiation, unless of course maybe she was incapacitated. How about a toxicology report? This just seems really strange to me. The way information has been delayed or is still missing. Along with the reward posted by a private investigator friend of the family. Almost like the family is unwilling to accept her death was anything but a homicide.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 5:07 a.m.

OK now the question is who did it?because it's been ruled a homicide somebody had to have done it.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:14 a.m.

That isn't now the question. That's always been the question.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:38 a.m.

This is a Horrible Homicide! Obviously it was not an "accident" and a Perp was the Killer. Kindly inform us as to Why the U. S. Dept of Homeland Security is involved in the investigation. That's your job! Is an "International' student a suspect?


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 4:14 a.m.

Homeland Security provides many services to local law enforcement agencies in many areas, just like the FBI does, so settle down. YPD said from the very beginning they were going to leave no stone unturned, just as the chief was quoted tonight, so it shouldn't be any surprise they are using resources from other state and federal agencies. And just out of curiosity, is there any homicide that's not horrible?

Rod Johnson

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:55 a.m.

A Perp was the Killer? Another brilliant deduction, Holmes!

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:47 a.m.

Piney, We are following up with the agencies the family indicated are involved with the investigation. We'll report more details as they continue to come in.

Jack Gladney

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:26 a.m.

Here is what is frustrating in trying to follow this story on Your headline reads: "Ypsilanti Police Chief confirms [victim] was drowned in bathtub." The first sentence in the article states that the Chief confirmed that the victim "was found drowned." Some might argue that this is just splitting hairs, but no. Read the two statements. They clearly imply two different causes of death. Which is the true statement? Did the reporter(s)ask why Homeland Security was involved in the death of an Ypsilanti Michigan college student, or was no response given? Did the reporter(s) ask what the missing items were or did the family decline to respond? I looked at Twitter and I know what I would be asking about. It's hard to tell the avenues is pursuing on this story, or if they are literally just 'reporting' what they hear. OK. Sorry. This arm chair is pretty comfy.

Stupid Hick

Thu, Apr 11, 2013 : 1 a.m.

My comments get deleted when I suggest that should aspire to be more like a newspaper, so I will just say that I sympathize with Jack, but I agree with Solitude that readers' expectations should not be high.

Kyle Feldscher

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 3:08 p.m.

Jack - We've been trying to confirm DHS's involvement since we were told about it yesterday. I've thought this was strange as well. My initial thought was the family made a mistake and meant the FBI, but I've confirmed the FBI is not involved.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 12:48 p.m.

Homeland Security was involved? What?


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 4:21 a.m.

Jack Gladney, this is not an investigative reporting site. This is a news feed. Why would you assume is "pursuing" any avenues, other than what is needed for clarification, etc? Do you think they have Woodward and Bernstein out greasing palms and meeting informants in dark parking garages trying to solve this case? They report the information given to them, and they get some clarification where necessary, like Ms. Stafford has said.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:46 a.m.

Jack, I asked the police chief those questions and she declined to share any additional information about the case, as indicated in the story. However, the chief said the department is investigating the drowning as a homicide. The family also declined to share what items were taken from Julia's apartment. We are following up with the other agencies that the family said were involved to see what their role is. As soon as we get more information, we'll share it. We'll continue to report the details as they come in.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:21 a.m.

Seems like a lot of information that could have been realeased months ago and just maybe could have helped early on. Been a frustrating story for the public that are interested.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 5:48 p.m.

Expect it might have hurt enrollment. Notice the timing of when the news comes out, too late to drop out and summer enrollment is always low. By fall, the news will have faded away

no flamers!

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 1:08 p.m.

Of course, the priority is the investigation and keeping the investigation secret is common practice everywhere.

Craig Lounsbury

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:16 a.m.

citrus, somebody is indeed dead and 4 months and 100 polygraphs later it seems the police are lacking any solid leads. Its not unrealistic to wonder if the public could be of some help.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:30 a.m.

So sorry your interests are frustrated. Somebody's child is dead, for real.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 2:06 a.m.

Still sending good thoughts and prayers to her family.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 1:46 a.m.

I'm sorry, it's classified as a homicide but I should "absolutely not" be concerned about my (or anyone else's) safety? Quite a dichotomy.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 3:02 p.m.

By all means, go ahead and live in fear everyday. I'll go about my normal business.

Katrease Stafford

Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.

I have clarified Walker's statement regarding the public's safety. Walker meant that the public should not be on high alert, not that they shouldn't be concerned at all. She said the public should remain vigil.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 11:22 a.m.

That's not really a dichotomy.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 7:48 a.m.

Yeah... um... nope, not concerned...


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 4:24 a.m.

Anyone who lives south of Pontiac should be concerned about their safety, and the safety of everyone they know, every day, regardless of what the death count is for the day. At least 5 people were killed today btwn. Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw Counties. Are you anymore concerned today than you were yesterday or than you will be tomorrow?


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 1:44 a.m.

Now that she said there's no threat to the public, will everyone please stop with the 'I wouldn't send my child to EMU' and 'EMU is so unsafe' chatter?


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

FredMax, "damage control for a critical local institution"? What exactly does that mean? Are you talking about EMU? What "damage control" does EMU need? They have nothing to do with this situation. Zero. She did not live on campus, and EMU PD is not involved in the case. These conspiracy theories would be funny if they weren't so ignorant.


Wed, Apr 10, 2013 : 10:44 a.m.

Yes, go back to your business now, there is no reason that local government would have a vested interest in damage control for a critical local institution.