NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The sights and sounds of the Christmas season make for a special time in New Orleans. But 29 years ago, the holiday turned tragic for one local family when someone killed their missing loved one.
“She was a good person,” said Waldo Bodden, the victim’s older brother.
19-year-old Vanessa Bodden vanished in December of 1989. She’d been missing for about three weeks when someone found her mutilated body inside an abandoned New Orleans building. The horrific discovery came at the start of the New Year on January 2, 1990.
It’s still extremely difficult for her older brother to talk about his sister’s murder.
“She was no saint, no angel, but she was a good person,” said her brother, as he broke down in tears as he spoke about her violent unsolved murder .
“They robbed me of her. They robbed me of kissing her for the last time,” added her broken hearted mother, Jannet Bodden.
Vanessa’s mother too remains devastated over the killing of the youngest of her four children. Bodden says Vanessa was studying at a local New Orleans Trade school to become a medical assistant.
But she adds she was worried back then about her daughter hanging out with a bad crowd of neighborhood kids. To this day, Vanessa’s family believes that in order to capture her killer police need to focus on two dates in 1989: Thursday December 14 and the early hours of December 15. Those were the last two days her loved ones saw her alive at home.
“I think it had something to do with the conversation,” said the victim’s niece Danielle Hernandez on a conversation she says her late aunt had with some neighborhood boys in the last hours before she disappeared. Hernandez says between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. on the night of December 14, Vanessa was outside across the street at her cousin’s home sitting on the front porch with relatives. At some point, she says two neighborhood boys who Vanessa knew approached the porch to speak to Vanessa.
Then she says a fight erupted between them. Hernandez says her relative Tiffany witnessed it.
“What looked like from Tiffany’s perspective, a heated conversation, one of the guys pushed or shoved Vanessa a little, the other guy stopped him," said Hernandez.
Later between 11:30 p.m and 12:30 a.m, her older brother Waldo, who was 23-years-old at the time, says an unknown caller rang the house phone. He said “Nessa,” as he affectionately called her, jumped out of bed to answer it, as though she expected a call; but he says he stopped her.
“I said no, no, it’s too late at night to be on the phone you need to go back to bed," said her brother on what he told her when she tried to go answer the phone.
A few hours later between 5 and 5:30 a.m on Friday December 15, her brother Waldo says he got up to go to the bathroom and saw her watching television. He still sensed she was waiting for a call. He then headed back to bed. Then between 5:30 to 6 a.m, the family says Vanessa’s grandmother, who lived across the street, was checking to make sure the garbage can was outside. She reportedly saw Vanessa outside. She reportedly thought about telling Vanessa to go back inside the house but she didn’t.
Half an hour later at 6:30 a.m, her brother woke up to get ready for work and headed outside to the shed to get his clothes out of the dryer.
"I went to open the back door and the door was already open, what the hell going on here,” recalled her brother on his thoughts that morning.
“I thought about it and I said maybe Nessa went outside and she was getting my clothes for me,” added her brother.
However, Vanessa was not in the shed getting his work clothes. Then back inside the house he checked the bedroom Vanessa shared with her mother. When he looked in, he thought she was in there sleeping so he left for work.
But later, Vanessa’s mother noticed she was not in their bedroom and had gone outside. She recalls seeing the outside door opened.
"So when she went out the door that morning she went out with the intentions of coming back in because she left the door open she didn’t close the door,” said her thoughts that morning. Her mother started looking through Vanessa’s phone book calling friends to see if they’d seen her. But no one had; then they called the police, because they say it was unlike Vanessa to just disappear.
Sadly, Christmas came and passed as they waited for answers. Then nearly three weeks after she disappeared, the family received the news they had feared.
“Liz, I almost took my own life but by my faith in God, I held on. But I nearly died," said her emotional mother when she received the devastating news about the discovery of her daughter’s body.
NOPD investigators say her body was found in an abandoned property. She was severely beaten and she had numerous cuts all over her body.
Her body was discovered close to her Gentilly home. Back then they lived at 6010 Pasteur Boulevard, that’s about a block away from the once abandoned building, where her body was found at 6054 Vermillion. The building’s right at the intersection with Robert E. Lee Boulevard.
The family says it was a well known hang out for kids. As for the building caretaker who found the body, the NOPD says it cleared that person in the case. But the news of her murder was just the start of the family’s nightmare as they learned more gruesome details.
“She had been raped," said her mother Janett Bodden. “They burned her face. They burned her torso. They burned one of her legs; and the last thing they could do to her was that they cut her throat, said her mother on what she says she learned from the NOPD.
Even more terrorizing, Bodden says they suspect Vanessa’s killer pranked called her home for several weeks after her daughter’s funeral.
“They call me and sometimes I would hear music in the background. Sometimes they wouldn’t say nothing. Once or twice they told me they want to kill me,” said her mother.
The NOPD detective on the case now is Winston Harbin. He suspects Vanessa knew the killer who enticed and lured her out of her home that morning in 1989.
“That would make sense as a logical description of the circumstances based on the fact that she did not alert her mother or her brother who were present in the house at the time. She disappeared in those early morning hours; that leads me to suspect she knew the persons involved,” said the new detective assigned to solve the unsolved murder.
Harbin also believes, more than one person was involved and is working information the family gave him on potential suspects. For now he won’t publicly release any names. Harbin also hopes new technology at the state crime lab can help test evidence from the case.
“It was sent to Louisiana State Crime lab for analysis, so we're awaiting the results of that,” said the Cold Case Detective.
Her brother remains confident the answers to his sisters death are tied to the mysterious call the night before she disappeared.
“Whoever called at 11:30 p.m. that night had something to do with my sister,” said her older brother.
The family hopes that a fresh look at the murder will encourage locals with information to come forward to help find the killer who took the life of their loved one, 19-year-old Vanessa Bodden.
If you have any information you’re urged to call Crimestoppers 504-822-1111