COLD CASE PROFILE: Who Killed Vanessa Bodden?

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We spoke to Danielle Hernandez, who was just a small baby when her aunt, Vanessa Bodden, went missing and was found murdered two weeks later—hidden in a shed located behind an abandoned building. Hernandez has never given up on solving her aunt’s murder and has since pieced together the story from what her grandmother has told her and from what she’s read in the media.

The Murder

In 1989, Vanessa Bodden was a 19-year old teen who lived with her mother, Janette Bodden, her brother, and her niece, Danielle Hernandez, who was a baby at the time. Vanessa was, according to Hernandez, very sweet and caring, but she also lived a young, wild, and carefree lifestyle.

The night she disappeared, Vanessa sat on the porch with Tiffany, Danielle’s cousin, when two neighborhood boys, Charlie and Scott, approached and said they would call give Vanessa a call later. 

That night, Janette woke up at around two or three in the morning to find that Vanessa was also awake, sitting by the phone waiting for a call. Vanessa said she couldn’t sleep. Janette went back to bed, and it would be the last time she ever saw her daughter alive.

Danielle’s great-grandmother, who lived directly across the street (Vanessa’s grandmother) said she woke up at around 5 a.m., looked out her window, and saw Vanessa get into a white car. She wanted to open the front door and ask Vanessa where she was going, but in 1989, New Orleans experienced a harsh winter, and when she opened the door, the extreme cold hit her and she closed it. 

“Whatever the phone call was that night, whoever called her, I think was the person who got her to leave the house, picked her up, and then she was missing,” Hernandez said.

Janette reported Vanessa missing, and two weeks later, her body was found on the property of what was then an abandoned building just a short walk away from her own home. 

The abandoned building was up for sale, and a worker was walking through the building before it sold, when they found Vanessa’s body in the backyard inside a storage shed. She had been raped, her throat slashed, and was severely burned on her face, stomach, and legs to the point where she was barely recognizable. Police confirmed Vanessa’s identity via dental records.

The Case

The detective assigned to the case at the time interviewed all the teenagers in the neighborhood, including Charlie and Scott. According to Hernandez, Charlie and Vanessa had a sexual relationship, despite the fact that he had a girlfriend and a baby. Hernandez said that Charlie came up several times throughout the beginning of the case, but after initial interviews, her grandmother never heard from the detectives again.

“There were never any charges, there wasn’t any follow up, my grandmother never heard from them again after that year,” said Hernandez.

Janette and Vanessa, along with other family members, immigrated to Louisiana from Honduras, and looking back, Janette wonders if this had something to do with the lack of communication from detectives at the time.

Vanessa’s case could possibly have been solved sooner since there was a rape kit done on her body, but the New Orleans Police “purged” the department’s evidence room between 1999-2002 and inadvertently threw away Bodden’s rape kit, along with evidence from over 55 other open investigations. 

Hernandez recently met with Detective Winston Harbin of the New Orleans Police Department who has re-opened the cold case and sent away pieces of Vanessa’s clothing for DNA analysis. Harbin swabbed Janette for DNA and confirmed that Charlie’s DNA was already logged in CODUS.

Harbin believes that Vanessa’s body was moved from the site where the murder took place to the storage shed, and that the shed was likely a secondary location, since people in the neighborhood would have heard the murder take place due to the shed’s close proximity to homes. He also believes that multiple people were part of the murder.

“We just have to hope and pray that there’s something on the items that were sent away,” said Hernandez. 

Hernandez said she’s always been into true crime and grew up watching John Walsh and Forensic Files but mostly listens to podcasts now. She noticed in these podcasts, the families of murder victims never give up on finding new information in order to get their cases solved.

“I just started thinking, ‘nobody’s pushing for Vanessa,’” Hernandez said. “In 2018 there was all this new genetic testing and they’re solving cases from 30 and 40 years ago. I just want to get her story out there because she’s not forgotten. I want to get justice… whoever did this needs to have consequences, not just enjoy life and go on because Vanessa didn’t get to.”