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Family of slain Michigan student Julia Niswender hopes police will investigate cold case

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Posted at 10:17 PM, Dec 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-09 23:17:38-05

"We're just frustrated and they need to hand it over. This is too big for them," said Jennifer Niswender about Ypsilanti Police, hoping her twin sister's unsolved murder can be turned over to Michigan State Police.

Julia Niswender, 23, was a student at Eastern Michigan University when she was killed in her off-campus apartment at Peninsular Place.

On December 11, 2012, Ypsilanti Police entered Julia's apartment, which had been locked from the outside. Officers found Julia's body facedown in the bathtub.

"The manner in which she was placed in the bathtub was definitely not consistent with somebody just getting in and taking a bath," said Joe Yuhas, who was the original lead detective on the case.

Yuhas, now retired, talked to 7 Action News about the case that he said he thinks about everyday.

"My heart goes out to the family. And I can say with all sincerity that there's not a day that goes by that I haven't thought about this case. And it'll probably probably haunt me for the rest of my life until these case is solved," he said.

Yuhas said there is some DNA on file in the case but that, as of right now, there's no possible match in the system. He said there was surveillance video of a possible suspect taken around 5:30 in the morning.

"We did see an individual pacing back and forth in front of the office," Yuhas said. "And to this day, we don't know for a fact whether this individual was involved or not involved, but a lot of the stars lined up."

Unfortunately, when police went to obtain a copy of the video from the apartment building, it had been recorded over.

Yuhas said some investigators speculated that Julia's stepfather could have been involved and that there was disagreement among police on how strong of a suspect he was. Then Julia's stepfather took a polygraph administered on behalf of police.

"I remember when the polygraph was over, they took Jim out of the room and the polygraph administrator said, 'Yeah, that's probably not your killer.'"

"I thought, at that point, it'd be a good opportunity to move on and we did," said Yuhas.

Yuhas said he left the detective bureau and eventually other investigators heated up the case against Julia's stepfather again.

And that focus on Julia's stepfather left her family frustrated with police once again.

"A man's life was ruined because of false allegations against his daughter, not stepdaughter, his daughter," said Julia's mother.

Now assisting Julia's family is Lindsay Turner of the victim advocacy group - Can't Stop Won't Stop. Turner became known for her persistence in trying to turn up information and tips as a civilian when she began looking into the murder of her sister-in-law Egypt Covington.

"So much of her story was similar to the situation that our family had been through," said Turner. "I just can't imagine being in the position that they're in and 10 years is way too long."

Ten years ago, Julia's little sister Madison Turnquist was a kid. Madison is now 20-years-old.

"At 10-years-old, it was truly a feeling you can't describe," she said. "Now looking back on it, I had a lot of anger back then. I still have it now due to what has been going on within the misjustices of the system."

Madison started an online fundraiser in honor of her sister who loved animals.

"Julia was an all around animal lover," Madison wrote. "On many occasions when Julia would walk to and from classes on campus she'd have birds and squirrels just walk up to her like they knew her from a past life. Julia also loved and adored dogs and cats. Julia's grandmother had a dog named Harley that was Julia's absolute bestfriend. Harley slowly became heartbroken after he realized what had happened to his favorite person. So to continue to honor my sister and her story, the family decided we wanted to make a GoFundMe to raise money for the Monroe County Animal Control shelter."

Julia's family urges anyone with any information about her murder to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-SPEAK-UP (1-800-773-2587) where you will remain anonymous and there is a reward in the case.

"Help us help Julia," said Kim, pleading for help in finding her daughter's killer. "She (Julia) deserves this more than than anybody. She's the one who had to suffer and spend that day with that monster."

This story was originally published by WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan.