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Man, 25, faces murder allegation in death of transgender Vancouver teen

By , Columbian Breaking News Reporter, and
, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor
4 Photos
David Y. Bogdanov, center, makes a first appearance in connection with the death of Nikki Kuhnhausen in Clark County Superior Court on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, 2019.
David Y. Bogdanov, center, makes a first appearance in connection with the death of Nikki Kuhnhausen in Clark County Superior Court on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, 2019. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Detectives say a 25-year-old man accused in the slaying of a Vancouver teenager strangled her to death after learning she was transgender.

David Y. Bogdanov of Vancouver appeared Wednesday morning in Clark County Superior Court on suspicion of second-degree murder in the death of Nikki Kuhnhausen, 17, who disappeared June 5. Kuhnhausen, whose legal first name was Nikolas, identified as female.

Judge Suzan Clark granted the state’s request for no bail in Bogdanov’s case. A hearing to contest the no-bail hold is scheduled for Jan. 2.

Bogdanov did not speak during the brief hearing. Clark said Bogdanov did not qualify for court-appointed representation.

Defense attorney Erin Bradley McAleer appeared on Bogdanov’s behalf. McAleer said he would save his arguments on bail for the upcoming hearing.

More than two dozen friends and family of Kuhnhausen attended the hearing. They quickly left when it ended.

A woman named Taylor, who declined to provide her last name and described herself as Kuhnhausen’s good friend, said she feels horrible about the situation and hopes Bogdanov “goes to jail forever.” She said Kuhnhausen was always smiling and never harmed anyone.

“I had so much hope that she was going to come back,” Taylor said with tears in her eyes. “She was supposed to graduate (high school) with us.”

Kuhnhausen’s remains were discovered after someone reported finding a human skull Dec. 7 in the woods at Larch Mountain, about 10 minutes from Larch Corrections Center. The skull was located on a steep, densely wooded embankment on the north side of the L-1200 road, which leads to Rock Creek and is adjacent to a vehicle pull-out area, according to an affidavit of probable cause.

The Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Clark County Search and Rescue located additional human remains and other evidence, including Kuhnhausen’s clothing, jewelry and hair extensions, court records say. A forensic analysis confirmed the remains were those of Kuhnhausen and found she died from strangulation.

Missing since June 5

According to the affidavit, Kuhnhausen’s mother reported her missing June 10 to the Vancouver Police Department. She said she last spoke with Kuhnhausen on the phone in the late evening of June 5. Friends later told Kuhnhausen’s mother she had left the residence of a friend she was staying with that night and met up with an unknown man, a police news release states.

The friends said Kuhnhausen returned shortly after 5 a.m. June 6, with a bottle of vodka and wearing a man’s coat. Kuhnhausen told her friends that she was out with an older Russian man. Unknown to her friends, Kuhnhausen used one of their phones to access her Snapchat account. Kuhnhausen exchanged messages, the last being sent after 5:30 a.m., with a man named David Bogdanov, the affidavit says.

Kuhnhausen left the friend’s residence again to meet up with Bogdanov. She said he was going to help her get a cellphone, according to the court document.

Detectives with the Vancouver Police Department Digital Evidence Cybercrime Unit accessed information from Kuhnhausen’s Snapchat account, according to police. Search warrants for her account and Bogdanov’s account corroborated they had met and that he had driven her in his vehicle, police said.

On June 28, detectives attempted to contact Bogdanov at his brother’s residence. The brother, Artur Bogdanov, said he was unaware of his brother’s encounter with Kuhnhausen and didn’t know his whereabouts. Detectives attempted to contact David Bogdanov at another brother’s residence. That brother, Stanislav Bogdanov, said he didn’t recall his brother bringing Kuhnhausen to his residence, court records state.

An analysis of David Bogdanov’s cellphone showed it at a variety of locations, including an area near Larch Mountain early June 6, police said.

In September, Bogdanov eventually responded to a detective’s Snapchat message and later called police. Detectives interviewed him Oct. 2, during which time he said he had been with Kuhnhausen on June 5. He said he was aware detectives had contacted his brothers but said he didn’t know how to reach them, the affidavit says.

Bogdanov told detectives he encountered Kuhnhausen in the 1300 block of Main Street in downtown Vancouver and invited her to join him and his brothers at a bar. He gave Kuhnhausen his coat, he said, because she was cold. He also gave her vodka to drink and let her keep the bottle, he said, according to the affidavit.

After she returned to her friend’s residence, Kuhnhausen and Bogdanov communicated via Snapchat and exchanged addresses for where they were staying. Bogdanov and his brother, Stanislav, picked her up in a white van, and agreed to take her to get her cellphone. They first drove to Artur Bogdanov’s residence so David Bogdanov could get his work van, court documents state.

As Kuhnhausen and Bogdanov chatted, she told him she was transgender.

“David said that he was ‘shocked’ and ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘really, really disturbed’ to learn Nikki was male and asked her to get out of the van and leave,” the affidavit reads.

He said she walked away on foot and he never saw her again. Bogdanov denied any sexual contact between them. He said he had been drinking heavily that night and that after Kuhnhausen left, he went to his brother’s job site in downtown Portland, court records say.

However, his phone data showed he had been at an adult video store in Portland early that morning and made numerous calls to female escort ads. It also showed him in east Clark County in the area of Larch Mountain and Camp Bonneville, according to the court document.

“I believe that David became enraged at the realization that he had engaged in sexual contact with a male whom he believed to be female and strangled Nikki to death,” the affidavit reads.

Vancouver Police Department Lt. Tom Ryan said during a Wednesday press conference that as more evidence emerged, inconsistencies in Bogdanov’s statement became more apparent. But the “biggest break” in the investigation was the discovery of Kuhnhausen’s remains, Ryan said.

Detectives contacted Bogdanov on Tuesday, but he refused to give another statement and was arrested, Ryan said.

The lieutenant said the police department’s Missing Persons Unit prioritizes cases involving people targeted for their “personas, beliefs or lifestyles.” He said Kuhnhausen being transgender is suspected to have played a role in Bogdanov’s alleged deadly actions, but it was not a targeted killing.

Sgt. Jeff Kipp said the evidence collected so far supports detectives’ decision to forward the second-degree murder charge to the state. Prosecutors may review the case and find there’s a more appropriate charge, he said.

“We don’t have information to suggest this was premeditated,” Kipp said.

Police thanked Clark County Search and Rescue for helping retrieve Kuhnhausen’s remains, the public for leads on her whereabouts, and the National Coalition Against Violence and Exploitation, which helped keep her disappearance in the public’s consciousness for half a year.

NWCAVE started and posted regularly on the Facebook group Help Find Nikki. On Wednesday, the group changed its name to Justice For Nikki. President and co-founder of the Vancouver-based women’s coalition, Michelle Bart, said Kuhnhausen’s family is planning to hold their own press conference in a couple of days.

Columbian Breaking News Reporter