Video: Downriver Police Chief Goes After Cold-Murder Case of Detroit Sex Worker Found In River in 2011

March 27, 2024, 11:15 PM by  Allan Lengel

Chief Mike Hawkins and Tannisha Marie Edison

In September 2011, Trenton Police found a naked body of an unidentified Black woman floating in the Detroit River in an industrial section formerly known as the Black Lagoon, just south of McLouth Steel.  

For all the detectives knew, the body had floated down the river, west from Grosse Pointe or Belle Isle or somewhere in-between. They had no clue. They also had no idea who she was. 

After more than a decade, Trenton Police have reopened the cold case and finally figured out her name, Tannisha Marie Edison, 36, a mother of five, who lived around Plymouth and Greenfield on Detroit's west side. She was a sex worker who went by "Denise," and likely the victim of a crime of passion. The cause of death is not being released, but police say it was obvious she was a victim of a homicide. 

Police still don't know who killed her, but they're actively pursuing the case, Trenton Chief Mike Hawkins said in an interview last week on the podcast, "Detroit in Black and White," with hosts Adolph Mongo, and Jim Nardone, who was the deputy police chief when the body was first discovered. Nardone soon after became police chief and retired in 2017. (See full video interview at bottom)

A Sad Story

If Edison was slayed in Detroit, which is unclear, she would have been just one of more than 300 people murdered in 2011. Her story is but one of many sad and tragic tales that play out each year and go unsolved. 

Hawkins, who became chief about a year ago, was off-duty the day the body was discovered in 2011.

In November 2022, when he became the top detective in the department, he decided to reopen the cold case to figure out her identity and who killed her.

"It was one of the cases that sits with you, and you think, could we have done more?" said Hawkins. "Could we have done more as a department, could we have done more investigating?"  

He printed out her picture and posted it on the office bulletin board.

"Everyday that I came in I thought about that case,"  he said. 

He first reinterviewed the detective who inititally handled the case and followed up on old tips.

He got hold of Lorie Bruski of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NAMUS), who put him in touch "with some excellent resources."

But he says the case really took off when he partnered with FBI agent Leslie Larsen who helped identify the victim in March of 2023 "with the advancements in technology" that included genetic genealogy and DNA.

He said no one ever reported her missing. She had misdemeanor warrants for disorderly conduct and loitering, but was never booked and fingerprinted. 

Missed Birthday 

He said he recently interviewed one of her sons who figured something was amiss more than 10 years ago when she misssed his birthday. She never had before. Her kids essentially lived with family members. She would come and go. 

"There were a few family members that we have reports that tried to get her out of the streets," the chief said.  

He said he's tracked down family members and people who lived in her apartment building and those who now live in places like Texas, Indiana and Pittsburgh. The interviews have helped fill in some gaps.   

"This story grows and continues to grow," Hawkins said.

"Some people in the family are extremely upset about this. There's others in the family who may have made the statement, 'let it go, she's dead.'"

"I do think there's a little bit of fear, first off, because there was a lot of drugs involved, there was sex trafficking, or at least sex work going on...So, a lot of people are hesistant to talk about the past."

"We got family members that told us her body was burned up in a house. We've had people who told us she was stabbed 19 times and thrown under a bridge. We've had other people say she was killed and thrown over the bridge into the water. There are so many stories, some specific and some kind of outlandish, but somewhere in there is the truth."

Hawkins, who is investigating the case himself, is determined to solve it.

"I truly believe that there are people, even people in the family, that know exactly what happened to her, and what we're tyring to do is, get people to come forward that know what happened and want to do what's right."

Anyone with information should contact Chief Hawkins at 734-341-8697.

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