Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Investigations Pending

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Investigations Pending

Article excerpt

Since 1991 six gay men last seen leaving New York City gay bars have been killed and dismembered, their remains in garbage bags and left at rest areas along highways.

From 1987 to 1996, 12 men with connections to the gay community have been strangled to death and then dumped in a rural area in the Hampton Roads section of Virginia.

In Denver in 1992 four men were fatally stabbed, each apparently after picking up someone at a gay bar.

In Atlanta 15 African-American transvestites or transgendered people have been murdered from 1987 to 1996. Most were shot after leaving gay bars or clubs featuring drag shows.

Last winter two double murders claimed the lives of two gay African-American couples who were shot to death in Prince Georges County, Md.

None of the above-mentioned crimes has been solved.

Part of Bea Hanson's job as director of client services at the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project is tracking killers who target gays. For a long time Hanson didn't get anywhere in her efforts to get law enforcement agencies to investigate the cases as serial killings. Local police departments dismissed her suggestions. Her letters to the Federal Bureau of Investigation asking for help went unanswered.

When Andrew Cunanan murdered Gianni Versace, everything changed.

After Cunanan's body was found, Hanson and executive director Christine Quinn wrote to the FBI again. Within two days the FBI's deputy director called and asked for a meeting which was held the last week in September. "They started out by acknowledging they didn't do a good job of reaching out to the gay community in Miami," Quinn says, referring to the city where Versace was killed.

Criticisms of the FBI post-Cunanan have brought unsolved murders of gay men and lesbians to the forefront. "It has fast-forwarded our relationship with the FBI," says Quinn. "We've proved ourselves as people who know what we're talking about. It was an incredibly historic meeting. "

Shirley Lesser, executive director of Virginians for Justice, says getting law enforcement to pay attention to the murders of gay men and lesbians is a challenge, pointing to the unsolved Hampton Roads murders. "It's not gay-friendly here," she says. "There is not a public outcry to solve gay murders. Police resources are dependent on where the public wants those resources to go."

To Lesser, the cases should be easier to solve. "The killer or killers are very anxious to get caught," she says. "They leave the bodies on the side of the road in open view." Yet only the latest of the 12 killings has produced a suspect: Elton Jackson, 41. Hampton Roads police will say only that they have not ruled him out as a suspect in the 11 other killings.

Lesser is also frustrated over the unsolved case of two lesbians killed in Virginia while hiking the Appalachian Trail on Memorial Day weekend in 1996. FBI officials told Virginians for Justice that they had not ruled out any motivation, except to say the killings were not a hate crime. "To hear one of the agents say, `It's certainly not a hate crime' -- how can you rule it out?" Lesser asks. "We were concerned the potential for hate violence was being overlooked."

The FBI acknowledged the possible bate-crime link only after pressure was exerted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "I don't think the gay and lesbian community should have to do that much work to get them to consider it a hate crime," Lesser says.

Thomas Kneir, deputy assistant director for Organized Crime, Drug, and Violent Crime programs, was one of several FBI officials who met in Washington, D.C., with gay and lesbian antiviolence activists. "Regardless of what may have happened in history," Kneir says, "the meeting was about where do we go from here. …

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