Andrew Cunanan’s suicide halted one of the nation’s most lurid cases of serial murder. But from New Jersey to Virginia to Texas, the slayings of as many as 30 gay men or transvestites, which activists believe are the work of five serial killers, remain unsolved.
In some cases, investigators have been hindered by lack of resources and, some allege, lack of interest.
“What’s the difference between my son and Versace? Money and notoriety. If you’ve got money and fame, it’s going to get solved,” says Donna Smith, whose 18-year-old son’s strangled body was found 10 years ago in Chesapeake, Va.
Smith, who now lives in Cocoa, Fla., does not believe her son, Charles, was homosexual, although he frequented the gay scene, as did most of the 11 victims who followed him in death.
She watched the Cunanan chase in south Florida with fascination - and with anger that the Virginia serial killer has not been sought with the same fervor as the man suspected in the murders of fashion designer Gianni Versace and four other men.
“All the victims were seen as expendable,” Smith says of the murders linked to her son’s slaying. “They labeled them as gays and druggies, so nobody cared.”
Activists who track violent crimes against gay men and lesbians acknowledge some police departments, even the FBI, are beginning to reach out to the gay community to build trust and understanding.
“On the local level, many of us have seen day-and-night changes in the last five to 10 years,” says Jeffrey Montgomery, a spokesman for the Michigan Anti-Violence Project. “In Detroit, for example, there’s been a 180-degree change in the way they handle cases, from very, very, very badly to extremely efficient and good.”
Other activists, however, remain frustrated and say it still takes pushing to get many officers to take seriously any crimes involving homosexual victims, even homicides.
“Gay-related cases aren’t popular cases. And whether it’s ignorance or homophobia, it’s a big problem,” asserts Bea Hanson, director of client services for the Anti-Violence Project in New York.
Investigators reject the suggestion they treat homosexual murders differently.
“That would be a real cheap shot,” says Detective Sgt. Glenn Miller of the New Jersey State Police. “That’s like saying an agency wouldn’t investigate the death of a black person as much as they’d investigate the death of a white person.”
Miller, who has worked on killings with police in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, says he has 300 unsolved homicides in his files and all carry the same weight.
“It’s a dead person,” Miller says. “I don’t care what their lifestyle was.”
Some homosexuals think the FBI should get involved in the murders, but federal law limits FBI jurisdiction. They could pursue Cunanan, for example, because he fled across state lines. They worked on the bombing of an Atlanta lesbian bar this year because explosives were used.
In June, President Clinton devoted one of his weekly radio talks to hate crimes and specifically cited violence against homosexuals. The White House has scheduled a conference on hate crimes for November.
Activists expect Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and other members of Congress to introduce an amendment to the federal hate crimes law after the August recess. It would include sexual orientation, disability and gender - all classifications now unprotected by that law.
“People may disagree or agree about homosexuality,” says Winnie Stachelberg, legislative director for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay political group. “But they certainly agree that there’s no place for violence against anyone.”
xxxx POSSIBLE HATE CRIMES Associated Press A list of serial killings that gay rights activists believe are hate crimes targeting gay men: New York metropolitan area: Dismembered bodies of five men found 1991-1994 in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Rockland County, N.Y. Four victims last seen in Manhattan gay bars. Police link at least three of the killings. Victims are Peter Anderson, 54, Philadelphia; Thomas Mulcahy, Boston; Anthony Marrero, 44, hometown unknown; Michael Sakara, 56, New York City; Benjamin Rosario, 45, Bridgeport, Conn. Virginia: Twelve men who were homosexual or frequented gay hangouts in Chesapeake, Va., oceanside suburb of Norfolk, found strangled 1987-94 - Charles Smith, Joseph Ray, Stacey Reneau, John W. Ross Jr., Billy Lee Dixon, Reginald Joyner, Raymond Bostick, Robert Neal, Garland Taylor Jr., Samuel Aliff, Jesse James Spencer and Andre Smith. All from Norfolk area; all but Charles Smith found nude. Elton Jackson of Portsmouth, Va., scheduled to stand trial for Andre Smith murder next month. Texas: Larry David Allen, 38, Larry Leggett, 43, and Leopoldo Quintanilla Jr., 29, stabbed to death in 1994 in Irving, Texas. Police believe all were homosexual and frequented same bars in largely gay Dallas neighborhood. Denver: Four men - James Holman, 36, Benjamin Zesch, 61, Robert Ferrell, 57, Anthony Carr, 33 - found stabbed to death in same Denver neighborhood in 1992; each last seen in gay bar. Activists believe killings linked, but police say victims were killed with different knives and that witness accounts vary greatly. Atlanta: Six Atlanta men believed to be transvestites shot dead 1987-92. No arrests. Authorities provide no other details.