NYPD’s Fresh Look At Harlem ’90s Transgender Murders

April 6, 2016

trans3n-1-webTheir murders were barely noticed, two transgendered women and a man who dressed as both sexes, slain within 13 months of each other in Harlem in the 1990s.

Now, with the murder rate down 20% and heading for another record low — and with an activist pushing for justice — the NYPD is taking a fresh look at the three slayings.

Carl Siciliano, executive director and founder of the Ali Forney Center, hopes the NYPD's reopened investigation into the killings will have success because "it would be significant to the transgender community moving forward."Carl Siciliano (pictured), executive director and founder of the Ali Forney Center, an outreach group named after one of the victims, said he isn’t too hopeful for arrests because so much time has passed.

“If I held my breath, I would turn blue and die,” he said. “But if it happened it would be significant to the transgender community moving forward in terms of being able to have their needs treated with respect in society.”

The NYPD confirmed its Cold Case Squad has been tasked with trying to solve the murders of Dion Webster, Kevin “Kiki” Freeman and Forney. Webster, who identified as a woman, was 21 when she was stabbed in the head in East Harlem in November 1996. Six months later, Freeman, 25, who also identified as a woman, was stabbed with a screwdriver in a building on W. 128th St.

Forney, who made personal appeals to police to solve the murders, according to Siciliano, was himself killed in December 1997, shot dead on E. 131st St.

Forney, who was 22, was dressed as a man when he was killed, but he often dressed as a woman named Luscious. He worked as a transgender prostitute and was a crack user. His friends also worked in the sex trade and used drugs, a police source said.

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Siciliano, who knew all three victims because they were clients at Safe Space, the agency where he had been director of Homeless Youth Services, said it was “painful” to see how little attention was paid to the murders.

“It was a stark example of how if you’re a queer, homeless youth of color in New York City your murder doesn’t seem to matter that much,” he said, noting all three were black.

Angela Echevarria, a counselor at Covenant House who knew the trio, said their families all but abandoned them in death. Forney’s family, she said, had to be begged to attend his memorial service. None of Webster’s family came to his funeral. And Freeman’s family buried him in a man’s suit.

“It was very disturbing,” Echevarria said.

The NYPD in recent years has said the continued drop in murders allows detectives to revisit cases that have stalled or got little attention when they happened. It’s not clear if there is any evidence linking the three murders, or if there is any reason to believe they were hate crimes.

But Mariah Lopez, the transgender rights activist who’s pushed for authorities to investigate a number of unsolved murders involving transgender victims, said they should allow for the possibility that the slayings are the work of the same person.

“No one can really say they weren’t connected,” Lopez said.

Regardless, she said, just the fact that the NYPD is reviewing cases that involve victims long marginalized and shunned by mainstream society gives her hope.

“Cases that were not getting attention, cases that were in dark storage bins are now on top of someone’s desk,” she said.

“Now, there’s the potential to deter further murders like this if people see that police take these cases seriously.”

If you have any information that can lead to the closing of these cold cases please call 9-1-1.

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