Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Project Activity — Fall of 2008

In the fall of 2008, the Unfinished Lives Project agreed to participate in community events in Texas and North Carolina remembering victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes. In September, our project director traveled to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he served as a panelist at the Park View Project’s documentary film premier dedicated to the life of Talana Quay Kreeger. While there, Dr. Sprinkle also gave an Unfinished Lives presentation to St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church. October marked the 10th anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s murder in Laramie, Wyoming. Our project joined a Matthew Shepard remembrance held at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, and then participated in the “Hope, Not Hate” remembrance at the University of Texas in Austin. These and other project activities are included below.

September 2008Wilmington, North Carolina – From September 26-29, Dr. Sprinkle was the guest of Family Tree Productions, independent filmmakers creating a documentary about the life and death of Talana Quay Kreeger, 32, savagely disemboweled by long haul trucker Ronald Thomas in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1990.


Talana Quay Kreeger

(photo courtesy of Tab Ballis)


Ronald Thomas

Dr. Sprinkle keynoted the premier of the trailer of “Park View,” the film documenting Talana’s death in this North Carolina port city. Tab Ballis is the Producer/Director of “Park View,” and Linda Warden is Associate Producer/Editor.


The waterfront at Wilmington, North Carolina


Linda Warden, Steve Sprinkle, and Tab Ballis

St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church, pastored by Rev. Amanda McCullough, hosted the event. St. Jude’s was founded soon after Talana’s murder because LGBT people had been turned away by all but one church in Wilmington as a site for her memorial service. Gay people vowed never to be in that situation again.


St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church


Steve Sprinkle and Amanda McCullough

Talana was a carpenter, and a regular at the Lesbian bar, the Park View Grill, on Carolina Beach Road. She was remodeling the bar, drinking beer, and playing pool on the night of February 22, 1990 when Alabamian Ronald Thomas offered her a ride after closing hour to Hardee’s just a mile up the road to get some late night breakfast. Thomas was to drop off a load of oranges at Hoggard High next morning. Instead, he pulled his rig off the road to a remote dead end, and assaulted and raped Talana, smashing her dentures, and manually disemboweling her.


The Park View Grill


Talana Kreeger’s murder site


Details from Talana Kreeger’s autopsy report

(photo courtesy of Tab Ballis)

October 2008Austin, Texas – On Sunday, October 12, a coalition of Austin’s LGBTs and African Americans sponsored “Hope, Not Hate,” a public remembrance and vigil marking the 10th Anniversary of the hate killings of James Byrd, Jr. and Matthew Shepard. Our director, Dr. Sprinkle, keynoted the event at University Baptist Church exactly ten years after Byrd’s and Shepard’s hate crime murders in Jasper, Texas, and Laramie, Wyoming, respectively.


Candlelighters at “Hope, Not Hate” in Austin, Texas


Steve Sprinkle delivers the “Hope, Not Hate” keynote address

Among the committee organizers for the “Hope, Not Hate” event were Rev. Karen Thompson, of Metropolitan Community Church in Austin; Colonel Paul Dodd, U.S. Army (ret.), of the Servicemembers’ Legal Defense Network; and Paul Scott, Executive Director of Equality Texas.


Steve Sprinkle, Rev. Karen Thompson, and Col. Paul Dodd


Paul Scott and Steve Sprinkle

Todd Harvey, a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin, has been deeply involved in the Unfinished Lives Project, and was also present for the event.


Unfinished Lives Project supporter, Todd Harvey

Better than 150 people participated in the vigil and candlelight ceremony. Together with Dr. Sprinkle, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo also made remarks at the event.


Candles in remembrance of Matthew Wayne Shepard and James Byrd, Jr.

October 2008Fort Worth, Texas – Rev. Harry Knox, Director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Religion and Faith Program, spoke at Brite Divinity School and TCU for the “Erase the Hate Campaign,” remembering the 10th Anniversary of Matthew Shepard’s death.


Harry Knox and Brite Divinity School’s Dr. Namsoon Kang

Harry made a wonderful, powerful contribution to the equality movement on TCU’s campuses. Dr. Sprinkle served as Harry’s host and participated throughout the events of the week.


TCU’s Dr. Harriet Cohen and Harry Knox


Harry Knox and Shelly Newkirk, Vice President of the TCU Gay/Straight Alliance

November 2008Austin, Texas – Dr. Sprinkle was a presenter at the Open Circle GLBT Retreat held at University Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, on November 15, 2008. His presentation was “Journey of Reconciliation: Soul-Weariness.”

November 2008Fort Worth, Texas – Unfinished Lives project director Stephen Sprinkle spoke at the Transgender Day of Remembrance held at Agapé Metropolitan Community Church in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 20, and gave a presentation entitled “Innocent Blood: Guarding the Memories of Our Slain Transgender Sisters and Brothers.” The title and subject of the presentation was inspired by an Icon written by Fr. William Hart McNichols, entitled Jesus Christ: the Seraphic Guardian of the Blood, and dedicated to Petty Officer Allen Schindler and the Thousands of Victims of anti-LGBT Hate Crimes.


Jesus Christ: the Seraphic Guardian of the Blood

by Fr. William Hart McNichols

December 8, 2008 Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Art and Architecture, Asian Americans, Evisceration, gay men, Lesbian women, North Carolina, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Popular Culture, Project Activity Summaries, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, Wyoming | 1 Comment

Project Activity — Summer of 2008

In the summer of 2008, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle researched the circumstances of several anti-gay hate crimes in America’s deep south. Sprinkle toured hate crime scenes, spoke with loved ones and friends of the victims, and preserved information about the lives and stories of LGBT persons killed only for their sexual orientation. Sprinkle’s research on behalf of the project took him to Texas’s Gulf Coast, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

June 2008Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Unfinished Lives project director Stephen V. Sprinkle conducted research on Steven Domer.

June 2008Kansas City, Missouri – Unfinished Lives project director Stephen V. Sprinkle conducted research on Barry Winchell.

June 2008Houston, Texas – Project director Stephen Sprinkle traveled to Houston and the Gulf Coast region of Texas to investigate the Kenneth Cummings Jr. hate-crime murder. During that same trip, Dr. Sprinkle preached at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church for its Pride Week observances.

After Sprinkle preached and presented “Unfinished Lives” at a special June 15 afternoon event, Senior Minister DeWayne Johnson led the congregation in prayer for the Unfinished Lives project, Dr. Sprinkle, and his summer research for the upcoming book.

Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston, Texas

For the next five days, Dr. Sprinkle traveled to sites relating to the murder of 46-year-old Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant, Kenneth Cummings, Jr.

Kenneth Cummings’s grave in Webster, Texas

Ken was a regular in the Montrose section of downtown Houston, the center of the metro area’s LGBT community. Here is EJ’s bar, a friendly, neighborhood gay pub where Ken first saw his murderer, Terry Mark Mangum:

EJ’s Bar

This is the billiards area of EJ’s where Mangum, an ex-con, stalked his potential targets:

Billiards Area of EJ’s Bar

Ken and Mangum talked here and exchanged phone numbers. Ken had no idea Mangum was hunting a gay person to kill. On Sunday, June 4, 2007, Ken called friends saying that JR’s, another Montrose establishment, was “dead,” and suggested that he would just go home, since he had a flight early the next week.

JR’s

Instead, he called Mangum, hooked up with him, and invited him to his home in suburban Pearland.

Cummings’s Pearland Home

Mangum drove a 6-inch knife blade into Ken’s skull as he sat drinking a glass of wine. Mangum loaded Ken’s body in the trunk of Ken’s car, drove it to his grandfather’s ranch south of San Antonio, and tried to burn his remains in a shallow pit he dug in a dry stock tank. Ken’s body was burned beyond recognition, and could only be identified by dental records.

Dr. Sprinkle talked with co-workers, Houston Police officers, and Ken’s best friend of many years to gain insight into who this gentle, happy man really was. In August of 2008, a Brazoria County jury found Mangum, who claimed that God had called him to wipe out sexual perverts, guilty and sentenced him to life in prison.

June 2008Alabama, Part I – After leaving the Texas Gulf Coast, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle traveled to Alabama and performed research about the life and murder of Billy Jack Gaither. His work brought him to Tuscaloosa, Birmingham, Sylacauga and Montgomery. Sprinkle met with scholars, students, humanitarians, and members of the Gaither family.

In Tuscaloosa Sprinkle met Dr. Beverly Hawk, Ph.D., Director of the Crossroads Community Center at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Dr. Hawk is a noted scholar who studies diversity and hate crimes, and is a friend of the Gaither family. She worked to establish the Billy Jack Gaither Humanitarian Award, given annually on the anniversary of his death.


Stephen Sprinkle and Beverly Hawk

Sprinkle then traveled to Birmingham, where his host was David Gary, a bank officer and dedicated LGBT activist well-known throughout Alabama. Gary is a master networker, and a true humanitarian. He is one of the founders of Integrity Alabama, the LGBT Episcopal advocacy group.


David Gary

One of the most significant moments of the summer came when Sprinkle met Kathy Joe Gaither, Billy Jack Gaither’s elder sister. Kathy Joe is the keeper of the flame of her brother’s memory.


Kathy Joe Gaither

Billy Jack had to travel up to Birmingham in order to experience freedom as a gay man. His favorite bar was the Toolbox, which is now named “Phoenix”


Billy Jack Gaither’s favorite bar, The Toolbox (Phoenix)

Sprinkle then traveled to Sylacauga, Billy Jack’s home town. On the night of his murder in February 1999, Billy Jack Gaither left his home on Pelham Avenue.


Pelham Avenue

Gaither gave his two murderers a ride to The Tavern, Gaither’s local hangout.


The Tavern

His murderers later cut him severely, forced him into the trunk of his own car, and transported him to the kill-site on Peckerwood Creek, a virtually inaccessible spot these days. There they killed him with blows from a wooden ax handle, dragged his lifeless body to a pyre of kerosene soaked tires, and immolated him. Gaither’s killers have been convicted of murder.

Billy Jack Gaither has been laid to rest beside his father, Marion, at Evergreen Cemetery in Sylacauga.


Evergreen Cemetery in Sylacauga, Alabama


Billy Jack Gaither’s grave

Sprinkle also traveled to the National Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery, a facility that preserves the memories of slain Civil Rights advocates and others. In the Plaza, beside the memorial fountain, he spoke to youth from New York State who were visiting the Center’s museum.


Plaza at the National Civil Rights Memorial Center in Montgomery

The Center educates and motivates visitors for the cause of civil rights and tolerance. Notably, the Center has memorialized Billy Jack, giving him a tablet in its hall of remembrance.


The Civil Rights Center’s tablet dedicated to Gaither


Abraham Lincoln depicted with Marriage Freedom sign

June 2008Alabama, Part II – After leaving Montgomery, Alabama, in late June 2008, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle continued his research, learning about the life and murder of Scotty Joe Weaver.

First, Sprinkle traveled to Bay Minette, Baldwin County, Alabama, 30 miles from Mobile. This was the home of 18-year-old Scotty Joe Weaver.


A view of Mobile from the U.S.S. Alabama


Bay Minette, Alabama

Scotty, who had been harassed for being gay until he dropped out of high school, went to work as a cook for the Bay Minette Waffle House. He earned pretty good money for the first time in his life, money that allowed him to pursue his avocation as a female impersonator who favored Dolly Parton, and to rent his own trailer in Dobbins Trailer Park with his mother’s help.


The Bay Minette Waffle House


Dobbins Trailer Park

A truly generous person, Scotty Joe invited two unemployed former schoolmates to live in the trailer with him. The young woman was a person he had known since grade school. In short order, his trailer guests invited another young man to live with them. Tensions arose.

Scotty’s three guests ambushed him in his sleep, robbed him of around $65, strangled him, and cruelly tortured him for hours, mutilating him while he was still alive. After partially decapitating him, they hauled his body to a remote wooded area outside Bay Minette, urinated on his corpse, and burned his body beyond recognition. Dental records eventually identified him. A vigorous investigation, headed by Baldwin County District Attorney David Whetstone, led to the arrest of Scotty’s three killers. The two men have been sentenced to life, and the woman to 20 years in prison.


Baldwin County Courthouse

Vigils were held in nearby Mobile, led by Bay Area Inclusion founder Tony Thompson, local PFLAG founder Suzanne Cleveland, and LGBT activist Rev. Helene Loper from Tuscaloosa. Today, however, most of the story has been forgotten, an example of how swiftly LGBT hate crimes are swept away from view.


Bay Area Inclusion founder Tony Thompson


Local PFLAG founder Suzanne Cleveland


LGBT activist Rev. Helene Loper

Here is the Bryars McGill Cemetery in far north Baldwin County where Scotty Joe has been laid to rest. His grave lies as far from the road as you can get. Scotty Joe’s tombstone shows the loving remembrance of a mother.


Bryars McGill Cemetery in far north Baldwin County


Scotty Joe Weaver’s grave

June and July 2008Florida – After leaving Bay Minette, Alabama, Unfinished Lives project director Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle traveled to Florida and performed research about the life and murder of 26-year-old Ryan Keith Skipper. His research took him to Winter Haven, Auburndale, and Wahneta.

In Auburndale Dr. Sprinkle met Lynn Mulder, Ryan’s stepfather, and spoke about the Unfinished Lives Project to the Polk County PFLAG chapter. Pat and Lynn Mulder are both healthcare professionals, respected, long-time residents of Auburndale. Their open welcome and willingness to share Ryan’s story and his friends was the highlight of the summer for Dr. Sprinkle.


Pat and Lynn Mulder


Polk County PFLAG (Lynn Mulder at far left)

Lynn and Pat keep Ryan’s cat, Baby, who wanders through the house looking for him still. Lynn toured Dr. Sprinkle to the sights associated with his son: First Missionary Baptist Church, Auburndale, Ryan’s home church, Grace Lutheran School, Winter Haven, where Ryan attended, Winter Haven High School, where Ryan graduated in spite of being harassed virtually daily for being gay by students who yelled epithets and threw rotten oranges and even stones at his car and his person.


First Missionary Baptist Church in Auburndale


Grace Lutheran School in Winter Haven


Winter Haven High School

Dr. Sprinkle traveled to Wahneta, a small, rural community south of Auburndale where Ryan and two girlfriends rented a little red house, 211 Richburg.


Wahneta Park


Richburg rental house

His killers–Bearden, who lived in a trailer in Eloise, just north of Wahneta, and Brown, who lived in a disheveled trailer park within biking distance of Ryan and the girls–planned to kill him after he returned from work at the Sunglass Hut in the Lakeland Mall. They tricked him with the story that they needed a ride, and directed him to drive down a lonely road where they slashed him to death with knives, nearly decapitating him. They left him on the side of Morgan road. The local woman who discovered Ryan’s body reported that it looked like someone had turned on a sprinkler of blood.


Bearden’s trailer park in Eloise, Florida


Area where Brown lived in Wahneta, Florida


Morgan Road, where Skipper was murdered

Bearden and Brown unsuccessfully tried to fence Ryan’s car that night, after bragging to friends about what they had done. They drove it to this public boat ramp on Lake Pansy, and set the car afire. In short order, they were apprehended, charged with murder, and have yet to stand trial.


Lake Pansy public boat ramp

The Mulders and Ryan’s elder brother, Damien, carried out a vigil here in Auburndale’s city park where hundreds gathered to remember him. Vigils were carried out in many other cities and towns in Florida to express outrage at the brutality of his murder.


City park in Auburndale

Here, in Auburndale, Ryan lies in peace, and is not forgotten.


Ryan Keith Skipper’s grave in Auburndale


Cross and rainbow detail from Ryan’s grave marker

September 29, 2008 Posted by | Alabama, Anglo Americans, Bludgeoning, Decapitation and dismemberment, Florida, gay men, harassment, immolation, Monuments and markers, Oklahoma, Project Activity Summaries, religious intolerance, Slurs and epithets, stabbings, stalking, Strangulation, Texas, Torture and Mutilation | | Comments Off on Project Activity — Summer of 2008

Project Activity — Winter and Spring of 2008

2008 – Dallas, Texas, to participate in a Vigil for Lawrence “Larry” King.

2008 – Birmingham, Alabama, to give an Unfinished Lives presentation to Alabama Against Hate.

May 2008 – Austin, Texas, presentation given at University Baptist Church.

May 2008 – Austin, Texas, participation in Equality Texas and the State of the State Conference.

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Alabama, Latino and Latina Americans, Project Activity Summaries, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas | | Comments Off on Project Activity — Winter and Spring of 2008

Project Activity — 2007

April 2007 – Washington D.C., to participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s clergy call conference and lobby day for The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act and the Employment non-Discrimination Act.

June 2007 – Dallas, Texas, where Unfinished Lives project director Stephen V. Sprinkle served as moderator for the Human Rights Campaign Faith and Fairness Town Hall Meeting.

Summer 2007 – Met with supporters to discuss next steps for Unfinished Lives.

Summer 2007 – Dallas, Texas, to conduct research on Than Nguyen.

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Asian Americans, gay men, Legislation, Politics, Project Activity Summaries, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, Washington, D.C. | | Comments Off on Project Activity — 2007

Project Activity — 2004, 2005, and 2006

2004– Fort Lauderdale, Florida

June 2006– San Francisco Bay Area, California, to conduct research on Diane Whipple, Gwen Araujo, and Harvey Milk.

In the summer of 2006, Unfinished Lives project director Stephen V. Sprinkle visited the San Francisco Bay Area to conduct research about anti-LGBT hate crimes victims. His work included research about Harvey Milk. Sprinkle shares some of his recollections from the trip:

“On my first major trip to study LGBT hate crimes murder victims, I traveled to Gay Mecca, the Castro in San Francisco. Though this was one of several visits to Castro Street through the years, the summer of 2006 was different. It was the year I met Harvey.

“Gay life is as vibrant as those who live it, and the Castro is Ground Zero for all LGBT people thanks to Harvey, the ‘Mayor of Castro Street.’ On my way to the HRC Store, I had walked right by Harvey Milk’s camera shop without noticing it. A friendly clerk at the HRC named Fidel pointed me back there, and I walked back across the street and down the block until I stood facing the closed and vacant shop at 575 Castro Street. Down at my feet was a bronze plaque commemorating Harvey’s shop and home.

“I looked up and saw a mural of Harvey standing in the window, looking down from the second floor at the beloved community he represented as the first openly gay person elected to a major office in America. He and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former city supervisor, on November 27, 1978.”

July 2006 – Laramie, Wyoming

July 2006– Cortez, Colorado, to conduct research on F.C. Martinez.

2006– Fort Lauderdale and Miami, Florida

July 1, 2008 Posted by | Anglo Americans, California, Colorado, Florida, gay men, gun violence, Latino and Latina Americans, Monuments and markers, Native Americans, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Project Activity Summaries, transgender persons, Wyoming | | Comments Off on Project Activity — 2004, 2005, and 2006

   

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