Murder causes California city to examine its own closet

BY Advocate.com Editors

October 23 2002 11:00 PM ET

The murder of a closeted Kern County, Calif., prosecutor last month and the arrest Tuesday of a former Bakersfield cop, who happened to be father to the former prosecutor's 22-year-old drug-addicted roommate, has caused some people in and around Bakersfield to examine a history of murders and attacks connected to closeted gay men, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Prosecutor Stephen M. Tauzer, 58, was found September 15 in his garage, facedown in a pool of blood. Police said he had been stabbed to death and had been dead at least a day. One of the knives used in the stabbing was still protruding from his head. Tauzer, who friends said was gay but in the closet, had been fighting with former Bakersfield police officer Chris Hillis over Hillis's son, Lance. And three days before he was found dead, Tauzer had told Chris Hillis's ex-wife that he was afraid her ex-husband might kill him. "If you find me drowned in my pool or something, you'll know who did it," he said.

Tauzer and Hillis's argument stemmed from Tauzer's efforts to help Lance Hillis with his drug problem. Tauzer took the young man into his home and got him a job as a clerk in the district attorney's office. Then, when Lance was arrested in a drug bust, Tauzer convinced the court that he belonged in a drug treatment center rather than jail. Chris Hillis disagreed, though, and thought his son should be sent to jail. In August, Lance was killed in a car crash as he was attempting a getaway from the rehab clinic. Tauzer feared that Chris Hillis blamed him for Lance's death and told friends as much. Tauzer even told friends that Chris Hillis's father, former police officer Donald Hillis, had called to warn him that Chris was planning to murder Tauzer.

Police say that Chris Hillis's DNA has been found on one of the knives used in the stabbing, but Hillis, who is being held without bail, has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder.

Norm Prigge, an openly gay retired professor at California State University, Bakersfield, told the Times that Tauzer's murder is reminiscent of several other murders of closeted gay men in Bakersfield's past. In 1998, for example, a 63-year-old hospital administrator who hid his homosexuality from his wife was found stabbed to death. Police believe the murder, which remains unsolved, was tied to one of the men the administrator had hooked up with sexually. In 1984 a 49-year-old attorney who hid from family and friends the sexual relationships he had with young men was found murdered in his garage. A 14-year-old boy and a 19-year-old boy, who said the attorney was like a father to them, were convicted of his murder. Then in 1981 government administrator Edwin Buck was beaten to death by a young hustler he had met at a park-side river. Prigge says all these murders are symptoms of the culture of Bakersfield, where "gay and bisexual men in public office have to express themselves in the most clandestine ways."

Connie Clagg, who is Chris Hillis's ex-wife and Lance Hillis's mother, denies that there was a sexual relationship between Tauzer and her son, who she said had many girlfriends. "Steve Tauzer was the most unselfish man I ever met," she told the Times. "There were no strings attached."

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