By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com September 16 2013 1:46 PM ET
Two transgender women were found dead in Los Angeles and Baton Rouge, La., last week. Both women were allegedly beaten to death, according to autopsy reports.
Melony Smith, a transgender woman who press reports identify as Vanhxay Inthichack, was found dead inside a motel room last week in Baldwin Park, just east of Los Angeles, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. An autopsy revealed she had been beaten to death, prompting detectives to rule the case a homicide.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Homicide Bureau confirmed it had taken Stephen Gonzales into custody on drug charges and was preparing to file murder charges against the 28-year-old from West Covina.
A 31-year-old transgender woman, identified in media reports as Shaun Hartley, was found dead inside an abandoned house in Baton Rouge Thursday. The local coroner declared that Hartley had died as a result of blunt trauma to the head, neck, and torso.
A report from The Baton Rouge Advocate claims that Hartley was a witness to a January murder by a "fellow transvestite prostitute" and provided identifying information to police about the suspected killer, her former roommate. Hartley had requested police protection after numerous threats on her life from the suspect she identified. Police confirmed that Hartley had been placed in a victims' assistance program.
While investigators would not say definitively whether Hartley's death was connected to her earlier statements to police about the murder investigation, they also said they are not ruling out that possibility.
The Baton Rouge paper's coverage of Hartley's murder repeatedly uses the derogatory word "transvestite," in addition to male pronouns and numerous mentions of Hartley's arrests for prostitution. The report notes that just a week before Hartley was killed, she had been released from a month-long stint in jail on solicitation charges. The report also cites Hartley's aunt, who claims that Hartley was mentally disabled.