Nearly six months after a bisexual black man went missing in Pittsburgh, a murder investigation has uncovered a suspect's elaborate plan to hide his crime, while local media have largely ignored the victim's membership in the LGBT community.
Andre Gray, 34, went missing from his apartment in the Lawrenceville neighborhood October 23, according to LGBT news site Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents. On April 8, police arrested the man they think killed Gray and then tried to hide his body by dumping it in a river.
The details of Gray's death began falling into place March 10, when police recovered his body from the Ohio River in West Virginia, about 60 miles from his home. Authorities had suspected foul play from the beginning of the investigation, as Gray's apartment was found ransacked and smelling of bleach. His sheets were bloodstained, and his dog, laptop, Playstation, wallet, and car were missing. Gray's wallet and car — which was "somewhat burned," according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — were recovered in two separate neighborhoods weeks later.
An autopsy revealed that Gray — who worked as a hairstylist from his home, was involved in Pittsburgh's ball scene, and was the cofounder of Pittsburgh black/Latino LGBT youth safe space Project Silk — had died of a gunshot wound to the head. He also had 10 stab wounds to the lower back. His body was recovered along with that of another missing man, Paul Kochu, who had disappeared from his Pittsburgh home in December. It remains unclear how Kochu died and whether his death is related to Gray's.
On April 8, police charged 30-year-old Hubert Wingate with Gray's murder after finding Gray's stolen Playstation in the home of Wingate's mother, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Authorities were led to Wingate by the video game system's IP address, which showed up in a search once Wingate plugged the system into the Internet. One witness also told police she had last seen Gray with Wingate at Gray's home around 11 p.m. the day before he disappeared. Other witness statements revealed the horrific details around Gray's abduction.
An affidavit from one witness, identified only as "E," alleged that Wingate called "E" to help him remove Gray's body from his home. Wingate had allegedly taken Gray's electronics, bound his body with tape and a sheet, then placed it in a garbage bin, carried it to the Ohio River with the help of at least two other men, then fired "two or three" more gunshots and stabbed Gray's body "so it would sink," reports the Post-Gazette.
A second witness provided text messages Wingate allegedly sent, indicating that he intended to "kill someone" and that the act "was done." The witness said Wingate had stabbed Gray's dog and mixed the animal's blood with Gray's, believing that "this would ruin any attempts by police to get DNA from the blood," according to the Post-Gazette. Police have not revealed whether any of the witnesses will face criminal charges.
Wingate is also charged, among other counts, with unlawful possession of a firearm, arson, theft, cruelty to animals, and abuse of a corpse. At the time of his arrest for Gray's murder, he was already in the Allegheny County Jail on an outstanding warrant for an assault in Colorado, according to Pittsburgh TV station WPXI.
The motive for Gray's murder remains to be revealed at trial, Sue Kerr of Correspondents told The Advocate. Following standard procedure, "the police will not reveal a motive," Kerr explained. "So it is unclear if there was an intimate or sexual relationship or if Andre's orientation was part of the motive."
Local news stations have largely reported that Gray and Wingate were new acquaintances, though the Tribune-Review — one of the few local outlets to report about Gray's sexual orientation — spoke to a cousin who intimated that a new man Gray had met (possibly Wingate) may have been more seriously involved.
"I did have a concern," Mia Gray said of the man spending time with her cousin who gave her "a bad vibe." "[Andre] mentioned a guy he was hanging with. He was telling me the guy was stealing off of him, and that he didn't want to leave him in the house."
Kerr similarly reported in December that Gray had possibly been seeing someone new who "he didn't entirely trust" around the time of his death, and that he was openly bisexual, after originally reporting that Gray was "gay," drawing on the term that Gray's supportive family used to describe him. Some LGBT Pittsburgh residents confirmed that Gray, who had come out at age 30, was bisexual.
During the five months police searched for Gray, the victim's mother, Victoria Gray-Tillman, reached out to the local LGBT community for support. Queer men of color responded with concern that Gray's case was the third possible murder of a queer person of color in Pittsburgh that year, and that it was not being taken seriously.
Family and local LGBT activists told Correspondents that the standard $1,000 reward sum offered by Crimestoppers for leads was not enough to bring in the necessary information. Local organizations, including Correspondents, attempted to raise more reward money and to aid in search efforts; donations have now been rerouted to Gray's memorial fund with the news of his body being found.
Kerr, who noted that 89 percent of Pittsburgh's murder victims last year were people of color, says advocates see Gray's death as part of a larger trend of police and societal apathy towards the murders of black LGBT people — including the national "epidemic" of fatal violence against trans women of color.
"In the past 18 months, Pittsburgh has lost six people under the age of 35 — three to violent murder and three to suicide," Kerr told The Advocate. "Three were black and three were white."
Gray's extended family are now preparing to face Wingate's murder trial. His mother, Victoria, who had repeatedly asked Gray's killer to come forward in local media, told reporters at a press conference following the positive ID of Gray's body that she was grateful to be able to bring her son "back home" to Pittsburgh.
"Now I can begin my closure process. It's been a long time coming," she said, holding back tears. "I have forgiven [my son's murderers] a while ago."