The mystery surrounding the murder of 30-year-old D.C. attorney David Messerschmitt, who was found stabbed to death on Feb. 10 in a downtown hotel room hours after his wife reported him missing, has captured the attention of activists who monitor anti-LGBT violence.
D.C. police have yet to disclose whether they know how Messerschmitt met the person who killed him or the motive of the crime. Last week police said they didn’t know why Messerschmitt, who lived on Capitol Hill with his wife, checked into a room at the upscale Donovan Hotel near Thomas Circle shortly before he was found dead.
A public document in support of a police search warrant for the hotel room filed in D.C. Superior Court shows that the case has some of the similarities of a “pick-up” murder.
Among the items found in the hotel room, according to the search warrant document, were a condom and lubricant, an enema, a wallet with credit cards, a computer and cell phone. The document says Messerschmitt was found lying face down on the floor with stab wounds to his back.
“Apparent blood was observed on the floor throughout the room, the walls of the hotel room, the door of the hotel room, and on the body of the decedent,” a police affidavit in support of the search warrant says. “A wallet was observed lying next to the decedent’s head, with various credit cards strewn about. Additional credit cards and identifying documents were observed throughout the room,” the affidavit says.
“The fact that they left a wallet with credit cards there is a head scratcher,” said D.C. attorney Dale Edwin Sanders, who practices criminal law. “You would think this person would have walked off with them.”
Law enforcement experts have said so-called pickup or hookup murders often involve someone who targets gay men or straight women by befriending them at a bar or other meeting place, including online hookup sites, and persuading the victim to invite them to their home or another place such as a hotel room. The perpetrator then robs, assaults and sometimes kills the unsuspecting victim.
“I would hope that if the police have any evidence that the person David met was through a sex line – gay or straight – the public would be informed quickly so they can be aware of any danger to them,” said gay activist Peter Rosenstein.
Paul Tupper, chair of the D.C. group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, said police sometimes alert LGBT community groups about instances of anti-gay violence but police have not contacted GLOV about the case of Messerschmitt’s murder.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to impede their investigation if it means being able to find this killer,” Tupper said. “But if the LGBT community at large is at threat and they’ve got credible suspicion of that I wish they would let us know.”
Rick Rosendall, president of the D.C. Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance, said the Messerschmitt case has been the subject of discussion in gay community circles in his neighborhood on the 17th Street, N.W., strip where several gay bars and restaurants are located.
“Of course people should be cautious in any case and of course the police should inform the community about any ongoing risk,” Rosendall said. “What we need is a thorough and prompt police investigation and not sensationalism.”
D.C. police spokesperson Gwendolyn Crump noted that police released photos and a video of a person of interest in the case on the day after Messerschmitt’s body was found, saying police are appealing to the public for help in identifying a suspect.
Police are offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for Messerschmitt’s murder.
But Crump said police could not comment on whether they have determined the case appears to be a gay or straight pickup murder or whether the department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit has been called in to help homicide detectives investigate the case.
“The GLLU is aware of this case,” Crump said. “I cannot comment further as this is an ongoing investigation.”
On the day following the discovery of Messerschmitt’s body in the hotel room police released a video they obtained from the hotel’s security cameras showing what they said was a “person of interest” in the case. The person is shown wearing a hooded jacket while walking back and forth in the hotel lobby and later walking up a flight of stairs.
It could not be determined from the video whether the person of interest is a man or a woman, police have said, and they declined to say why they have linked the unidentified person to Messerschmitt’s murder.
The New York-based LGBT Anti-Violence Project has said pick-up murders have evolved from earlier years when gay men invited someone they met at a gay bar or other gay meeting place to their home for sex and were later killed by the person. According to AVP executive director Sharon Stapel, gay male victims of pick-up murders have met their killers in recent years mostly through online hook-up sites and apps.
Stapel told the Blade in an email that AVP is working with online social media sites that cater to a gay male clientele to help them post safety tips and alerts about the potential danger of inviting home someone they meet on such sites.
The popular app Grindr is among those cooperating with AVP, saying it began posting safety-related messages on its site last November.
According to Stapel, many victims of pick-up related violence choose not to report incidents to police because of the stigma associated with meeting people for sexual trysts or because the victim is in the closet and fears being outed if he reports an incident to police.
Messerschmitt, a native of Cincinnati, worked for the prominent law firm DLA Piper, whose D.C. offices are located in Chinatown. He specialized in intellectual property rights law.
A police report says his wife, Kim Vuong, called police about 1:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10, to report him missing. The report says she told police “everything seemed fine” when they spoke by phone and that he later texted her about 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 9, saying he expected to be home about an hour later. Co-workers said he left his office on Feb. 9 about 5:30 p.m.
“While there is the factor for the family if David was bi or gay and they didn’t know and they now have to deal with that, it shouldn’t change what people think about David and the good things he accomplished in his life,” Rosenstein said. “All those things are still the same.”