An ongoing mystery surrounding the May 2014 murder of a gay man in a town just outside Philadelphia has raised questions about whether the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department should intervene in a case that friends of the victim believe could be a hate crime.
Dino Dizdarevic, 25, a chemical engineer who lived with his boyfriend in Philadelphia, was found on the morning of May 1, 2014 strangled and beaten to death in an alley behind a row of houses in Chester, Pa., according to Chester police.
His body was found one day after he told his roommate and boyfriend Nick McBee that he met a man on the gay dating and hookup site Adam4Adam and planned to visit him in Chester for a few hours before returning home that night.
McBee, who currently lives in Arlington, Va., told the Washington Blade that many news media outlets that published stories about the murder shortly after it occurred incorrectly reported that Dizdarevic met the man he traveled to Chester to see on Grindr, another social media hookup app.
“It was Adam4Adam, not Grindr,” McBee said.
McBee and two mutual friends of the couple told the Blade that they and Dizdarevic’s family in Kentucky are concerned that more than a year and a half after the murder Chester police don’t appear to be adequately investigating the case.
The friends have joined McBee in questioning a decision by Chester police and the local District Attorney not to investigate the murder as a hate crime. McBee and the friends say the brutality of the beating that disfigured Dizdarevic’s face beyond recognition is a sign of a possible hate crime.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, among other things, gives the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI authority to step in and investigate hate crimes under certain circumstances when local law enforcement agencies don’t have the resources to adequately investigate or who decline to investigate such crimes.
Legal experts contacted by the Blade have said the Dizdarevic case raises a question that federal officials have yet to definitively answer: Can the Shepard-Byrd hate crimes law be invoked in a case where it’s unclear whether the offense is a hate crime and a local law enforcement agency may not be adequately investigating to find out if it is or isn’t?
Jon Davidson, national legal director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, an LGBT litigation group, said one key requirement for invoking the Shepard-Byrd Act is that a crime must be linked in some way to interstate commerce or a “channel, facility or instrumentality of interstate commerce” in connection with criminal conduct.
“Meeting on the Internet, talking via cell phone, and texting might meet this requirement, but I believe only if it could be shown that the perpetrator was setting up the meeting via these devices in order to commit the crime,” Davison said.
Patricia Hartman, a spokesperson for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which would become involved in the case if the Shepard-Byrd law were to be invoked, said she could neither confirm nor deny that the office is involved in the investigation.
“Our policy is we cannot comment on a case until a charge is brought,” she said.
Two of Dizdarevic’s friends, Kentucky resident Thomas Carrier and Philadelphia resident Mike Hollinshead, worked with McBee to tap into Dizdarevic’s Adam4Adam account. They quickly identified and tracked down the name, address and phone number of the man Dizdarevic met on the hookup site and turned over the information to police the day after Dizdarevic traveled to Chester.
“I called and left two messages to ask if they got the information I found and was given to them,” said Carrier. “They never returned my calls.”
Louisville, Ky., resident Drew Owen, another friend of McBee and Dizdarevic, said Dizdarevic’s mother and sister told him police have not returned their calls seeking to find out where things stand in the investigation.
Among other things, McBee and the friends and family are concerned that the Delaware County, Pa., District Attorney with jurisdiction over Chester law enforcement matters disclosed this past November that his office and Chester police have been unable to tap into Dizdarevic’s Android smartphone, which McBee and Hollinshead helped track down near the site of the murder. Police point out that the phone is password protected and McBee doesn’t know the password.
McBee and the friends believe Dizdarevic exchanged text messages and spoke to the man he traveled to Chester to meet on his phone, and the phone likely has information that could reveal whether the man should be considered a suspect in the case.
The District Attorney, John Whelan, told the television program Crime Watch Daily, which reported on the Dizdarevic case on Nov. 19, 2015, that his office has access to “sophisticated technology to try to resolve issues with phones, to try to work with pass codes.” He said his office also had access to an FBI-run facility in Virginia that provides help to local law enforcement agencies in cell phone related matters.
But he didn’t say whether he or Chester police actually sought out that help. Whelan didn’t respond to a call from the Blade seeking more details about his office’s efforts to tap into Dizdarevic’s phone.
“I can imagine they don’t have the capability of doing something of that nature,” Owen said. “But I guarantee they know somebody who can. Why haven’t they done that?”
At the time Dizdarevic’s body was found police could find no identification documents such as a wallet or driver’s license and listed him as a “John Doe,” McBee said he was told.
The unidentified body was found one day after Dizdarevic told McBee that he met a man on Adam4Adam and planned to visit him in Chester for a few hours before returning home that night.
McBee, who told the Washington Blade the two had an open relationship, said Dizdarevic had a flight scheduled the next morning to Louisville, Ky., where he planned to visit his parents. Friends have said Dizdarevic grew up in central Kentucky when his family settled there in the 1990s as refugees from war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina.
When Dizdarevic didn’t return home on the night of his visit to Chester and his mother told McBee he was not on his scheduled flight that arrived in Louisville the next morning, McBee knew something was terribly wrong. He said he immediately attempted to file a missing person’s report with Philadelphia police, but was told he would have to wait 72 hours to do so because he wasn’t officially related to Dizdarevic.
Friends investigated before police
Not wanting to wait that long before doing something to find his boyfriend, McBee said he contacted Hollinshead, who used information McBee gave him about Dizdarevic’s Adam4Adam account and began tracking online the person Dizdarevic arranged to visit.
Meanwhile, almost at the same time, Carrier, the friend from Louisville, began his own online search into the Adam4Adam interaction between Dizdarevic and the man in Chester, also using information provided by McBee. Carrier said he obtained through McBee Dizdarevic’s Adam4Adam password to enable him to gain access to Dizdarevic’s account.
He quickly discovered that Dizdarevic and the man exchanged phone numbers. Each of their photos had been posted on the Adam4Adam site enabling Carrier to retrieve the man’s photo, Carrier told the Blade. He said he then did a search on Facebook using the name the man used on his Adam4Adam account and found someone with the same name on Facebook.
According to Carrier, the man’s Facebook page showed him with a woman and children, leading Carrier to believe that the woman was his wife or girlfriend and the children were their kids.
“On Facebook he looked like a straight person,” said Carrier.
When asked about the information that Dizdarevic’s friends provided police, Chester police Det. Joseph McFate, the lead investigator in the case, told the Blade he could not comment on specific details of the investigation.
“It’s still open and active,” he said. “I can tell you that we’re tracking down every lead that we can possibly come across. Hopefully, we’re going to get some closure soon,” he said.
The Blade could not find the Facebook page in question and could not verify the man’s identity. The police also did not verify the man’s name, so the Blade is not reporting it here.
Owen, the friend from Louisville, said members of Dizdarevic’s family in Kentucky told him police at one point told them they interviewed the man in Chester and said he was “cooperative” but claimed he never hooked up with Dizdarevic at the time Dizdarevic traveled to Chester.
“All they’re saying is he’s cooperative,” Owen said. “That’s all they’ve ever said. And then the issue just kind of went silent. I didn’t hear much after that,” he said.
“I was under the assumption that they think they did their due diligence and he’s fine, he wasn’t a suspect,” Owen said.
McBee and Hollinshead told Crime Watch Daily they used a GPS app associated with Dizdarevic’s Adam4Adam account to retrace Dizdarevic’s trip they believe he took by taxicab to Chester in his effort to meet the man. The two drove twice to Chester and came upon a location within 100 feet or so where Dizdarevic appears to have traveled to meet him.
On their second trip to Chester a local resident informed them that police found a body a few days earlier in a nearby location. That prompted them to go directly to the Chester police department, where police arranged for McBee to identify Dizdarevic’s body through the clothing police found that he apparently was wearing at the time of the murder.
“I had to – they showed me his clothes,” McBee said in the Crime Watch Daily interview while crying.
“Dino gave me a new life,” he said later in the TV interview. “He gave me hope and I move forward because I know that’s what he would want me to do,” he said. “And his life matters. And we’re never going to give up. We’re never going to stop looking for who did this to him.”