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Newly processed DNA evidence surfaces in 1987 D.C. lesbian murder

Police seek help from public in identifying male suspect in killings of two women

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The unsolved 1987 murder of lesbian Gretta Rainey took place in this Capitol Hill apartment building at 610 3rd St., S.E. D.C. police are seeking help from the public in identifying a male suspect in the case. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Using updated DNA testing technology, D.C. police lab technicians recently developed a full DNA profile of an unidentified male suspect from tissue samples taken from the scene of the May 1987 murder of a lesbian whose body was found in the Capitol Hill apartment of her girlfriend.

Police said the victim, Greta Denise Rainey, 35, had been raped and strangled.

Channel 4 News reporter Paul Wagner, who broke the news about the DNA findings in a story broadcast last week, reported that D.C. police confirmed that the DNA samples obtained from the scene of Rainey’s murder matched those obtained at the scene of the October 1985 murder of another woman in an apartment on the same floor in the same building where Rainey was murdered at 610 3rd St., S.E.

The second victim, Florence Eyssalenne, 23, was also raped and strangled, police said at the time her body was found in her apartment. 

Wagner of Channel 4 News reported that the samples were obtained with a swab that was part of a rape kit used to investigate the two murders. But for unknown reasons police never tested the samples for DNA until just recently, possibly because DNA testing techniques were less advanced at the time of the two murders.

The Washington Blade reported in an Aug. 28, 1987, story that D.C. police initially arrested Rainey’s girlfriend, Roxanne Johnson, 32, on a charge of second-degree murder for Rainey’s death two days after Rainey’s body was found in Johnson’s apartment on May 13, 1987.

The Blade story reported that four months later, prosecutors with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for D.C. dropped the murder charge against Johnson without disclosing a reason for doing so. Johnson at the time contacted the Blade to say the charge was dropped “because I didn’t do it.” She said her arrest on what she called a false charge had a devastating impact on her life.

Among other things she said her landlord pressured her into moving out of her apartment on grounds that her presence was alarming the other tenants.

D.C. police at the time declined to disclose what, if any, evidence they had to charge Johnson with the murder of the person Johnson called her lover. Johnson told the Blade she left her apartment to go to work and had no idea how someone gained access to the apartment to commit the murder. Police sources have said there were no signs of a forced entry into either of the two apartments where Rainey and Eyssalenne were murdered.

The Blade’s attempts this week to locate Johnson for comment were unsuccessful.

Wagner reported in his Channel 4 News broadcast that D.C. police now believe the same unidentified male suspect killed both women and was familiar with the building or the neighborhood.

“Essentially, the identity of this person is still unknown to us, however, we can say the individual is a male,” D.C. police homicide division Capt. Kevin Kentish told Channel 4 News. “We believe him to be of African-American descent,” Kentish said in an interview with the TV news station.

“Everything is on the table,” he continued. “Right now, detectives are still doing the legwork, hoping to get more leads,” he said. “Hopefully, somebody calls in and gives us a lead that we can examine, but we’re also going the genealogy route and that may take a little longer, so we don’t want to put all our eggs in that one basket.”

Kentish was referring to home genealogy kits widely used by people seeking to learn more about their ancestry. The kits require people using them to send a saliva sample to the company that sells the kits. After performing DNA related tests on the saliva sample, the company sends the results back to the consumer who purchases the kits.

It’s been reported that law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, routinely obtain DNA profiles from some of these companies and that the profiles are kept in a DNA data bank used in criminal investigations.

D.C. police are offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the murders of Gretta Rainey and Florence Eyssalenne. Anyone with information about one or both of the two cases is asked to contact police at 202-727-9099.

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District of Columbia

Reenactment of first gay rights picket at White House set for April 17

Event marks 59th anniversary of historic push for gay rights in nation’s capital

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Lilli Vincenz was among the original 1965 White House picketers. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project announced it will hold a reenactment on Wednesday, April 17, of the historic first protest for gay rights in the form of a picket line in front of the White House that took place on that same day in 1965.

In a statement released last week, Rainbow History Project says the reenactment will mark the 59th anniversary of an event that is credited with bringing attention for the first time to the federal government’s longstanding discrimination against a minority group referred to then as homosexuals or gays and lesbians.

The statement notes that the 1965 event was organized by the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., the first politically active LGBT organization in the nation’s capital founded by local gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny.

“The picket took place on the White House sidewalk, Lafayette Park, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., on April 17, 1965,”  the statement says. “For exactly one hour, from 4:20 p.m. to 5:20 p.m., members of the Mattachine Society of Washington walked in a circle, non-stop, in silence, carrying posters of their demands,” the statement continues.

“The White House picket is the origin story for public demonstrations for gay rights in the U.S., and the origin story for Pride Marches and the annual LGBTQ Pride celebrations which occur across the globe,” according to the statement.

It says those picketing in the April 1965 event, which included Kameny and longtime local D.C.-area lesbian activist Lilli Vincenz, both of whom held doctorate degrees, called on the government to adopt the Mattachine Society of Washington’s four major demands: an end to the exclusion of homosexuals from federal government employment; an end to the ban on gays and lesbians from serving in the U.S. military; an end to the “blanket denial” of security clearances for gay people; and an end to the “government refusal to meet with the LGBTQ community.’

Among those who chose not to respond to the request for a meeting was President Lyndon B. Johnson, who occupied the White House at the time of the 1965 picketing.

Vincent Slatt, the Rainbow History Project’s director of archiving and one of the lead organizers of the April 17 reenactment event, said the event is aimed, among other things, at drawing attention to how far the LGBTQ community has come since 1965. He said the event is not in any way a protest of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who Slatt called staunch supporters of the LGBTQ community.

“We are just reenacting this historical event and pointing out how far we’ve come,” Slatt told the Washington Blade. “If you think about what it means in 1965 when these people were protesting and LBJ would not even respond to them. And now, we are at a place where Vice President Harris speaks on a stage at Capital Pride.”

The Rainbow History Project statement notes that the reenactment event will also be held in honor of Kameny, who died in 2011, and Vincenz, who passed away in 2023, both of whom participated in a similar reenactment event in 2008.

Among those who will be participating in this week’s reenactment on April 17 will be longtime local LGBTQ rights activist Paul Kuntzler, who is the only known surviving person who was among the White House picketers at the April 1965 event. Kuntzler will be carrying a replica of his own picket sign he held at the 1965 event, the statement says.

It says Rainbow History Project volunteers will also carry replicas of the original protest signs and hand out literature explaining the picket to passersby and tourists.

Similar to the 1965 event, the reenactment picketing at the White House will begin on April 17 at about 4:15 p.m., according to Slatt of the Rainbow History Project.

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District of Columbia

Four LGBTQ candidates running for delegate to Democratic National Convention from D.C.

Thirty-two candidates competing for 13 elected delegate positions in April 20 party caucus

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From left, candidates include John Fanning, Jimmie Williams, Monika Nemeth and David Meadows. (Photos courtesy of the D.C. Democratic Party)

Four LGBTQ Democratic Party activists are running for election as delegates from D.C. to the Democratic National Convention at an April 20 local Democratic Party caucus election in which all D.C. voters who are registered as Democrats will be eligible to vote.

The four LGBTQ candidates are among 32 candidates competing for just 13 elected delegate positions. D.C. will have a total of 51 delegates to the Democratic Convention, but the other 38 include elected officials and party leaders who are considered “automatic” or appointed delegates. The convention will be held in Chicago Aug. 19-23,

Under the delegate selection process put in place by the D.C. Democratic Party, six of the thirteen elected delegate positions will be elected by voters in a section of the city designated as District 1, which includes Wards 1,2, 6, and 8. The other seven elected delegates will be chosen by voters in District 2, which includes Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7.

The LGBTQ candidates include longtime gay Democratic activists David Meadows of Ward 6 and John Fanning of Ward 2 who are running in District 1. Transgender rights advocate and Democratic Party activist Monika Nemeth of Ward 3 and gay Democratic activist Jimmie Williams of Ward 7 are running in District  2.

All four of the LGBTQ candidates have been active members of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, one of D.C.’s largest LGBTQ political organizations. Nemeth and Meadows are past presidents of the organization. Williams has served as chair of the Ward 7 Democratic Committee and is a current member of the committee. Fanning has served as an elected member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee from Ward 2 and served as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A total of 12 candidates are running in each of the two districts. Under party rules the highest six vote getters in District 1 and the highest 7 vote getters in District 2 will be declared the winners.

The Saturday, April 20 caucus election for the delegate candidates will take place at the Walter E. Washington D.C. Convention Center. An announcement by party officials says two voting sessions will take place, one from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the other from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Aside from the elected delegates, two prominent D.C. LGBTQ Democratic leaders will be appointed as delegates to the 2024 Democratic National Convention in their role as members of the Democratic National Committee from D.C.

They are Claire Lucas, a highly acclaimed Democratic Party and LGBTQ rights advocate and party fundraiser; and Earl Fowlkes, one of the lead organizers of D.C.’s annual Black LGBTQ Pride celebration and former president of Capital Stonewall Democrats.

Lucas and Fowlkes and the four LGBTQ candidates running in the April 20 caucus election are committed to backing President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for re-election.

Statements from each of the candidates running for delegate in the April 20 caucus election, including the four LGBTQ candidates, can be accessed here: Candidates for Delegate | DC Democratic Party

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District of Columbia

HIPS D.C. launches ‘Harm Reduction’ vending machine program

LGBTQ supportive group says program aimed at ‘saving lives’ in response to overdose crisis

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HIPS official Alexandra Bradley, at right, provides information about the HIPS Harm Reduction Vending Machine at Whitman-Walker's Max Robinson Center as University of Maryland Professor Andrea Lopez, who is conducting a study of the vending machine program, stands beside a red syringe disposal bin that accompanies the vending machines. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

HIPS D.C., the LGBTQ supportive organization that provides support and services for drug users and sex workers, officially launched on April 5 a ‘Harm Reduction Vending Machine Pilot Program’ that it says will help save lives by providing free of charge harm reduction supplies for drug users in locations where there is a “higher than average” rate of overdose cases.

The announcement of the project was held outside the Whitman-Walker Health Max Robinson Center building at 1201 Sycamore Dr., S.E., next to where one of the first three HIPS vending machines is located.

Alexandra Bradley, HIPS’ Outreach and Community Engagement Manager, told a small gathering at the announcement event that among the supplies provided free of charge through the vending machines are naloxone, the life-saving nasal spray medication used to treat an opioid drug overdose; fentanyl test kits, syringes, and syringe wound care kits; drug snort kits, condoms, and other items, including  water bottles and snack food such as crackers and granola bars.

Bradley and other officials with HIPS and Whitman-Walker Health said they believe most people, when informed of the rationale behind the vending machines and other programs supporting drug users, will understand that the programs are not encouraging drug use.

“People will use drugs,” Bradley said. “We want them to use them safely,” she added, with the hope that they will seek support to get off drugs. “We can’t help anybody if they are dead. We want to keep people safe,” Bradley said.

A statement released by HIPS says the vending machine pilot program is being funded by a grant from the D.C. Department of Health. It says anyone can access the machines free of charge by contacting HIPS through a phone number posted on the machines – 202-779-0486 – to obtain a four-digit participant code “that they will then punch in to use the machines.” It says that as of April 5, 150 individuals had already registered and enrolled in the program.

Bradley pointed out that registration is not required to obtain naloxone supplies, which can be obtained through a code number posted on the machines. She said each of the three machines are also accompanied by a metal disposal receptacle for safely placing used syringes.

“These machines have been placed in areas where there are higher concentrations of overdose deaths and/or underserved areas with high levels of need for access to services and supplies,” the HIPS statement says.

In addition to the HIPS vending machine at the site of Whitman-Walker’s Max Robinson Center, the second HIPS vending machine is located at The Michelle Obama Southeast Center of Bread for the City at 1700 Marion Barry Avenue, S.E., and the third one is located at Bread for the City’s Shaw neighborhood facility at 1525 7th Street, N.W.

The announcement of the vending machine harm reduction project comes at a time when many in the D.C. LGBTQ community have mourned the loss of beloved local LGBTQ members from a drug overdose, including accidental drug overdoses caused by contamination of their preferred drug such as cocaine with fentanyl.

Also speaking at the announcement event was Andrea Lopez, an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland’s Department of Anthropology, which she said is partnering with HIPS to conduct a  study of the vending machine pilot program and its impact as a public health project and the public health benefits of vending machines as an “intervention” in support of those in need.

Others who spoke at the event and provided details of the vending machine project were Cyndee Clay, the HIPS Executive Director; Starr O’Leary, the HIPS Community Outreach Coordinator;  and Jona Tanguay, an official with Whitman-Walker Health.

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