At about 4 a.m. on March 4, Dallas police responded to a 911 hang-up call at an apartment complex in Lake Highlands. They found the front door ajar and inside, on the floor of the bedroom, the dead body of 43-year-old Gary Hashaway. He had been strangled.
Two days later, while responding to a welfare call at a condominium in the Love Field area, police found the body of Frank Gonzalez, also 43. Gonzalez had been stabbed and, according to the medical examiner, may have been strangled.
In all likelihood, the murders are not connected, police say (an arrest has been made in the Gonzalez case). But the fact that both Hashaway and Gonzalez were gay has renewed speculation that a serial killer may be targeting gay men in Dallas.
"I'm not going to say we don't have an individual out there that's not, say, preying on those individuals, gay victims, and picking these people up and taking them home and then murdering them," says Lieutenant Rick Watson of the Dallas Police Department.
In the last five years, nine gay men have been killed in the Dallas area--four of them in the last six months. Evidence suggests that some of the victims knew their attacker well enough to let them in, but in general, the murders seem random and without motive. Agustin Fernandez, for example, was found dead by his brother in a west Oak Cliff field on the evening of July 27, 2003. The 44-year-old, who died of head injuries, had $617 in cash on him.
"It concerned me," said Dallas City Councilman Ed Oakley. "Was there some commonality? Had they met at one of the nightclubs, had they met on one of the chatrooms? Was there some kind of link?"
Last December, at the urging of Oakley and other leaders in the gay and lesbian community, police investigators in Dallas, Garland and Arlington took a second look at the murders, all of which remained unsolved, to see if they were related. They concluded that while there were some similarities, there weren't enough to indicate the work of a serial killer.
"Let's throw out an arbitrary number, let's say there were 100 killings over the last five years, and nine were gay," Watson says. "That's not a large enough percentage to say we have a serial killer out there who's targeting the gay community."
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Beyond numbers, Watson said the m.o. of the killings differed too much to be the work of one person. A serial killer usually kills in the same way, Watson says. A man who strangles, for example, will always use a belt or always use a rope or a tie, which will leave similar lacerations on each of his victims.
"Let's say of the nine gay homicides, if four of them were strangled and they were done the same way, then you could say, 'Well, we've got somebody out here who is using the same m.o. every time he strangles,'" Watson says. "But we don't have that."
Since December, Dallas police have made arrests in two of the cases, and in January, Arlington police arrested a suspect in the case of Samuel Lea, a 28-year-old University of Texas at Arlington student who was found dead in his off-campus apartment on the morning of October 31. Lea, who was gay, had been strangled, but police don't think their suspect, a 20-year-old homeless man named Kyle Nathan Johnson, is responsible for any of the other murders.
"I don't want to say it's not a concern, because any murder is a concern," Watson says of the two most recent murders. "But to say we've got a serial killer, I'm short of saying that, because it does not appear that that's what we have."