Precious and Her Sisters

On November 13 2004, I posted an entry here in the Atlanta Metroblog about one of history’s most inexplicably ignored serial killers, The Atlanta Ripper.

From my own entry:

Between approximately 1909 and 1912 possibly as many as 20 women of color were strangled and then brutally slashed to death. Only one victim of the killer escaped – she described her assailant as a well-dressed African-American man…

The Atlanta Ripper may have killed as many as 20 or more women. I ended the blog entry by listing many of their names, so that they were commemorated to a new century. It is likely far too late for anything like justice for the long-dead victims of the mysterious “well-dressed African-American man” who struck down women of color in the night back in those sepia-toned days, so it seemed at least right to make sure that they were no longer neglected, hidden in the dusty folds of time.

I ended the entry before the list of names with the following:

These women lived in a time and place that didn’t treat their awful deaths with the gravity they deserved because of their skin color. One hopes a similar occurrence today would bring about a very different response from authorities, and a legacy that stays in the public memory with more permanence, like the Atlanta Child Murders some 60+ years later…

“One hopes,” I wrote, thinking that surely multiple murders of any group nowadays would not go unnoticed.

Then I read about Precious Armani.

From an article published in the AJC on the ides of March, 2004 (3/15), by Saeed Ahmed, titled Vigil honors slaying victim:

(Precious) Armani, whose legal name was Samuel Eugene Daily, was a 37-year-old preoperative male-to-female transsexual: She lived full time as a woman but had not undergone surgery to complete her transformation.

She was found slumped in the driver’s seat of a rented white Chevrolet Cavalier parked outside Bennington Towers, a Buckhead high-rise in the 2400 block of Peachtree Road. She had been shot in the head. Police would not say whether there had been a struggle…

Precious was murdered at the beginning of March last year, and the article was about a service in her memory.

The death of Precious Armani, to my knowledge still unsolved, is tragic enough, but the most astonishing part of the article is at the beginning, in the second paragraph — I’ve added emphasis…

Armani’s death was the 10th known homicide of a transgendered person in Atlanta and the 14th in the state since 1990 รณ placing Georgia fourth in the nation among states with the highest number of violent deaths of transgendered people.

All 14 deaths remain unsolved, according to TransAction, an Atlanta-based transgender advocacy group…

From an article written by Penny Weaver in 2001, published at, the National Transgender Advocacy Coalition website, titled Police probe two trans slayings in Savannah:

On Oct. 15, 1999, the body of “Sissy” Charles Bolden, 36, of Savannah was found in the woods in west Savannah’s Ogeecheeton neighborhood. Bolden was wearing women’s clothing and had been shot to death.

The body of Billy Jean Levette, 46, was found in a secluded wooded area in west Savannah near Jimmy Deloach Parkway on Nov. 20. He was lying face up with a wound to the back of his head, his pants pulled half-way down and shirt pulled up, according to police.

Detectives will not confirm the cause of death, citing the ongoing investigation.

Levette had been employed as a cosmetologist. He was wearing lipstick and eyeliner in an arrest photo from police files. Officials said he and Bolden both were known “streetwalkers” and each had a criminal history including charges on solicitation of sodomy…

At a website called I found a list of several more of these unsolved murders, some of the victims named, some still John/Jane Does:

  • Edna Brown
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot to death
    • Date of Death: December 24, 1990
  • Unknown person wearing wig
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Killed by blow to head
    • Date of Death: October 29, 1991
  • Huriell “Gypsy” Lockett (David King)
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot in the head
    • Date of Death: October 14, 1991
  • Rhonda Star (Ronnie Dean Lyles)
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot to death
    • Date of Death: October 29, 1991
  • Jean (Woodrow) Powell
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot in the back
    • Date of Death: November 8, 1991
  • Unidentified crossdresser
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot to death
    • Date of Death: December 20, 1992
  • Anthony Swain
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot to death
    • Date of Death: November 8, 1992
  • Derry Glenn
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot to death
    • Date of Death: December 19, 1992
  • Quincy Favors Taylor
    • Location: Atlanta, Georgia
    • Cause of Death: Shot to death
    • Date of Death: October 11, 1995

I doubt that the list of victims above, which actually ends with Precious Armani, is exhaustive.

What it adds up to is this; since 1990 at least 12 (I was unable to track down the extra two to make the 14 that Saeed Ahmed reported) Georgia residents have been shot to death. All the above were transgendered. I am not certain, but I believe many, if not most of them were African-American. Most appear to have been murdered in the fall or winter.

There have been no news conferences, no major reports in any televised newscasts about this unexplained string of murders. I do not know if any of the investigations, including the one into Precious Armani’s murder, are still open.

In early 1900s Atlanta black men and women were still under the thumb of institutionalized racism in the form of Jim Crow laws. They lived in their own neighborhoods, had their own papers. The white Atlanta police even attempted to enlist “colored” detectives, perhaps for the first time, to investigate the Atlanta Ripper murders because, undoubtedly, they didn’t consider it work important enough to bother the caucasians on the force. It is a sad fact of history that this was how things were in Atlanta in 1910, 11, 12.

But it seems like things don’t necessarily ever change; they just shift around. For now, who is worried about 12 dead transvestites? Who is concerned that there might be a human being, or more than one, out there, capable of the cold-blooded dispatching of more than one man whose only true desire in life might have been to be born with a different body than the one he had? Their sisters-in-arms are; but is anyone listening?

In his remarkable book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil author John Berendt portrayed the larger-than-life “Lady Chablis” of Savannah. Lady Chablis, a transgendered person, was arguably the heart and soul of Berendt’s book, which otherwise recounted the trials of Jim Williams for the murder of homosexual hustler Danny Hansford. Anyone who read “Midnight” came away with an indelible picture of the complex, big-hearted, savvy Lady Chablis — a compelling portrait of a real transgendered person that owed much to Berendt’s lyrical prose, but as Lady Chablis’ ensuing minor fame proved, also was essentially true to its subject.

Not all transgendered people are like the charismatic Lady, but her presence along with the success of more than a few movies in the past decade with drag queens as the center of the drama would lead one to think that the place of transgendered people in society might be changing.

But I read the list of dead above, and come to the second victim, after “Edna Brown” — “unknown person wearing wig”. And it hits me — there are still segments of our society it is easier to see in those terms. Not as someone’s (possibly estranged) son, who wished in his heart of hearts he’d been born a daughter, not as someone’s best friend. No, we forget the flashing brilliance of the Lady Chablis in that moment, and it’s just some unknown dead person who was found wearing a wig.

Transgendered men have more than once referred to themselves as a sisterhood, which makes sense, if you think about it. But viewed in the context of the list of names above it occurs to me that at the moment, the (wo)men I’ve mentioned in this blog entry have a larger sisterhood.

One that reaches back across a century, into the early 1900s. A sisterhood with the women who were born women from post-Reconstruction Atlanta. A bond of mystery, and at the moment, injustice.

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