Police in Charlotte, North Carolina, announced they are investigating the possibility that two murders of transgender women just days apart might be the work of a single serial killer. Jaida Peterson, 20, a Black transgender woman, was found dead in a hotel room on April 4. Then police discovered the lifeless body of an unnamed transgender woman in a hotel room on April 15. Both women were trans workers and both were killed with a gun, leading investigators to consider the possibility they may be hunting for a transphobic serial killer.
“We’ve identified some pretty consistent similarities in both of the cases,” Rob Tufano, CMPD public safety communications director for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said at a press conference last night. “Both of those victims, transgender victims. Both of them sex workers. Both of them shot to death in hotels.”
The body of Peterson was discovered on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, April 4, in a room at the Quality Inn on Queen City Drive in west Charlotte. Police say she was shot to death, but released few additional details about the case. The body of the second transgender murder victim was found at the Sleep Inn on North Tyron Street early Thursday morning, April 15. Tufano told reporters she was also shot to death and that police know the victim’s identity, but are attempting to notify appropriate family members before releasing her name to the public.
While police are uncertain if the murders are the work of one serial killer or are unconnected isolated murders from multiple killers, they have nonetheless reached out to nofity the LGBTQ+ community of their concerns. They have also responded with extra police patrols in areas known for sex work. Members of the public have been urged to contact 911 or Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 if they see or hear of anything suspicious, or with any information that might help the investigation.
"This needs to get the attention of the community," Tufano said. "This isn't something we see frequently. It's something we rarely see and it's important the community understands that."
Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the transgender justice initiative at the Human Rights Campaign, mourned the loss of Peterson, saying she had “family, friends and a community who cared about and loved her,” and that her life was taken too soon.
“This violence is alarming and unacceptable,” Cooper said in a statement. “Her life never should have been cut short.”
Members of the transgender community have been murdered at an alarming rate in recent years. 2020 was the deadliest year on record, with 45 trans people violently killed. That number easily beat the previous high of 31 in 2017. Sadly, the number killed and murdered is almost certainly higher, as many victims are misgendered or deadnamed by media, police, and family following their passing. In addition to Peterson and the other unidentified victim in Charlotte, 13 transgender people have been murdered so far this year.