The case of a woman of trans who was experiencing homelessness found dead in a Portland, Oregon, park last year is gaining renewed interest. Police have ruled the death of Tete Gully, 31, a suicide, but the family says authorities never fully investigated claims reporting Gulley was murdered by a fellow homeless man with whom she was having a “clandestine sexual relationship.”
Tete Gulley was found hanging from a tree in Rocky Butte Park in Portland, Oregon, around 7:00 p.m., on Monday, May 27, 2019. Chris McCurdy covered the case extensively at the time working as a journalist for The Skanner, one of the two Black newspapers in Portland. She told Out the park was used by homeless and sex workers to camp and that Gulley appears to have been a sex worker with numerous arrests. The Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office determined that Gulley had died by suicide. Shortly after the death, though, her family received messages via Facebook that TeTe had, in fact, been murdered by a man known as “Trigger.”
Karen Threet, a friend of Tete at the camp, told police Gulley appeared “down and seemed to be crying and upset” after returning from a visit to her family and the pair briefly discussed a lost or stolen tent according to the police report. Karen left camp for the store and returned less than an hour later. Police report that Gulley’s body was found a short time later by another resident of the camp, Michael Thompson, who then located Threet, borrowed her phone, and called the police.
Family members dispute that Gulley would die by suicide.
“I know [she] did not commit suicide, no doubt about that,” Kenya Robinson, Tete’s mother, is quoted on a Change.org petition. Robinson used he/him pronouns but Gulley was known to publicly use she/her pronouns. “For them to say that [she] committed suicide, it’s just hard to believe because [she] was just so full of joy regardless of what was going on around [her.]”
Robinson declined to speak with Out for this story.
Not long after Gulley’s death, her family began receiving messages via Facebook claiming she was murdered by a man known as “Trigger” and that video existed of the killing. Police say they met with Robinson and her son, Richard Bryant, in June of last year to discuss the new developments.
The information was explosive. Robinson and Bryant had been told that Gulley had been killed by a man named “Trigger” to hide the pair’s “clandestine sexual relationship,” that the murder was witnessed by three others including a woman named Karen, and the event was captured on video by a woman named “Vicious.” The sources within the camp also revealed that Trigger had boasted of being responsible for the deaths of both Gulley and another trans woman named “Gigi.” Police later determined that Trigger was Michael Thompson, the man who had originally found Gulley’s body, and that Karen was Karen Threet, the person who had called 911.
Police say the case of Gigi was homicide, but that “the investigation is closed, the case is cleared, and it did not involve Thompson.”
With the help of Tiffany Griggs, outreach coordinator with the Clackamas Service Center, police were able to contact the person reported to have witnessed the alleged murder. The witnesses all paint a picture of a kind and generous person who was suffering during a difficult time in her life. One said Gulley was a kind person who shared her tent with him for a period when he had no shelter, but also said Gulley was “was visibly upset and crying” just minutes before her passing.
Police also spoke with Threet and Thompson and found them both to be cooperative, and were able to determine from multiple residents that Vicious was a person who had left the camp before Gulley’s death. Police also were able to identify the anonymous source who messaged Robinson, but she has so far refused to meet or speak with police.
The Oregon Medical Examiner tells Out that “Ms. Gulley’s medical examiner report, autopsy report and toxicology report were released to her family by the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office in August of 2019.”
For now, the case is closed. However, the family and community are still looking for answers. An Change.org petition has garnered over 650,000 signatures and a GoFundMe page is still accepting donations, reignited in the wake of the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement. Still, questions remain unanswered not just about the case of Gulley and Gigi, but also the rise in violence against transgender persons. The case generated renewed interest and the hope is not just to find answers for Gulley, but also safe spaces free of hate and violence for Black trans lives.