Columbia paper reports police seeking gay community's help in catching Valencia's killer

June 09, 2004|MIKE WELLS

Editor’s note: The following was taken from a story published Tuesday in the Columbia Daily Tribune of Columbia, Mo., about the death of a Boyle County man.

Columbia police reached out Monday to the city’s gay and lesbian community to try to learn more about murder victim Jesse Valencia and possibly his killer.

Detectives Jeff Westbrook and Barbara Cook showed Valencia’s photos to patrons at the SoCo Club, 128 W. Nifong Blvd., before a benefit show for Columbia Pride, an annual gay pride event.

"We lost a member of our community this weekend," a club performer told the audience before introducing the officers and explaining why they were there.


Valencia, a junior history major at the University of Missouri-Columbia, was last seen about 3:30 a.m. Saturday leaving an East Campus neighborhood party. His body was found about 2 p.m. outside 1517 Wilson Ave., about a block east of his basement apartment.

Asked whether Valencia might have been targeted for attack because of his sexual orientation, Capt. Mike Martin said yesterday, "There’s been nothing to indicate this was a hate crime."

Valencia’s basement neighbor, Ryan Kepner, said yesterday he heard bumping noises coming from the student’s apartment early Saturday as Valencia was repeatedly saying, "Stop it," and "No," for about five minutes. That was between 3:30 and 4 a.m.

"The impression I got was that he was trying to kick somebody out of the apartment that didn’t want to go," Kepner said. "After a while, I yelled back at the wall, saying, ‘Yeah, stop it,’ because I couldn’t get to sleep. Then it was over. The noise stopped."

When he awoke at 2 p.m., Kepner looked into the hallway and saw Valencia’s door ajar.

"I just thought that he must have had a rough night if he didn’t even close his door," he said.

An hour later, Kepner answered a knock at his door from police. "I was going to apologize the next day for yelling, because I didn’t want there to be any tension between us," Kepner said. "But I didn’t get the chance."

Detectives left a stack of Valencia’s photos at the SoCo Club. "He’s not somebody that came here often, but he did come to a few shows," club owner Jerry Heuer said.

He transferred from Earlham College in 2002

Heuer often deejays the music and said he’d talked to Valencia occasionally. Each time the 23-year-old would request Michael Jackson’s "Billie Jean," Heuer said.

Valencia transferred to MU in fall 2002 from Earlham College in Indiana, said MU spokeswoman Latisha Dwiggins.

MU professor Ian Worthington said he found Valencia to be a determined student.

"He really pursued my ancient Greece history course," Worthington said. "The winter class was already full, but he pursued me, basically grabbed me by my lapels, and said, ‘Look, I’m really keen on this subject. I know it’s full, but can you let me in the course?’"

Worthington said he let Valencia into the class. The two talked about Valencia’s plans for graduate school, and the student mentioned having some personal problems but didn’t give specifics, Worthington said.

"He was quiet in class, but he was very energetic in a one-on-one conversation, very lively," Worthington said. "In class, he liked to sit toward the back, but nine times out of 10 when I called upon him, he had the answer."

Hours before he died, Valencia walked home at 11 p.m. from the nearby Campus Inn, where he worked as a night-desk clerk.

"It was a big shock to us," manager Jimmy Jones said after learning of the murder. "It was devastating to find that out."

Jones said Valencia had worked there more than a year. When he wasn’t helping customers or chatting with friends on his cell phone, the student spent his nights typing on a motel computer, writing papers for class and political editorials, Jones said.

Valencia wrote two letters to MU’s student-run newspaper, the Maneater. In a March 2 letter, he addressed his support of marriage rights for gays and lesbians. In a Jan. 23 letter, Valencia wrote about the presidential race.

Valencia had shown a strong interest in journalism and politics during the vice-presidential debate in Danville in 2000, a year after he had graduated from Boyle County High School. Valencia wrote a monthly youth-oriented column for The Advocate-Messenger and volunteered to help cover the events surrounding the debate.

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