At least eight homosexual men who frequented a popular downtown gay strip on New York Avenue between 12th and 13th streets NW have been found stabbed, beaten or shot to death in their homes, apartments or cars within the last year, according to D.C. police.
The still unsolved killings have alarmed members of the gay community who say the victims may have been killed by a person or persons they picked up along the strip. "It seems that the majority may have invited their killer to their home or apartment," said Andy Hirsch, vice president of the Gay Activists Alliance.
Police say they have found no evidence that one person or group of persons is responsible for the deaths. They said only that the victims were known to patronize the strip.
A special task force of homicide detectives has been formed to investigate the slayings, which police say number at least eight. Gay activists put the number between nine and 12.
It is difficult to say exactly how many victims were homosexual since many hide their gay lives from families and friends.
"A lot of people are leading double lives," said Ray Melrose, head of the D.C. Coalition of Black Gays, which has set up a committee to investigate the slayings. "The families don't know. You can't convince the families that they are gay."
Police say they are reluctant to identify victims as homosexual because of possible embarrassment to their families.
Melrose said his group has circulated names and pictures of the victims in various bars patronized by homosexuals to determine if anyone knew the victims or saw them just before the killings.
The New York Avenue strip, one of several places frequented by homosexuals in the city, is a racially mixed sidewalk scene where tough looking young men lounge at gay bars waiting to be picked up by generally older men, called "chicken hawks" in their parlance. Many homosexuals avoid the area, preferring other social styles or places they consider safer.
Melrose said many of the gays who pick up persons along the strip do so late at night when they are less likely to be discovered. As a result, he said, it is difficult to find anyone who has seen a victim. He said his committee has been contacting possible friends of the victims to determine the victims' habits, other friends and associates.
At the police homicide squad office, there is a large chart that displays each victim's name, address, cause of death, names of friends and associates, spots frequented by the victims and other background material. Detectives are analyzing the data for common threads.
Police refuse to discuss the details of the killings. However, some members of the gay community say two of the victims were killed during robberies, while the reasons for the other deaths are not clear.
In recent years homosexuals, who have become a more vocal and apparently larger segment of the city, have complained of what they say is increased harassment and assaults.
They also claim that there was a series of eight killings of gay men during an 11-month period ending in August 1978.
Melrose said he is concerned that the recent killings are part of increased violence against the city's gays, especially black gays. He said eight of the 11 murder victims he believes were gay were black.
However, Hirsch of the Gay Activists Alliance said he does not believe that blacks have been targeted. "A number of the victims have been whites. I have no reason to believe that there is a racial motive there."
D.C. police say they do not believe that crimes against homosexuals -- black or white -- have increased, but they say that because the general gay population has increased and some gays have become more public about their homosexuality, crimes against them have become more recognizable than in the past.