At first, the utility worker couldn’t believe what he was seeing. What appeared to be a bundle of women’s clothing was bleeding on the ground on this easement near Westlake Park in Daly City. He looked closer and saw a body within the clothes and quickly alerted the authorities.
It was the morning of March 1, 2005.
Police were able to quickly determine that the person was dead and were able to identify the body as belonging to Eddie Chung Chou Lee, a transgender individual also known as Michelle Lee. Lee openly identified as both male and female. The East Bay Times stated that Lee worked as a sex worker, leading police to suspect that Lee’s death was related to this line of work. Lee had suffered multiple stab wounds and died near their home on Cliffside Drive. Money was found on the body, ruling out the possibility that the murder was a robbery gone wrong.
Lee’s death highlights a modern concern: violence and murder against transgender individuals. An article by Wyatt Buchanan in the Sept. 15, 2005, issue of SFGate stated: “(these) incidents are not easy to investigate because society tends to marginalize (these) victims.” An Assistant District Attorney was quoted that “any time there is a homicide case where the victim is more vulnerable…it becomes a bigger challenge for the prosecution.” The investigation into Lee’s murder was also hampered by societal stigma. Police found that Lee’s possible customers were afraid to talk due to that stigma and some were married with children who didn’t want any sexual association with a transgender person to come to light.
The police were stumped. A detective told the East Bay Times: “We don’t have enough at this point to focus on just one suspect or motive.” Police searched Lee’s computer and address book and multiple phone records without success. Compounding the lack of evidence was Lee themself. Lee was described as an aloof individual without friends or close acquaintances. All of Lee’s family lived in Hong Kong.
And Lee’s death would be indicative of a disturbing trend. According to a 2017 article by Dr. Rebecca L. Stotzer in the American Journal of Public Health, “a transgender person is murdered at least once every three days.”
Tragically, Lee’s murder would remain an open wound in the community. The case would go cold and would never be solved.