The car wash on NW 39 Street where Steven Domer was last seen alive was empty and strewn with trash recently.
The street hustlers who sometimes frequent it were noticeably absent.
Domer, 62, was last seen Oct. 26 at the car wash. His body was found a little more than a week later, dumped in a ravine in McClain County. Affidavits point to the self-proclaimed general of a white supremacist group, Darrell Madden, and an accomplice as being the primary suspects in the case. However, police have not publicly named Madden. Nor have they disclosed whether they think Domer, who friends said was gay, was targeted because of his sexuality.
In the close network of the gay community, many say Domer's death was clearly a hate crime.
‘Motivated by hate'
"This guy was motivated by hate — pure and simply,” said Oliver Pratt, a doorman at Angles, a dance club near the car wash. "The fact is it's a hate crime, and it should be classified as a hate crime. It's just like if he was murdered for his race or his religion.”
At Tramps, another bar in the district, several customers knew Domer. They said he would only come in occasionally, have a few drinks and leave. One man, Jimmy Hill, made it his business to know most of the bar's regulars by name. Hill, 45, has worked security at Tramps for about nine years. He is one of about a half dozen private security guards who patrol the city's gay district to ensure patrons are not verbally or physically assaulted.
"I think about it every night. How can I not think about it?” Hill said of Domer's disappearance.
Hill vividly remembers the night Domer went missing. It was the Friday before Halloween, and it was hectic. Underaged kids were trying to slip in during the excitement.
There were so many people, elaborate costumes and confusion. It still haunts him.
"It happened right over there at the car wash. I don't know why in the hell I didn't see anything happen,” Hill said.
"I just wish I would have saw something.”
In June, Hill had to deal with skinheads during the gay pride parade.
Over the last few years, he has had to call the police numerous times over people he referred to as homophobes and religious fanatics yelling disparaging remarks.
"They think it's their job to come out here and try to convert the gays. But they were taking their job too seriously,” Hill said.
A.J. Ray, 26, said bars are among the few places gay people can feel at home with themselves.
"I can be me anywhere. But this is the only place where I can be me, with my partner,” Ray said.
"This is not going to change the way I live. I'm not going to stay at home and be scared.”
Ray and his partner have been together for years and are having a house built in the suburbs.
But he said NW 39 is the only place they feel comfortable enough to walk down the street holding hands.
Hate crimes increasing
Hate crimes were up about 8 percent nationwide in 2006. Sexual orientation accounts for about 16 percent of those crimes, but many gay community advocates said that number is likely much larger.
Law enforcement might fail to designate something as a hate crime because those investigations are usually taken over by the FBI.
And with hate crimes, prosecutors have to prove intent during trial.
The reporting of hate crimes is a "voluntary process, and many municipalities simply do not report,” said Brad Luna, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay civil rights group in the nation.
Another factor in the under-reporting of hate crimes based on sexual orientation is fear. Victims scared of being "outed” often fail to report.
"The FBI has just in the last five or 10 years started to report it. Those reports are not comprehensive,” Luna said. "What we have known for decades is there are certain people within our society that target victims based upon their sexual orientation.