An arrest has been made in the beating death of a 26-year-old transgender woman who was found dead in the Baldwin Park, California, motel room where she lived on 9 September.
Stephen Gonzales, 28, of West Covina, is the suspect in the slaying of Melony Smith. He was already in jail on a drug possession charge when he was arrested this week. Gonzales has been charged with murder and robbery.
Surveillance camera images and cell phone records helped police make the arrest.
Smith, whose legal name was Vanhxay Inthichack, worked for a security company and had managed to graduate from high school despite having to leave home at 16 because she was transgender, according to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune newspaper.
She had been living at the motel for various stretches of time over a period of three years.
It’s not known if the victim and suspect knew each other.
Leticia Alvarado, a cashier at the motel, discovered the body of Smith with whom she would regularly have breakfast.
When Smith did not answer her telephone, Alvarado told the newspaper she asked a maid to open the door to her room. It was then she made a grisly discovery.
‘She was all bruised up. She had blood on her head. She was lifeless. I could tell she was dead,’ Alvarado said.
‘Everybody liked her at the hotel,’ she added. ‘She was very helpful to everyone. She was funny and outgoing. … She was friendly to the people that she knew.’