A police officer saw a transgender woman hitchhiking along an Oregon road and asked if she needed help. The offer was declined.
Hours later, the woman was found dead, and her transgender identity might have played a part in her death. Today, police have yet to solve the cold-case murder.
Around 8 a.m. on Aug. 26, 2001, the body of a woman was found in an overgrown field in western Washington County, Oregon, according to the local sheriff’s office. The body was beaten, and the victim died from severe blunt force trauma to the head.
The woman was identified as Loni Kai, who was born as Lorenzo Okaruru, according to the sheriff’s office. She was a transgender woman and wearing women’s clothing at the time of her death.
Investigators say they believe Kai was killed at a different location and then dumped in the field.
Kai was at the Golden Fountain lounge on SW Canyon Road in the hours before being killed, according to the sheriff’s office. Later, she was spotted walking along the highway.
Around 2 a.m., Kai was seen talking to a woman at a nearby 7-Eleven. Then, around 3:30 a.m., a police officer spotted her trying to hitchhike along the highway, according to the sheriff’s office. She declined the police’s help.
Hours later, Kai was found dead.
Authorities speculated that someone picked up Kai as she hitchhiked along the highway. When they realized she was transgender, they might have killed her. Police believe someone might have helped move the body and a medium-sized SUV was involved.
In 2009, then-executive director of Basic Rights Oregon Jeana Frazzzini told the Oregonian newspaper that cases involving already marginalized people deserved special attention.
"We know that transgender folks are often vulnerable, and it should be a priority for our community to protect those most vulnerable," she told the newspaper.
A reward of $4,000 is being offered, and police still hope to solve the cold-case murder. Anyone with information is asked to contact deputies at (503) 846-2500.
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