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Meet the group that works to crack transgender cold cases

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Posted at 10:46 AM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-20 12:24:48-04

The walls of Anthony Redgrave's office are filled with people whose stories have been cut short.

He is a forensic genealogist.

“We have to take care of our own people," Redgrave says.

While you may have heard terms like John Doe or Jane Doe, which are for remains of people who cannot be identified.

The non-profit Redgrave and his partner, Lee, founded is called the Trans Doe Task Force.

Many of the cases they work on are where unidentified remains are people who were transgender.

In some cases, gender identity can be difficult for authorities. For example, if the remains of someone who identified as a woman at the time of their death were found but police identified them as male based on skeletal remains, it could send law enforcement in the wrong direction.

“People will automatically assume, 'Oh, the police are here to protect us and know what to do," but the fact of the matter is they don’t know everything about every single community," Redgrave says.

The Trans Doe Task Force works to educate police departments and medical examiners on ways to handle cases where victims may be transgender.

They also use tools like DNA and genealogy to identify remains.

Take the case known as the "Pillar Point Doe."

In 1983, the remains of someone who was stabbed to death were found on a beach in San Mateo County, California.

“This individual was assigned male and wearing feminine coded clothing and was found within hours of death on the beach," Redgrave says.

Although the victim had female characteristics, the medical examiner listed the body as that of a male.

“The neglect to include they were wearing feminine clothing at the time, I’m sure contributed to the identification taking 40 years," Redgrave says.

In 2018, Redgrave and his team took on the case. They worked with a sketch artist who created an image that presented more female than the sketch authorities originally put out.

“There were multiple forensic images that came out before this case went to DNA. None of them showed as presenting as female," Redgrave says.

Using DNA, they eventually tracked down the identity of "Pillar Point Doe."

“I cry every time. And it’s never going to get easier, and I don’t want it to get easier,” Anthony says of what it's like to solve a case.

While police now know who the victim is, they haven't arrested a killer.

Inside the Trans Doe Task Force's office, in the small Western Massachusetts town of Orange, Jessie Veltstra flips through page after page of missing cases involving members of the LGBTQ community.

She maintains the LAMMP database.

It's a private database that helps authorities connect cases of "Does" with people who have gone missing.

“If you have an unidentified person over here who is trans, who is presenting other than the way they were assigned at birth, and then you have been missing person over here, who is also listed as transgender then you’ll be able to compare them easier," Veltstra says.

As someone who is transgender, Redgrave's work is personal.

"If my life had taken one step in a completely different direction or slightly different direction, I could be one of these people," Redgrave says.

But Redgrave hopes everyone sees this work as important, no matter how they identify.

"These are people who are just as deserving of having their case closed and just as deserving of having their family notified as anybody else because everyone matters," Redgrave says.