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Beheading: A Grisly Murder in Virginia

Henry Northington Slain in Richmond

Gay Man's Head Left at Cruising Site

By Jack Nichols

vakilling.gif - 4.45 K Richmond, VirginiaŚHenry Edward Northington's severed head was discovered here last week by a couple crossing a bridge near James River Park's Northbank. According to locals the site is a popular gay cruising spot, especially during warm-weather periods.

Northington's severed head had been placed squarely in the center of the walkway, leading many to speculate that the murderer(s) had intended to make an anti-gay statement.

The remainder of the 6'4" 39-year-old gay man's body was found a mile to the east in the James River. Because of Northington's imposing frame, some think he may have been attacked by more than one killer. Described by gay businessmen as a drinker who'd been homeless on occasion, Northington was, according to gay club owners, a difficult patron when drunk who, they revealed, had been 86'd on more than one occasion.

When sober, however, he was perceived as "not a bad guy," though often sedated and painfully lonely.

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Word of the murder stunned the city's gay and lesbian community. Club owners, however, attempted to downplay the possibility of a hate crime, possibly fearing losses to their businesses. Marcus J. Miller, representing Fieldens, a private club for gay males, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "We don't need a Matthew Shepard in Richmond." He also asked that the media refrain from assuming Northington's murder had been due to his sexual orientation.

But Detective Thomas T. Leonard, assigned to the case, said that it is one thing to murder a person, but quite another to cut that person's head off. Leonard promised to look into every possibility, he said, whether it might be a hate crime, a sex crime, or one with ritualistic implications. Presently, the Richmond police have no leads and are asking persons who may have tips or information to call Detective Leonard at (804) 698-3916, or to notify CrimeStoppers at 780-1000.

Police say Northington seems to have been murdered by the river and his head carried approximately 70 steps through woods to the walkway where it was centrally and ceremoniously placed. Members of Richmond's homeless community are also reported alarmed by the killing.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Tracey Conaty says Northington's murder alarms her too. "One of the characterizations of hate crimes," she noted, "can be extreme overkill, extreme brutality."

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