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Peter W.
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  • In Tribute to Winthrop Bean of Strafford, Vermont

    by Representative Peter Welch

    Posted on 2014-01-16

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    WELCH of vermont in the house of representatives Thursday, January 16, 2014 Mr. WELCH. Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the Bean family of Strafford, Vermont, and in tribute to their exceptional young son and brother murdered thirty years ago because of his sexual orientation, I submit the following Herald of Randolph story. Winthrop Bean's story is a tragic tale of senseless loss in the face of homophobia and reminds us of the need to end discrimination and achieve fundamental equality for all.



    [From the Herald of Randolph] Winthrop Bean Remembered (By Bruce Kogan) This month will mark the 30th anniversary of a guilty plea entered in a New York City court by a man named Alfred Desjardin, 25, pleading guilty to manslaughter-1 in connection with the stabbing death of Strafford native Winthrop Bean on May 19, 1983.

    It was a story little reported in the mainstream media, but in the White River Valley of Vermont it was the major news of the year, because of the effect that Winkie Bean had on all around him.

    My own connection with this case came with my job at New York State Crime Victims Board, where I was an investigator.

    A woman named Linda Strohmeier, who volunteered at the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, approached me on behalf of Alta Varney, Winthrop's mother, who had filed a claim for funeral reimbursement. Ms. Strohmeier was from the area and knew Winkie and his family.

    She told me of his ambitions for a career in the theater, which was why he was in New York City, living with friends on East 93rd Street. I knew that the location where his body was found was right near a gay bar called Chaps, long since gone now.

    [[Page E98]] All the police of the 19th precinct in New York told me in an official capacity was that he was indeed an innocent victim, and there was no reason not to grant $1500 from the state to Alta Varney to bury her son.

    Another Dimension The case always nagged at me, and when I got a chance to speak on my experiences for a documentary on anti-gay violence, I decided to do some research on it.

    To begin with, 10 days after Winkie's death, there was an arrest made of Alfred Desjardin, who was described as both a truck driver and a junkie. As Jerry Orbach used to say on ``Law and Order,'' ``I love it when they're stupid.'' Desjardin left a steak knife with his fingerprints next to Winkie's body.

    But it was Winkie's story that really got to me. The Herald of Randolph provided a lot of answers. By all accounts, Winkie was a charismatic young man who had the great good fortune to grow up in a primarily loving and accepting atmosphere.

    He came from South Strafford, population 1024 at the last census, and that's about a 25% growth since 1983. It's a community that is a haven for artistic types of all kinds, sculptors, painters, and folks who make their living at the theater. That's where Winkie, at an early age, developed a love for the theater.

    It was the passion of his life. While still in grade school he wrote plays, designed sets, and organized the other kids into theater groups. Later on in high school he worked at adult theater companies.

    Former Strafford resident Peter Smith, whom I met, told me that his best memory of Winkie Bean was watching him build, out of whatever scrap material he could find, a set for a local production of ``The Elephant Man.'' Smith later wrote a beautiful obituary for Winkie for The Herald of Randolph. (Smith was for many years the director of the Hopkins Center.) Not an Issue For most people in Strafford, Winkie being gay was simply not an issue. That in itself makes his story unique, as most of the gay men and lesbians I've become acquainted with from small towns couldn't wait to get out of them to move to the big city because of the prejudice against them.

    To be sure, he heard the word ``faggot'' every so often, usually from other kids. But Therese Linehan, whose mother Kate was friends with Alta Varney and whose older brothers were Winkie's contemporaries in school, said that those same kids who called him ``faggot'' would listen to him when they were part of his theater projects. Winkie had to have extraordinary charisma and leadership skills for that to happen.

    Kate Linehan told me that Winkie was loved by just about everyone in the area, and by area I include the surrounding towns in the White River Valley. She remembers him always having a kind word for all, never failing to ask sincerely about people's health and welfare.

    Off to New York When he left to go to New York to become a set designer in the theater, it was with the well wishes of one and all in the region. No exile to the big city for Winthrop Bean. He could have been the local high school jock hero who signs a major league baseball contract; it was how he was viewed. This was a story about gay youth from a small town, a story that I had never heard before.

    But on the night of May 19, 1982 after an evening of good food and drinks with some friends, Winthrop Bean decided to have a nightcap at Chaps Bar, which was on Third Avenue in the upper eighties.

    Maybe feeling a bit liberated and not on his guard, he was easy prey for Desjardin who was waiting outside the bar, no doubt looking for a gay victim who would not put up much struggle. Winkie was stabbed about eight times and left in a pool of his own blood to bleed out and die in a stairwell at 229 East 88 Street.

    His screams did awake residents who called the police.

    I grew up in Brooklyn myself, and in the big city you do learn street smarts. My own theory of the crime is that Winthrop Bean, because of the loving and nurturing atmosphere he was raised in, never developed them.

    Therese Linehan told me that Winkie believed in the best in and of everybody. It was beyond his grasp that people could want to harm him for any reason. Evil as a concept is something that a lot of people can't comprehend.

    A police tip led to Desjardin's arrest, and the case was ready to be tried by the New York County district attorney's office.

    Witness Recants A source in the DA's office told me that one of the witnesses, a key witness who could have testified and linked the circumstantial and forensic case that they had developed, went bad on them. After that, Asst. DA Patrick Dugan had no choice but to make the best bargain he could and Desjardin copped to a manslaughter-1 plea and got eight to 35 years for a brutal murder, which to me had overtones of bias.

    The fact is that Desjardin selected the area around Chaps as a hunting ground. The fact that Winkie was stabbed multiple times could only come from some primitive rage. And most important for me was that not only was the incriminating steak knife left behind with the killer's fingerprints, but in what he said was a robbery, nothing was taken.

    Asst. D.A. Dugan himself was saddened by this turn of events. In a letter to Alta Varney he wrote that ``during the course of our investigation . . . I have learned that Winthrop was a wonderful person whose loss to his family, friends, and society is irreplaceable.'' As for Desjardin, he got out after his minimum and went back to a life of crime. He was caught and pled guilty to a robbery and got 12 additional years that started in 1994. After 2006, who knows where he is now? A Hate Crime The savagery of the crime is similar to a few other crimes motivated by homophobia, some that I handled claims for in the course of my years at Crime Victims Board.

    And this crime seems similar to one that got national attention, that of Matthew Shepard. There is another similarity: The mothers in each case became activists of sorts.

    Judy Shepard's life as spokesperson for hate crimes legislation is well known. Alta Varney chose a different route. A Winthrop Bean memorial scholarship was established shortly after Winkie's death to give funds to students who want to go into the theater. That's something that honored his passion, and something I believe he would have approved.

    Winkie's name should be on a list of LGBT honored dead, right up there with Matthew Shepard, Julio Rivera, James Zappalorti, Henry Marquez, and so many others.

    Time and circumstance have allowed his name to fade from consciousness in a way the others haven't except in the White River Valley of Vermont, where people still talk of him as one of the most unforgettable individuals they ever came to know.

    ____________________

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