A cautionary tale for LGBT travelers

Posted on 03 Feb 2011 at 4:43pm
Allan Turnipseed

Murder of former Dallas resident in Mexican state of Jalisco should remind us never to get too comfortable, anywhere we live

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

No one knows what thoughts flashed through American expatriate Allan Turnipseed’s mind during the last moments of his life in his Mexican retirement home on Lake Chapala last month.

But they surely must have been thoughts tinged with shock and disbelief.

It was a turn of events that likely came about because the former Dallas resident became too comfortable in a foreign country plagued by violence. He may have let down his guard and placed trust in young strangers whose minds harbored deadly thoughts.

Turnipseed’s 40-year partner, Bob Tennison, reportedly discovered the 62-year-old lying face down in a hallway of their home. The victim’s assailants tied his hand behind his back and shot him in the head, according to published Mexican reports.

Two homeless, teenage Hispanic brothers, who were known associates of a street gang, confessed they had forced their way into the home to rob it. They killed Turnipseed after he threatened to turn them in to police, according to the reports. They allegedly took the equivalent of about $1,000 and a Toyota pickup from the scene before going shopping to purchase tennis shoes and clothing, as well as marijuana and food.

The shocking crime cut short the life of a respected member of Dallas’ LGBT community who had owned a local business and participated in the Stonewall Business and Professional Association. The prominent graphic designer — who was born in Canada, grew up in Dallas and graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington — also left behind several grieving relatives and many close friends.

It appears that Turnipseed had become as socially and charitably active during his seven-year residence in his Mexican community as he had been in Dallas. That probably led to a false sense of security that many tourists and expatriate residents tend to develop in Mexico.

I know that because of my frequent trips over the past two decades to Puerto Vallarta, which is 204 miles west of Guadalajara and Lake Chapala in the same state of Jalisco.

About four years ago, I was robbed on the street in Puerto Vallarta. I had become so comfortable visiting the city that I walked back to my hotel on the beach from a downtown nightclub one night, confident that no harm could come to me.

As I walked toward my hotel, two friendly young Mexican men joined me on the sidewalk. They walked beside me, asking me all of the questions to which I had become accustomed from the tribe of young hustlers that prowl the beach by day and the streets by night.

Suddenly, one of them was grabbing my wallet out of my pants pocket and the other one was sprinting down the street like a football player. He caught the pass of my wallet through the air, and both of them disappeared into the night.

I was lucky. The robbery consisted mostly of subterfuge. But it could just have easily gone very badly in different circumstances with the use of a knife or gun.

As it happened, I only lost a couple of hundred dollars, my credit cards and my peace of mind.

Some would say I was asking for trouble by walking alone at night, and I’m sure that’s true. I would never do the same thing in Dallas, which goes to show how comfortable I used to feel in Puerto Vallarta.

I imagine Turnipseed felt the same level of comfort. After all, he was in his own home, opening the door to a knock from a couple of teenagers with whom he had came into contact through a friend, who reportedly had given the youths food and shelter. The pair of brothers, who reportedly were American citizens abandoned by their parents, were a familiar sight in the community.

What Turnipseed might not have known is that many residents knew the two youths had reputations as thieves.

What I have come to realize is that known criminals commonly circulate in the midst of tourists on the beach and at other public places without interference in Mexico.

That information usually is gleaned only from bartenders and waiters, who either take a liking to a tourist or just don’t want to see a good source of tips disabled or permanently eliminated.

Mexico is an enchanting country, and most of its inhabitants are good people. But it has always been a much more dangerous destination than some people realize, and Turnipseed’s murder is not the first grisly attack on American residents on Lake Chapala.

While most of the recent Mexican violence can be attributed to the drug cartels’ wars with each other and the government, it likely has also created an atmosphere where human life is considered by criminals to be less valuable.

Mexico is a favorite destination for many LGBT tourists from Texas, and many people have successfully retired or maintain vacation homes there. Publicity about Turnipseed’s murder is unlikely to change that.

But hopefully it will be a strong reminder to all Americans that caution is more critical than ever when undertaking travel south of the border.

David Webb is a former staff writer for the Dallas Voice. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

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