UPDATE: Police release description of missing vehicle belonging to NE Dallas murder victim

Earlier we told you about the two men found dead in a burned Northeast Dallas apartment. Police are still not releasing the victims’ names because their bodies were so badly damaged in the fire that they’re waiting on the medical examiner to positively identify them. However, police have now released a description of the vehicle belonging to one of the victims, which is apparently missing. The vehicle is a silver, four-door 2002 Saturn L200, with a license number of 5CVDN. If you see it, call 911.

Again, police have confirmed that they believe the two victims were a gay couple, but they aren’t treating the murders as a hate crime. Police also say they don’t know the motive for the crime, prompting some to question how a hate crime can be ruled out. We posed this question to DPD Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse:

“Detectives will not elaborate at this time,” Janse told Instant Tea. “It may hamper the investigation.”

—  John Wright

Dallas police say 2 men found dead in burned apartment were gay couple, likely were murdered

Two men found dead inside a burned Northeast Dallas apartment early this morning were a gay couple, Dallas police confirmed this afternoon.

The two victims, whose names are being withheld pending notification of their families, were found inside their first-floor unit at the Villa Joya Apartments, 11210 Woodmeadow Parkway, near Ferguson Road and LBJ Freeway.

After responding to a fire call at about 4:10 a.m., Dallas Fire-Rescue crews extinguished the flames before finding the victims — a 59-year-old black male and a 61-year-old white male — inside the apartment. Authorities say the men appeared to have died in a violent attack before the fire was set in an attempt to destroy evidence from the murders.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD, told Instant Tea that detectives have no reason to believe the murders were a hate crime, but he added that the motive is unknown.

“Yes, it does appear that they were in a relationship together, but that does not appear to have anything to do with this case,” Janse said. “It is not being investigated as a hate crime or anything like that.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, neighbors said the older victim was disabled and the other was his caretaker. Neighbors also told the DMN that the victims’ apartment had an alarm and surveillance system and that the younger man would never open the door for someone he didn’t know.

Other news reports also indicate that the suspects likely knew at least one of the victims. Authorities believe one of the victim’s vehicle is missing. Patrol officers are searching for it and hope to find the suspects in it.

Stay tuned to Instant Tea for updates. Below is a report from CBS 11.

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Yet another teen bullying suicide; petition targets DMN same-sex wedding policy

Kameron Jacobsen

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Here we go again. This is unbelievable. A 14-year-old high school freshman in Orange County, N.Y., has taken his own life, reportedly in response to bullying on Facebook over his perceived sexual orientation. Watch video from Fox 5 below. Kameron Jacobsen died Tuesday, according to his obituary in The Times Herald-Record. “We hope as a community both collectively and individually we can find a way to finally put an end to this!” Kameron’s family writes in the obituary. Amen.

2. Dallas police have arrested one of several suspects in a series of “takeover-style” armed robberies, including one early Wednesday at the Villa Club near North Hall Street and McKinney Avenue in Uptown. The pistol-wielding suspects struck shortly after 2 a.m. and demanded that employees empty the safe. They took the employees’ wallets and cell phones and even shot at their victims’ while making their getaway in a Hummer H2. Police believe the same suspects are responsible for similar recent robberies at the Old Monk bar in Knox-Henderson and Humperdink’s in Northeast Dallas.

3. Change.org has launched a petition calling on The Dallas Morning News to allow same-sex wedding announcements. The petition stems from a case in which a gay Dallas couple has filed a discrimination complaint against The DMN for refusing to publish their announcement under Weddings. Citing Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage, The DMN instead places such announcements under Commitments. As of this morning, the petition had accumulated 6,442 signatures since being launched Wednesday. Will the petition be enough to prompt The DMN to change the policy? Almost certainly not, but it can’t hurt. Sign by going here.

—  John Wright

Friends remember shooting victim as strong, generous

Police arrest homeless man for using Cheung’s debit card; no murder charges filed yet in gay man’s death

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Aaron Cheung
Aaron Cheung

Aaron Cheung was remembered this week as a strong, outspoken, caring person who was living his dream of owning a restaurant.

Cheung, 27, was found shot to death in the backseat of his car outside a condo in northeast Dallas in the early morning hours of Sunday, Dec. 12.

Dallas police say the motive for the crime was robbery, and they have no reason to believe Cheung’s sexual orientation was a factor.

On Wednesday, DPD arrested a homeless man who they say used Cheung’s debit card at a downtown 7-Eleven after the murder

Charles Edward Freeman, 58, is charged with fraudulent use or possession of identifying information, a felony, and was being held on $50,000 bail. As of Thursday morning, Dec. 16, Freeman was considered a “person of interest” but had not been charged in Cheung’s robbery and murder.

Cheung was a founding member of Fuse, the LGBT young men’s group at Resource Center Dallas, according to his close friend Alex Ortega. Cheung also once served on the youth board at Youth First Texas.

But for the last few years, Ortega said, Cheung devoted most of his time to Bacon and Friends, his restaurant in Mesquite.

“That was his dream,” said Ortega, who worked at the restaurant last summer. “His passion was food. He was always talking about watching Food Network and then trying different things. He was just really creative and a real people person. He had so many regulars, and they all asked for him. … He was very meticulous about the food, and people just really gravitated to that, all the effort he put into everything. It was always busy.”

Cheung had just gotten home from work at about 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning and was retrieving a box from the backseat of his car outside a condo he shared with his parents in the 8100 block of Skillman Road when he was shot, according to police. The suspect ambushed Cheung from behind and shot him once in the head before making off with his wallet and several hundred dollars in cash.

On Tuesday, Dec. 14, police released surveillance video from a 7-Eleven on Commerce Street, showing a short, older black man with a limp using Cheung’s debit card to purchase cigarettes and chicken wings.

Freeman was arrested at the Bridge, a homeless shelter, after people there recognized him from the surveillance video.

Police say Freeman fits the description of a man who was seen by a witness fleeing the area of Cheung’s murder.

“It’s going to take some forensic evidence before they can list him as a suspect,” DPD spokesman Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse said Thursday morning.

“They’re still looking at him as a person of interest.”

Ortega said he was glad that police appeared close to solving the crime.

“He was the strong one of the people I knew and hung out with,” Ortega said of Cheung. “You’d never think anything would hurt him, so it was just a complete shock. He’s from the East Coast, originally from New York. He was really tough and outspoken.

“He had a lot of street smarts, and you would never think this would happen to him, ever.”

A memorial service for Cheung was held Thursday afternoon in Rowlett.

Ortega said Cheung was an only child and he hoped the service would help his parents cope.

“I think it’s a really good thing for his family to be able to see how many people he affected,” Ortega said. “He really did do a lot for people who were in his life. If he cared about you, he would give you the world.

“He would do just about anything to help you out.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Funeral services today in Rowlett for murdered gay restaurant owner Aaron Cheung

Aaron Cheung

A memorial service for Aaron Cheung, a gay restaurant owner who was found shot to death in northeast Dallas on Sunday, will be at 3 p.m. today at Resthaven Funeral Chapel, at 3761 Rowlett Road, in Rowlett.

Alex Ortega, one of Cheung’s best friends, said everyone who knew him is invited. Ortega said Cheung was an only child and he hopes the service will help his parents cope.

“I think it’s a really good thing for his family to be able to see how many people he affected,” Ortega said. “He really did do a lot for people who were in his life. If he cared about you, he would give you the world. He would do just about anything to help you out.”

Meanwhile, authorities say the homeless man arrested for using Cheung’s debit card remains a “person of interest” in his murder. Charles Edward Freeman, 58, is charged with fraudulent use or possession of identifying information and is being held on $50,000 bail.

“There’s not enough evidence to list him as a suspect,” said Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD. “It’s going to take some forensic evidence before they can list him as a suspect.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Dallas Police Department’s homicide unit at 214-671-3661.

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Dallas police identify ‘person of interest’ in gay man Aaron Cheung’s murder

Aaron Cheung

The “person of interest” was observed using a credit card belonging to gay murder victim Aaron Cheung this morning at a 7-11 at 2008 Commerce St., according to Dallas police.

Cheung, 27, was found fatally shot inside his vehicle in northeast Dallas on Sunday morning.

Surveillance video from the 7-11 shows the suspect to be a black male wearing a black jacket over a white hoodie, according to DPD. The suspect appears to be in his 50s and stands about 5 feet, 5 inches tall. He walks with a pronounced limp. Anyone with information is asked to call the Dallas Police Homicide Unit at (214) 671-3661.

More to come shortly.

—  John Wright

Dallas police seek info in gay man’s murder

Moments ago the Dallas Police Department sent out the below alert seeking information in the murder of Aaron Cheung, a 27-year-old gay man who was found fatally shot in northeast Dallas on Sunday morning.

According to the alert, an unknown suspect wearing a black hoodie and black pants was seen running from the scene of Cheung’s murder.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD, confirmed Monday afternoon that investigators don’t believe the incident was a hate crime.

“Nothing leads the detectives to believe his sexual orientation played a role in this offense,” Janse said. “Robbery is believed to be the motive. No suspect or witnesses at this time.”

Anyone with information is asked to call homicide at 214-671-3661 or 214-671-3618.

—  John Wright

Nearly 6 months after gay Dallas woman Lisa Stone vanished, some national media attention

Dec. 5 will mark six months since the disappearance of Lisa Stone, a 52-year-old gay woman from northeast Dallas. But Stone’s friends remain optimistic that the case will soon be solved, and their hopes have been buoyed this week by some national media attention.

America’s Most Wanted posted a story about Stone’s disappearance on its website Monday, and her friends plan to meet with producers from CBS’ 48 Hours on Wednesday.

“We have worked for five months to get this kind of national exposure,” said Tina Wiley, one of Stone’s friends who’s been leading the effort to find her. “We need this to get answers.”

Wiley said Stone’s friends are also hearing rumors that arrests in the case may be imminent. A Dallas police investigator who’s handling the case couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Wiley said nothing is planned to mark the six-month anniversary of Stone’s disappearance. However, the group known as the Sisters of ’77 — Stone’s friends who graduated from Mesquite High School in 1977 — plans another reunion on Dec. 11. It was during the first-ever reunion of the Sisters of ’77 in May 2009, WIley said, when Stone came out to many of her former classmates.

“It was a huge deal to her, so I think it’s going to be a really emotional party,” Wiley said. “She was real hesitant at first about going even. She was so worried about what everyone would think, but she was very pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t an issue to anybody.”

—  John Wright

The search continues

Police acknowledge foul play likely in disappearance of Lisa Stone; friends fighting to keep investigation alive

WATCH VIDEO OF LISA STONE’S FRIENDS TALKING ABOUT THE CASE

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

GARLAND — Dallas police for the first time this week publicly acknowledged that they believe foul play is likely in the disappearance of Lisa Stone, a 52-year-old lesbian who’s been missing for more than three months.

However, Sgt. Eugene Reyes of DPD’s special investigations unit said detectives won’t formally reclassify the case as a homicide until Stone’s remains are found, and he stopped short of identifying her longtime partner, Sherry Henry, as a suspect.

“Every time there’s a body found, we’re hoping it’s Lisa,” Reyes told Dallas Voice in an exclusive interview on Tuesday, Sept. 14. “Not that we’re hoping she’s dead, but at least that will bring closure and get us closer to a suspect. It’s not like her to be out of touch this long. I think foul play is very likely, yes, because it’s out of her characteristics.”

Stone’s friends, who’ve long said they suspect foul play in her June disappearance, expressed frustration with DPD’s handling of the case and said they recently hired a private investigator. But Reyes insisted that investigators have tracked down every lead, including sending 70 officers to search a wooded area of Hunt County in July. Police also searched the home Stone shared with Henry and are awaiting results from forensic tests, Reyes said.

“I am just as frustrated as they are, but we’re bound by the Constitution, and there’s only certain things you can do without violating that, and if we violate them then what good is it if we go to court and everything gets thrown out?” Reyes said. “Whoever did this told someone. All we need is that someone to step up.”

Stone’s friends, many of whom have known her since they attended Mesquite High School together in the 1970s, have held several vigils outside her home on Truxillo Drive in Northeast Dallas. Their Facebook page, “Looking for Lisa Stone… help us find her!,” has almost 2,000 fans. They’ve also set up another website, www.ForTheLoveofLisa.webs.com, and rented a billboard in Garland.

Standing beneath the billboard at LBJ Freeway and Northwest Highway this week, two of Stone’s friends said that while they may be growing increasingly desperate, they’re not about to give up until they obtain both closure and justice.

“It’s very frustrating at this point to have brought all this evidence to the police, and now feel like we don’t know what’s going on,” said Lyndi Robinson, one of Stone’s gay friends. “That’s probably the most frustrating part of the whole thing, is we feel like nothing’s happening, so we’re to the point where we want to scream. I don’t know what we need to do. We need to raise a ruckus, because we want to know the answers.”

Tina Wiley, one of Stone’s straight friends, noted that a $10,000 reward is being offered through Crime Stoppers, and that another vigil is planned for Sunday evening, Sept. 19 at the site of the billboard.

“I know without a doubt she’d be doing the same thing for me, and I basically have no choice,” Wiley said. “I cannot go to sleep at night if I don’t feel like I’ve done everything I can, and I don’t feel like I will ever rest until I feel like I’ve done everything I can.”

Henry, Stone’s partner, isn’t cooperating with police or communicating with her friends. According to both Reyes and Stone’s friends, Henry has left the state and may be staying with relatives in Missouri.

Shortly after her disappearance, one of Stone’s friends witnessed Henry discarding some of Stone’s personal items in a Dumpster, including her birth certificate and the last effects of her late gay brother, Dennis. Henry has also filed a stalking complaint against Stone’s friends and threatened to sue them for harassment, they said.

Stone’s friends questioned why given that they were together for 17 years, Henry isn’t actively assisting in the search for Stone.

Police questioned Henry when they searched the home in July but released her later the same day. Henry couldn’t be reached for comment.

Robinson, who was close friends with Stone’s brother Dennis who died from AIDS in 1997, said she promised him before he passed away that she would look out for Lisa.

“Any one of us, especially in the gay community, could be the last of their family, and your friends are your family, and we’re here to say we’re not going away until we find you, Lisa, and we bring you home,” Robinson said.

Anyone with information about Stone’s disappearance should call Crime Stoppers at 877-373-8477.  Sunday’s vigil will be at 7 p.m. at the site of the billboard, 2010 Eastgate Drive in Garland. For more info, e-mail fortheloveoflisa@aol.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens