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Slaying casts light on Hollywood's transgender prostitutes

Nathan 'Cassidy' Vickers, killed by a man police call the Western Bandit, was part of a world of transgender streetwalkers that has changed radically.

February 04, 2013|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times
  • Laura and Valerie worked as prostitutes on the street where Nathan 'Cassidy' Vickers was slain. Above, they stand by the blood-stained spot on Lexington Avenue near Gower Street in 2011.
Laura and Valerie worked as prostitutes on the street where Nathan 'Cassidy'… (Arkasha Stevenson, Los…)

The last that Cassidy Vickers' street friends saw of him was about 10 p.m. on Nov. 17, 2011, outside the Donut Time shop on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood.

He was waving and saying he'd be back in a bit.

A transgender prostitute whose legal name was Nathan, Cassidy had come down from the San Francisco Bay Area to work the Hollywood streets.

That night, on Lexington Avenue, 10 blocks from the doughnut shop, Vickers was shot to death by a man on a bike.


FOR THE RECORD:
An earlier online version of this article contained a typographical error inserted during initial editing of the text, referring to Cassidy Vickers as "heshe." It has been corrected here and in the final print version.

Vickers' death was part of a series of crimes by a man police are now calling the Western Bandit for his armed robberies late at night in the vicinity of Western Avenue from Hollywood to South Los Angeles. Detectives believe he has recently resurfaced, committing six more street robberies from June to October, and then two more last month.

"This is a huge concern for us, and for the safety of the public," said Lt. John Radtke of the Los Angeles Police Department. Radtke, supervisor of West Bureau homicide detectives, said a "signature aspect" of the crimes, which he declined to specify, has led investigators to believe the same man has appeared three times to commit crimes.

His victims, Radtke said, range from transgender prostitutes to people coming home from work late at night. Besides Vickers, two other victims have been transgender women, neither of whom was hurt. Detectives don't believe he's specifically targeting transgender prostitutes.

"My feeling is he's out there robbing and desperate to get his money and he takes whoever he encounters," Radtke said.

Still, the case of the Western Bandit casts light on the world of transgender streetwalkers, which has changed radically in recent years, leaving only the most vulnerable on the street at night — people like Nathan "Cassidy" Vickers.

Vickers grew up in a tidy, four-bedroom house in East Palo Alto, a working-class black and Latino town south of San Francisco.

In the years after high school, he came out as a gay man, said his mother, Mitzy Thompson, though "he had some of the 'hood in him," dressing in baggy pants, with braided hair and two fake gold front teeth.

His friends remember a funny, talkative and loyal gay man attempting to find his way in a tough town like East Palo Alto.

He left, eventually living in Las Vegas and, briefly, New York. He then returned to the Bay Area, where he worked for years cleaning rooms in hotels.

Sometime in 2010 he began going to Oakland parties in drag and from there, desperate for cash, working as a prostitute.

Cross-dressing, for Vickers, "was 90% economic; 10% because he liked the attention," said Nelee Webb, a friend and former roommate. Unemployment "took his self-esteem. He felt 'This is my last resort.' "

By early 2011, Vickers was traveling the Hollywood-Bay Area circuit that has for years been followed by many transgender prostitutes.

He remained Nathan in East Palo Alto, but became Cassidy while working Hollywood's transgender prostitute strip: Santa Monica Boulevard.

According to a report by the city attorney's office, Cassidy Vickers was arrested for soliciting prostitution, a month before he died, on nearby Lexington Avenue, which is where many transgender prostitutes hang out.

Several blocks of Lexington, just north of Santa Monica Boulevard and lined with small bungalows and crowded apartments, have been a strip for male hookers dressed as women for at least two decades. The scene reached its zenith in the mid-1990s. But it has declined in the era of Internet sites that match johns with prostitutes.

"It's a street of no return," said Elena Pupo, a Venezuelan transgender woman and advocate for the community.

Vickers had no home, no cosmetic surgery. He was, said a friend who asked not to be identified, a handsome man, "but wasn't really an attractive looking female."

He was the kind of vulnerable night denizen that the Western Bandit appears to target. Working late at night, he slept in bushes on a street between Donut Time and Lexington, or in a booth at the X-Spot adult bookstore in the strip mall behind the doughnut shop, Amber said.

The last time Amber saw Vickers, he seemed happier and more exuberant — the kind of outgoing person that Bay Area friends describe. "She felt good about herself that day," Amber said.

An hour later, Amber said, police cars descended on the Donut Time strip mall. Officers circulated a picture of Vickers asking the streetwalkers who he was.

More than a hundred people attended Vickers' funeral in East Palo Alto. Thompson didn't know many of them. She was startled to see a few were men with women's breasts and clothes.

Nevertheless, Thompson dressed her son's body in a man's suit — burgundy, his favorite color. His face, bewhiskered for years, was clean-shaven — the way he kept it as a woman when he died. Thompson said she learned of her son's cross-dressing only after his death, from a Facebook video he'd posted.

For police, Vickers' story is one they've seen all too often.

"It's the age-old Hollywood story," said Brett Goodkin, the Los Angeles police homicide detective called to Lexington that night. "People come to Hollywood … so they can be somebody else. In Nathan's case, he could be himself in Hollywood. That was his Hollywood dream. It ended like so many others."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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