Death of a Maiden

Dj was a survivor in Miami's perilous world of transsexual hookers -- that is, until she met a customer named Bowlegs

So the girls took matters into their own hands: They organized a manhunt. Such vigilantism may sound odd, particularly given that their quarry, Bowlegs, was armed and dangerous. But it's a testament to how deep the distrust runs between the police and the subculture they refer to as he-shes. Precious and her comrades insist the police not only neglect their complaints but often endanger their lives by informing johns that the hookers are really men.

The cops counter that the he-shes are not only engaged in breaking the law as prostitutes but have a history of ripping off people themselves. The he-shes are well-known for robberies, says Miami Police Sgt. Rolando Davis, who worked a prostitution detail throughout the Nineties. They are extremely crafty when it comes to that.

It was this mutual antipathy, more than anything, that prompted Precious and her comrades to pursue Bowlegs.

Déjà's journeys were numerous, from a middle-class home to the streets, from a sensitive young man (top) to a brash young woman (above)
Déjà's journeys were numerous, from a middle-class home to the streets, from a sensitive young man (top) to a brash young woman (above)
Déjà's journeys were numerous, from a middle-class home to the streets, from a sensitive young man (top) to a brash young woman (above)
Déjà's journeys were numerous, from a middle-class home to the streets, from a sensitive young man (top) to a brash young woman (above)

I called one of my friends who said she knew where [Bowlegs] stayed at, she says. Eventually four girls got into a car. They drove to one of Bowlegs' former addresses only to find he had moved. Someone in the neighborhood said he often hung out at a Jamaican restaurant on NW 78th Street. They drove to the place and asked people if they had seen him. Then a friend called one of the girls' cell phones and relayed that she saw Bowlegs frequently in the Scott Homes projects. The posse headed off to Miami's largest public-housing complex. And as they rolled by a parking lot they spotted a group of boys playing dice and gambling. Standing among them in blue jean shorts and a blue-and-white-stripe shirt, was Bowlegs. The women sped over to the Miami-Dade police substation in the projects and hollered for a detective.

This lady sergeant came down and she helped us, Precious recalls. She was wonderful. The detective, Ida Brooklen, contacted Miami Det. Ervens Ford, who faxed over information about the suspect. Then Brooklen took Precious in an unmarked car to finger Déj's alleged killer. Eight plainclothes officers in four cars surrounded Bowlegs, guns drawn. When the cops frisked him, they found two .25-caliber handguns, one in each pants pocket.

And that, Precious says with a prim press of her lips, was that.

Detective Ford interviewed Bowlegs in the Scott Homes substation. Bowlegs gave a full confession, Ford says, even explaining how he solicited Déj with an offer of $40 for oral sex. He says he stayed on his bike while the victim got on her knees to do the deed. That's when he pulled out a gun and said, Give me your purse.' According to him she said, Hell no,' and stood up real fast and grabbed for the gun. The gun went off by accident.

Ford adds skeptically: Of course that doesn't explain how she was shot in her back.

The State Attorney's Office charged Bowlegs with first-degree murder and armed robbery. His trial has not yet been scheduled. Dava Tunis, Bowlegs' public defender, declined to comment about the case or her client prior to his trial.The small Liberty City duplex on 78th Street and Ninth Avenue that Bowlegs' family rented is empty. A month after her son's arrest, Alicia Flanders told her landlord she was moving back to Georgia. She's leaving her son behind for now, apparently fed up with hauling him in and out of jail.On April 26 Déj was laid out in a red-and-gold Asian silk blouse and skirt at the Royal Funeral Home in Carol City. Déj's mother, Clara Duncan, selected the outfit after seeing a video of her son dressed in it. I thought he looked great, she says, sighing.

I will always ask myself, what could I have done, or was this anything I did that caused him to go out in the street like that? Duncan ponders. I remember one conversation with him where I asked if he wanted to see a counselor, and he said no, he knew who he was.

Ironically the last time Duncan saw Dondre alive was at the funeral of his biological father, Robert Johnson, only a few months earlier. Johnson died of colon cancer, and although he didn't play much of a role raising Dondre, mother and the son who became a daughter attended. Dondre wore a brown tailored woman's pantsuit, hair combed straight down and styled. He looked really nice, Duncan says wistfully. I told him to be careful, and he said he would, that he always was. And that's the last time we talked.

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If I may, my name is Francesca Michaelson. I knew Deja and now she is dead, murdered. I tried to post this to the Miami CBS affiliate but I do not know if they will print this. Please share this, let our outrage be heard.

I am sick, my heart and soul scream for justice for this woman, though born physically male, she was one of the many transgender individuals in this country. She was poor, yes, miserable even. But SHE was human. I knew her here in Brooklyn, NY where I live, an activist for AIDS testing and prevention, calling out to people explaining the need and urgency to protect themselves from this infirmity. She was friend to many and her absence in our lives will leave a hole that will take a long time to fill. In the web post you repeatedly refer to Deja as a “transvestite” and a “prostitute “with several references to her criminal past and questionable occupation; such a lack of professionalism I have not seen, ever! I dare use the antiquated term “yellow journalism” because instead of reporting her death with due consideration to her and her memory you went the way of the whore you accuse her to have been and now you would stand and inform the people, to communicate to them an incident that occurred with such a jejune attitude toward the victim as though she, and yes I say SHE, was not a valuable member of society. It is statistically evident that the majority of transsexuals are not given the same employment and educational opportunities that are available to the general public at large. Could it be that your callous disregard for Deja's person and memory and HER struggles merit nothing of consideration? Did you victimize her in death like she was victimized in life for no other reason than sensationalism and ratings? Sellers of dirty laundry you are! You should be ashamed, we owed HER better. I consider myself lucky because as a transsexual I am not the norm, the stereotype as it were. I am educated and presently returning to college for an advanced degree program and I have my family’s support of my decision to transition into a female, even though there are members of my family that do not agree with it. Life is hard enough for a transgender person with its struggles and pitfalls common to everyone and then again more so by the laissez-faire attitude with which her death was reported. It reminds me of another death many, many years ago, one Marilyn Monroe (nee Norma Jean Mortenson); found dead in her apartment of an apparent suicide and the press like rabid dogs fought each other to report first the fact she was found naked without regard to what may have drove her to suicide or if it even was. The bile is rising in my throat so I must stop writing. If it isn't too much trouble, next time this happens, and it probably will soon, have a care for those of us left behind. I carry the hope that she is in a better place now, easier to believe because I have had the first-hand experiences to know the Hell transgender people deal with quotidianly. May God have mercy on HER soul, and yours.


I just saw Bowlegs on MSNBC Lockup. He claims Deja was an innocent victim in the path of the bullet meant for another man, outside He did say the detectives and D.A painted a story that he hated the transsexual kind, but never once said he solicited them for sexual favors many times before the murder of Deja. Ofcoarse he wouldnt admit anything like that, he didn't wanna be looked at like that. Deja sounded like a wonderful person. Before and after her life working on the streets. May she rest in peace.

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