Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Reports detail deaths of SF trans woman, gay man

Officials have released records detailing the deaths of a transgender woman and a gay man who’d both lived in San Francisco and died earlier this year.

Some details around the April drowning of Marilyn Outlaw, 53, are still unknown, but officials haven’t indicated they regard her death as suspicious. Richard Nelson, 36, who was found slumped over outside his apartment in February, died from heart problems.

Marilyn Outlaw

The coroner division of the Marin County Sheriff’s office lists Outlaw’s cause of death as drowning, but the recently completed report says it was the consequence of “undetermined” factors. No one at the coroner’s office was available today (Thursday, September 20) for an interview.

According to the coroner’s report, someone on a sailboat saw Outlaw’s floating body the morning of April 14. The U.S. Coast Guard recovered her body about 1,000 feet from Alcatraz Island, between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. She had several “small” scratches on her forehead, the file says.

Outlaw was carrying a Greyhound bus ticket, about $138, and keys, and she was wearing a torn coat, jeans, and a T-shirt when she was found, according to the file. Los Angeles and San Francisco were both listed on her bus ticket. Outlaw had a California ID card bearing her name.

She’d last been seen at about 10 a.m., April 13, when she left the Hartland Hotel, 909 Geary Street, where she lived. Hotel staff reported that Outlaw hadn’t had a visitor in over a week. The manager didn’t find any messages left behind by Outlaw and there was no evidence of anyone else staying in her room, the coroner’s report says.

A San Francisco Police Department homicide inspector searched Outlaw’s room and “found no evidence of foul play, no evidence of drug paraphernalia, and no evidence of letter of intent,” according to the coroner’s documents. A hotel social worker told the inspector that Outlaw, who had “typically been very outgoing,” had “recently displayed signs of social withdrawal,” the report says.

The file says one of Outlaw’s sisters reported that she’d last spoken with her  around February. Outlaw had a history of depression, but the sister wasn’t aware of prior suicidal ideas or attempts.

Outlaw had lived in St. Louis until around 2010, when she’d “abruptly moved to California without offering any warning” to her family, the report says. It also says Outlaw had told a relative she was worried because she owed someone money, but no further information was available to the coroner’s office.

According to the website for the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, the nonprofit that runs the Hartland, the hotel serves homeless people. A staffer at Lutheran Social Services who acted as Outlaw’s payee and handled her rent told a coroner’s official that she’d last seen Outlaw April 13, when the staffer had gone to the Hartland to give her a check. She said Outlaw had been “quiet and didn’t strike up any conversation.”

Told recently by the Bay Area Reporter of how Outlaw had died, BobbieJean Baker, 48, didn’t seem to know quite what to make of it, but she said, “I know she was depressed. She had been on drugs for many years and was starting that ultimate walk of getting off of it.”

Outlaw was “mainly a drinker,” and “somewhere on her, baby, she kept a cocktail,” Baker, a minister at City of Refuge United Church of Christ, which Outlaw had attended, said. According to the toxicology report, the only drug found in Outlaw’s system was caffeine.

The coroner’s report indicates Outlaw was buried at a cemetery in St. Louis. Baker said she was happy the family had received Outlaw’s body.

“Many girls die, and the families don’t claim the bodies,” Baker said. “They just leave them” and let the county “burn them.”

“I know her spirit is free,” Baker said.

Richard Nelson

According to the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office, at about 6:40 a.m. February 21, a passerby noticed Nelson, a popular Castro resident who’d put himself through law school by working in bars and restaurants, sitting slumped  outside his home. He was pronounced dead about 20 minutes later.

Richard Nelson, left, with friends Armond Dorsey and Sammy Rodriguez in 2004

The cause of death is listed as hypertensive cardiovascular disease. The file lists obesity as another condition, and says Nelson had “a history of heavy alcohol abuse and prescription medication abuse.”

Nelson’s roommate reported that he’d last seen him at about 9:30 the night before. He’d been “heavily inebriated,” and had told a friend that he “had some pills,” the medical examiner’s file says. A prescription container for Alprazolam, which is commonly known as Xanax and hadn’t been prescribed to Nelson, was found in his pocket. The drug is often used to treat anxiety. There were a few pills left.

An examination showed “acute” alcohol and Alprazolam intoxication, according to the report, which was completed in late August.

Armond Dorsey and Sammy Rodriguez, two of Nelson’s friends, said in a joint message to the B.A.R. that since Nelson’s death, “We have sought the support of one another and as a result have all grown closer together as friends.”

Nelson would have turned 37 on October 30. During the final week of October, his friends will be taking a cruise to Mexico.

“Rich always wanted to see Puerto Vallarta and we intend to honor his friendship by having a trip to bring some of his close friends together,” Dorsey and Rodriguez said.

In a message shared by Rodriguez, Kelly McCord, another friend of Nelson’s, said, “Knowing the cause of his passing gives us some sense of closure, yet our hearts still ache, as he is and will always be sorely missed.”

McCord added, “This news also serves as a reminder that regular preventative heath care and screenings are so important, as Richard was not being treated nor was he diagnosed with any cardiovascular health issues, which we know now ultimately were the cause of his passing.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, September 20, 2012 @ 1:35 pm PST
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