Ryan Keith Skipper (April 28, 1981 - March 14, 2007) was a 25-year old gay man from Polk County, Florida who was murdered on Wednesday, March 14, 2007 in what authorities called a hate crime. Two men have been arrested in connection with the crime: William David Brown Jr. (20 years old at the time of the incident), and Joseph Bearden, 21. Brown has claimed that he killed Skipper in retaliation for unwanted sexual advances . The men have been charged with first-degree murder and robbery. Skipper's body was discovered on March 15 by a roadside in Wahneta, Florida.
Ryan Skipper was born Tuesday, April 28, 1981, in Winter Haven to Pat Mulder and Durl Skipper, the second of two sons. He attended First Missionary Baptist Church of Auburndale as a child, then Grace Lutheran Church and School in Winter Haven, where he served as an altar boy.
Skipper kept his sexual orientation a secret, though in his final year at Winter Haven High School he came out to a select few friends . At school he was assaulted and often taunted with anti-gay slurs. According to friend Stephanie Strickland, "In high school, people would call him a girlie man, gay boy," push him in the halls and throw rocks at his car .
After high school, Skipper moved out of his parents' home. He was arrested twice on charges of possession of marijuana, once in 1999 and again in 2001 . At the time of his murder, he was working, living with roommates, and attending Traviss Career Center, a vocational school where he was studying computers.
Timeline of the crime
At 9 pm on March 14, after finishing work in Winter Haven, Skipper met friend Karl von Hahmann for dinner. They left the restaurant at 10:30 pm. Skipper returned home where Von Hahmann spoke to him on the telephone at 11:10 pm, after which roommate Kelly Evans saw him go into his bedroom .
Some time around midnight, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office, Skipper met Bearden. Bearden is a convicted car thief who also pleaded no contest to a battery charge in 2004 . Sometime afterwards, Skipper, Brown and Bearden drove away in Skipper's car; 15 minutes later Brown and Bearden returned alone.
It is not fully known how Skipper met Bearden and Brown, but Skipper's roommate Joyce Fraley claims to have seen Brown at their house on several occasions . Strickland also says that Brown knew a previous tenant of Skipper's home, and lived two blocks away. Allegedly, Brown had visited the home a few times just weeks before he and Bearden murdered Skipper .
Skipper was beaten, stabbed 20 times and his throat slit. His body was dumped by the side of a road in Wahneta, a small town outside Winter Haven. His car was abandoned at Lake Pansy, and the fingerprints of both accused were found inside .
According to the official website for the Ryan Skipper documentary, Bearden and Brown will be tried separately in Bartow, Florida; Brown in July 2008, and Bearden in September of 2008 .
The murder has caused outrage among gay rights groups, who see similarities between Skipper's murder and that of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. They have also decried the lack of mainstream attention to Skipper's murder, which has been attributed by some to claims by Sheriff Grady Judd that, according to Bearden and Brown, Skipper was cruising for sex when he met his attackers, that he had consumed illegal drugs with Bearden, and that Skipper and his attackers were allegedly planning a check forgery scheme using Skipper's laptop computer. Skipper's family and friends all have agreed that this scenario is highly unlikely, as it was uncharacteristic of Skipper to approach men randomly, and he did not own a laptop computer. According to Brian Winfield, spokesman for Equality Florida, "They've characterized Ryan as a pervert, a drug addict and a felon. In the eyes of the media, it didn't carry the human interest that it should have" .
The Sheriff's Department has since admitted that the account of the events leading up to the murder that was originally given to the media by Sheriff Grady Judd was based solely on the unsubstantiated statements given by Bearden and Brown upon their arrests. Chief W.J. Martin acknowledged in an article in The Ledger that the two were probably attempting to "minimize their involvement and make themselves look better." .
Filmmakers Vicki Nantz and Mary Meeks produced and filmed a documentary about Skipper's murder. The 72-minute film, entitled "Accessory to Murder: Our Culture's Complicity in the Death of Ryan Skipper", premiered in January 2008 . It was selected by the Tampa International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival as part of their Film Outreach Program .
- St. Petersburg Times: Gay slaying victim to be remembered
- The Ledger: Sheriff Calls His Stabbing Death a Hate Crime