Originally published: April 20, 2010, 12:52 p.m.
Updated: April 22, 2010, 9:20 a.m.
[Ed. Note — qnotes‘ original article identified the victim of this crime using male pronouns to match the male name given by police. The article has been reflected to include the victim’s female/chosen name and now uses female pronouns to identify her.]
CHARLOTTE — Police and family members of a transgender Charlottean identified by police as a “crossdresser” are searching for information regarding the crime and hope community members can aid in their quest to solve the murder.
Just after midnight on April 3, Toni Alston (birth name, Tony), 44, was shot in the front door of her home on Minnesota Rd. in West Charlotte. On April 13, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, along with Alston’s family, held a press conference reaching out for information in the case. qnotes was not made aware of the press conference.
During the press conference, Alston was identified by her birth name and information regarding her female name has only been reported here. qnotes has reached out to investigators and police spokespeople, who have responded positively, regarding their use of terminology such as “crossdresser” and “alternative lifestyle.”
According to investigators, Alston had dressed as a woman since high school.
“(People) knew he was a man, called him ’she’ and respected his lifestyle,” investigator Bill Ward said, according to The Charlotte Observer.
WCNC Newschannel 36 — which said Alston “lived an alternative lifestyle” and called him a “crossdresser” — said investigators were looking into cell phone records and believe Alston might have known his killer.
“In that lifestyle, of course, you have the cell phones, you have the internet and all those things we are still trying to sift through,” Ward said at the press conference.
Police don’t have evidence Alston’s gender identity played a role in the crime and think Alston’s murder might have been an attempted robbery, but police say the inside of Alston’s home looked untouched. Investigators were able to collect some physical evidence from the scene.
In a telephone conversation with qnotes on April 21, Ward said Alston had spoken via phone and text to several people before her death.
“A number of folks were texting and talking to him the night before,” he said. “Those are the folks I’m most interested in right now.”
Ward said investigators are currently waiting on information from telephone carriers.
“Unfortunately, some of the carriers are real slow and can take up to 4 to 6 weeks or longer for some carriers,” he said. “We’re getting subscriber information in slowly and going to these folks.”
Ward also said investigators are looking into Alston’s computer activity. He said the victim had been active on a social networking site.
“The door is wide open for anything,” he said. “We thought initially it could be a robbery. But there was a lot of correspondence, a lot of texting back and forth with acquaintances. Once we have subscriber information and names and addresses we can go to these people and say, “Hey, what do you know?'”
After Alston was shot, she was able to get help from a neighbor and give some information to police before she died. Alston said the assailant was an African-American man wearing a gray T-shirt.
Ward said no one in Alston’s neighborhood heard anything. “The neighborhood is a quiet neighborhood and there’s very little information surrounding the shooting itself,” he said. “The neighbor next door, when Alston got out of his apartment for help, that’s the first he heard anything, which is a shame.”
Ward said he has not counted out the possibility of a hate crime. If evidence surfaces that the shooting was motivated by hate, Ward said he’ll pursue whatever options he has.
“Anything I can charge them with I will charge them with,” he said. “That’s certainly a possibility. No question about it.”
Alston’s sisters, Danielle Prophete and Kimberly Pitter, said they were supportive of their sibling. They are mourning the loss and begging those with information to come forward.
“It didn’t matter; we didn’t judge him,” Prophete said, according to The Observer. “Anybody, please, give us something. That was my oldest brother.”
Ward said he is working with and talking to members of the LGBT community who knew Alston, and is optimistic his investigation will be aided by those conversations. “That’s my gut feeling of where it will be solved,” he said. “If I’m going to get help that’s where it will come from.”
Those with information about the case are asked to call and speak with a detective at 704-432-TIPS (8477) or call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 for anonymous tips.
Stay tuned to goqnotes.com as this story develops. News tips can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: The original version of this article identified the police investigator as Brad Ward. The investigator is Bill Ward. We regret the error.