New research finds Marsha P. Johnson might have been killed for her LGBTQ activism

The documentary "The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson" hopes to shed light on the cold case

New York, N.Y.  — There have been questions concerning the death of LGBTQ rights icon Marsha P. Johnson ever since her body was pulled from the Hudson River in 1992. New evidence suggests foul play, including the possibility that Johnson died at the hands of the mafia, police, or an anti-LGBTQ individual or group looking to silence her advocacy.

Police were quick to rule her death a suicide, but Johnson’s many friends were unconvinced, and pushed for a more complete investigation. They said she had a wound to her head, and several people came forward to say they had recently seen her getting harassed near the spot where her body was ultimately found.

Authorities only agreed to reopen the case in 2012, thanks to lobbying from transgender activist Mariah Lopez.

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A new film by David France, who previously made the excellent HIV/AIDS activism documentary How to Survive a Plague, attempts to answer the question, Who, if anyone, killed Marsha P. Johnson?

Netflix will release the documentary about the activist, known for her role in the Stonewall riots and her continued activism, on Friday, Oct. 6.

Titled The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson, the film centers around the investigation recently launched by Victoria Cruz, Johnson’s friend, as well as a transgender activist and retired counselor with the Anti-Violence Project.

Victoria Cruz

Victoria Cruz
Credit: Netflix

France also has a personal connection to the story, as he was initially assigned to cover the case of Johnson’s mysterious death while working as a reporter for The Village Voice. He got pulled away to cover the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic.

“The case went cold and no one had gone back to look at it,” France told People in a recent interview.

Cruz threw herself into old files, and reached out far and wide to contact anyone who might have information that could help crack the cold case.

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“We didn’t know what to expect or who was going to answer the door,” Cruz said. “But you got to do what you got to do if you want the story told.”

From the trailer, it appears as if Cruz found herself discouraged by at least one individual, who can be heard telling her, “Don’t play detective yourself, leave this to the people who should handle it.”

What Cruz and France uncovered has been turned over to the FBI, which, paired with the increased interest in the case that will result from the film landing on such a huge platform, might just help authorities determine once and for all what happened all those years ago.

“Getting to know their story through the investigation undertaken by Victoria Cruz, a seminal activist in her own right, has been one of the great honors of my career. Now, with Netflix as our distribution partner, I am confident the legacy of these tremendous women will never be forgotten,” France said back when the deal was announced.

The film is also intended to draw attention to the ongoing crisis of transgender people, especially trans women of color, being murdered.

At time of writing, in the United States alone, there have been at least 21 trans people killed this year. Two of those, Sherrell Faulkner and Derricka Banner, taking place in Charlotte.


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Posted by Jeff Taylor / Social Media Editor

Jeff Taylor is a journalist and artist. In addition to QNotes, his work has appeared in publications such The Charlotte Observer, Creative Loafing Charlotte, Inside Lacrosse, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport and has lived in Charlotte since 2006.@jefftaylorhuman.