A transgender woman was murdered and dismembered last week in the city’s Strawberry Mansion section.
On July 20, police arrested and charged 43-year-old Charles Sargent with the murder, as well as possession of an instrument of crime and abuse of a corpse.
Sargent allegedly stabbed and dismembered 31-year-old Diamond Williams of Philadelphia July 13.
According to police spokesperson Officer Tanya Little, police received a phone call July 17 about a possible crime scene on the 2100 block of North 32nd Street.
“Upon arrival, officers located a crime scene inside the residence, a possible homicide,” Little said in an email. “However, a victim was not located inside the location. Through further investigation by Central Detectives, they were able to develop a suspect and ultimately a victim.”
Police Public Affairs commanding officer Lt. John Stanford said the victim and suspect had an argument before Sargent allegedly stabbed Williams, but declined to identify the nature of the argument.
“They were known to each other,” Stanford said. “This was a not random incident. There was some type of interaction or encounter. It appears there may have been a struggle and the deceased was stabbed.”
Media outlets have reported that Williams, who worked as a sex worker, was sexually involved with the suspect and that he met her in Hunting Park and the two returned to his house.
“Though it is being reported in other news outlets and within the community, I am unable to officially confirm her lifestyle,” said Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel, the police LGBT liaison.
Stanford said the case is not being investigated as a hate crime.
“There isn’t any evidence at this time that would be consistent or support that criteria for ,” he said. “Investigators don’t have any information to support a motivation being based on the victim’s .”
Police say Sargent’s girlfriend arrived at their home unexpectedly July 14. The suspect was naked and the woman saw him carrying what appeared to be a body in a sheet, and later an ax, to the basement.
The woman told police Sargent threatened her and her children if she contacted police about the body.
After a resident of the home contacted police later in the week, Sargent confessed to murdering Williams and led them to her remains in an empty lot between York and Sedgley streets, about a mile from the house.
Sargent is currently being held at Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and will face a preliminary hearing Aug. 7.
Sargent is no stranger to crime, having a record dating back to 1989. He has been arrested for such charges as firearms violations and aggravated assault and, in 2003, he was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, aggravated indecent assault, unlawful restraint, simple assault and indecent exposure but the charges were dropped.
Sargent has also gone by the aliases Noel McBride and Nolan McBride.
The LGBT and ally community rallied in support of Williams July 23 at Love Park.
The event was hosted by Mazzoni Center and GALAEI: A Queer Latin@ Social Justice Organization.
Speakers included Trans-health Information Project co-director Aamina Morrison, Samantha Jo Dato of Mazzoni’s Trans* Wellness Project, Philly Trans* March coordinator Christian Axavier Lovehall, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services Sade Ali and director of LGBT affairs Gloria Casarez.
Morrison knew Williams, a native of North Philadelphia, for many years, as the two attended The Attic Youth Center together.
Morrison said Williams will be remembered as a positive individual who was easily able to cheer friends.
“She always had a joy and light about her and was somebody that was willing to make you laugh and smile,” Morrison said. “If I was feeling down, all she had to do was say a kind word or compliment my shirt or shoes to make it better. She didn’t realize how that changed my whole heart and day. She was an awesome person who liked to have fun and enjoyed life to the best she could.”
Morrison said Williams’ personal struggles didn’t impact that attitude.
“She was dealing with things from her past and dealing with a few battles and as she got older, she was out on the streets. But the family she found in the community was important for her. She was battling with drugs and living on the streets, but she never lost that light, confidence and flair.”
Williams had aspirations of returning to school to become a nurse.
“It was pretty obvious in her life that she resorted and depended on to survive,” Morrison said. “She didn’t have a lot of family and support. It just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. She had a lot of dreams. She always wanted to help people and make sure people were safe. She wanted to use her energy to give back and add to the light of the community as opposed to closing herself away.”
Various media outlets reported that the attack was prompted when Sargent learned Williams was transgender.
Morrison, however, said Williams was always open about her identity, and surmised Sargent was attempting to utilize a trans-panic defense.
“I found it hard to believe that this man, who has traditionally dealt with the girls often, would lean towards the trans-panic scapegoat as he has solicited and dated many of the girls who are part of the circuit,” Morrison said, noting TIP clients have told her they recognized his mugshot photo. “For him to do something horrific to a wonderful young lady, nobody deserves that.”
Williams’ murder comes on the heels of a number of unsolved murders of transgender women in recent years, including Stacey Blahnik and Kyra Cordova.
Bethel said there does not appear to be a connection between Williams’ murder and the other incidents.
“At this point, there is no indication that this is linked,” Bethel said. “There is no indication that this is beyond an incident revolving around the victim and the suspect.”
Morrison encouraged women in the sex-work industry to remain both vigilant and unified.
“You can only defend yourself so much in this life; it is not a safe life to live or safe profession to have. It is important to really look out for each other. And there are services in the city that are helpful. We are offering ourselves as refuge to anyone who needs to talk. If they do feel unsafe, they should come to us. We work hard at trying to give empowerment to our community.”