It has been three and a half years since 32-year-old Henry Vidal, a local bartender, was found dead in his Northeast 20th street apartment, overlooking the Dairy Queen on Wilton Drive.
Police investigators responded, cordoning off the area with the very stark and visible yellow and black crime scene tape we have all sadly come to know too well. Detectives began questioning neighbors, co-workers, and friends.
And then we were all told Henry had been murdered. Each year since, SFGN has reported that the case was unsolved. As the case got colder and colder, it meant a killer was still on the loose, longer and longer.
Henry’s stunning death shook up the heart and soul of the Wilton Manors gay community. He was a handsome and popular individual, had been a pourer at the Alibi, and a friend to many. You can only imagine what it did to his mom and family.
In the Island City that we celebrate every June on the Drive, in an apartment complex so many of us have visited, a good looking young man, in the prime of his life, had been murdered. I wanted the killer caught.
Two years ago, the Wilton Manors chief of police acknowledged to SFGN that Henry’s death became a “cold case pretty quickly.”
As with most ongoing investigations, though, BSO refused to comment. Give me a break. What are they really protecting? Could it be their own neglect? The answer is yes, possibly.
So here is my opinion. I am fed up and beyond disgusted when law enforcement agencies plead they have to remain silent as a cover and an excuse to conceal that they may have dropped the ball on a particular case.
BSO has a legal obligation and public duty to routinely update and report to a community about their ongoing investigations.
The right to know is a two way street. Those who preach that we should “see something, say something” need to do more to practice what they preach.
What if their silence today contributes to a second killing tomorrow?
The steps a police department is taking to capture a killer should not be a state secret, but a news bulletin for your local paper. And if nothing is or has been done, then we ought to damn well know.
Henry’s tragic loss swamped social media. Initially, BSO would only call it a “death investigation.” Nevertheless, online voices were shouting all too soon it was a homicide. Twenty-four hours later, the medical examiner would agree.
Henry was born in 1982. He would have been 36 in 2018, just before Christmas. This young gay man from Hialeah had grown up to study at the Harrington School of Design in Chicago. He had two sisters, a host of friends, and a life of dreams interrupted, apparently by a killer. Now BSO is not so sure.
As reported in our paper this week, SFGN has learned that Henry’s mother has been told by BSO his death may be reclassified. The authorities are now suggesting there is no killer to be found; that there never was. But the only thing we know for sure is that we don't know for sure.
At the time, police had at least a little reason to be concerned. Henry and a former partner were involved in a very minor domestic incident two months before his death that set off a false alarm. It was a relationship that soured, but resolved itself without further incident. There were some other disturbing alerts in his apartment. Nothing came of the leads.
Don’t be fooled by hearing Henry’s passing was natural, not noxious. Our community can still be a dangerous place. Elderly gay men have been run over on the drive. Partners have been murdered in their home adjacent to our most popular night clubs. Talented young men have overdosed, too many, too soon.
Life is precious, but pernicious. It can be stolen away in a minute. Too often, it is. Henry’s life and passing was a dream denied. Make yours a reality reached.
Bad things happen to good people, whether we are in Wilton or Washington, Miami or Minnesota. Chance and fate make no appointments. Things just happen. They do. So it goes. So it goes.
We can survive 18 months of chemotherapy today, step outside and get hit by a car tomorrow. That is the nature of life and death. When the man upstairs calls your name, there is no busy signal, no overtime, no video replay.
Life is here. It’s now. It’s special. Every day is your Super Bowl. Cherish each inning. Go for the touchdown while you can. Don’t wait for the fourth quarter. Take your shot now.
The future can be twenty minutes or twenty years. The days are long, but life is short. Take the time to realize that ALL time is fleeting. There is no overtime.
When you get to 70, you have seen too many Henrys. Try not to complicate things. Life will give you enough problems on its own without you adding to them.
Follow the earnest advice of Rudyard Kipling in his spectacular poem, “If.” Give the unforgiving minute “sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
All roses have thorns, but they are beautiful still. It’s a jubilant and joyous journey. Make sure you run your race well. Just bring some athlete's foot cream along the way. The things that are intimately most personal are universally most common.
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