Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, a trans beauty pageant organiser, was stabbed to death by her husband in their Massachusetts home, local police said. Her husband, Mark Steele-Knudslien, pleaded not guilty to a first-degree murder charge and is being held without bail.
Mr Steele-Knudslien turned himself in to police on Friday night, telling them he had “snapped” after an argument with his wife and done “something very bad,” according to a police report. Police responded to the couple’s home and found Ms Steele-Knudslien’s body wrapped in bedding and a tarp in the basement.
Mr Steele-Knudslien confessed to striking his wife with a hammer before stabbing her in the back, police said. A preliminary autopsy found Ms Steele-Knudslien had died from loss of blood, as well as multiple blunt force traumas to the head, according to the Berkshire District Attorney’s Office.
Mr Steele-Knudslien's pre-trial hearing is scheduled for 7 February.
Ms Steele-Knudslien was known in her community for her transgender rights activism, friends told local news outlets.
A. Vickie Boisseau, a local activist and friend of Ms Steele-Knudslien’s, told Mic that the two had organised the first-ever trans pride parade in neighbouring Northampton, Massachusetts. Friends also credited the 42-year-old with helping start the Miss Trans New England Pageant, which brought together transgender women from across the region.
“Her thing was always that transgender women are beautiful and need a venue for trans women to be seen as beautiful,” longtime friend Justin Adkins told the Associated Press.
LGBT rights organisation GLAAD paid tribute to Ms Steele-Knudslien on Twitter, claiming her death was the first alleged murder of a transgender person in 2018.
“Violence against transgender people, especially trans women of colour, must receive more national media attention,” the organisation wrote.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a fellow advocacy group, said they were “deeply saddened” by Ms Steele-Knudslien’s death. Lambda Legal Transgender Rights Project Director Dru Levasseur called Ms Steele-Knudslien a “powerful organiser and fierce activist”.
“She deserved better. She deserved life and happiness. Rest in Power, Christa,” Mr Levasser said.
HRC documented at least 25 alleged murders of transgender people in 2017, making it deadliest year for transgender people in at least a decade. More than 100 transgender people have been killed in the last five years, the majority of whom were women.