A Queens man has been arrested in conjunction with the murder of a sex partner, the latest in a string of gay strangling murders that have plagued New York City.
Lleuyel Garcia, 23, has been charged with strangling Joseph Benzinger, 54, in a motel in Elmhurst and stealing his wallet and cell phone. Police say the men had a sexual encounter prior to Benzinger’s death.
Benzinger is the third gay man strangled to death in New York this year: Charles Romo, 48, was killed in Hamilton Heights, Manhattan, on January 28, and David Rangel, 53, was found dead in his Jackson Heights, Queens, home just two days prior.
Police don’t believe the murders were hate crimes and have no evidence linking the killings.
“It’s frightening—I fear that there could be somebody out there targeting gay men,” said openly gay City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights). “People need to exercise extreme caution.”
The New York City Anti-Violence Project noted a 13% increase in violence against the LGBT community in New York from 2010 to 2011, despite a 16% decrease nationwide, as well as a rise in “pick-up violence”— i.e. when strangers meet on hook-up apps or bars.
The AVP website offers a number of safety tips to avoid pick-up violence. Anyone with information on the murders can call the NYPD Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.