On August 2, 2006, Robert Wone, the happily married general counsel for Radio Free Asia and president-elect of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association-D.C., was found stabbed to death in the apartment of a prominent D.C. gay couple. Police reports later said that Wone had been drugged, stabbed with a needle, tied up and sexually assaulted before being stabbed in the heart with a butcher knife. Now, Joseph Price and Victor Zaborsky, the gay homeowners, and their roommate, Dylan Ward, are facing multiple obstruction of justice charges in a trail that begins in April.
All four men have deep ties to the D.C. establishment. Price was general counsel and co-founder of Equality Virginia, and has ties to the Human Rights Campaign, having worked on a pro-bono basis for several high-profile gay rights cases. Price and Zaborsky were featured in a USA Today story on gay parents after donating their sperm to a lesbian couple. Ward also worked at Equality Virginia and, according to court documents, was in a consensual S&M relationship with Price, with Ward as the dominant. They were all college friends of Wone, who often stayed at their apartment when he worked late, as he did on that night in 2006, spurring rumors that Wone was living a double life.
It’s a story that has all the makings of a major Washington scandal, but, according to four amateur gay sleuths who’ve made it their mission to find out who killed Robert Wone, the media’s been asleep at the wheel.
Craig Brownstein is a media relations director at Edelman and has been a journalist for 17 years, serving as a producer at C-SPAN. His partner, Doug Johnson, is a broadcaster and webcaster at Voice of America, and also a journalist, having contributed to NPR, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor and The Washington Post. Their friend David Grier is currently the senior speechwriter for a trade association and a former member of the President’s advisory council on HIV/AIDS. And Michael Kremin is a digital media consultant and an expert in internet-television convergence.
In December, “the Scooby gang,” as they call themselves, went out for Brownstein’s traditional birthday dinner at one of the group’s favorite Vietnamese restaurants in Arlington, Virginia. The conversation turned away from the usual birthday chitchat as David began to tell them about Zaborsky, Price and Ward’s original affidavit.
They wound up talking for four or five hours, trying to piece together what had happened from what they knew, trying to determine motives and time lines and at the end of the night, they collectively decided they ought to do a blog about what was happening in the case.
Which is how Who Murdered Robert Wone? was born.
David got the site up and running and Michael upgraded it to Word Press. Their goal is to raise awareness about the crime and, according to Brownstein, “To begin painting a portrait of what was going on and the nature of the crime … beyond what was being portrayed in the mainstream media.”
So far they’ve wracked up an impressive amount of information. They’ve aggregated coverage, interviewed mortuary specialists about the drugs supposedly used on Wone and how they could be detected. Michael found Price’s sex profiles online and deciphered his online screen name. The group discovered the USA Today story that, as they put it, “posed them as the model gay couple.” And David recently found a personal email that Price sent friends asking for money for his legal defense.
While they have no personal connection to the defendants, they say, “As four gay guys who have lived in Washington D.C for nearly 20 years (some more), it didn’t take long for us to ask … to find people that knew them. You know, it’s a small town.” According to Craig:
Just last weekend we had dinner with two guys who had a couple of playtime, drugged up go-rounds with one of the defendants (Dylan Ward) at the Crew Club, what passes for a gay bathhouse in DC. We learned last week that an acquaintance of Doug’s was Dylan’s roommate at Georgetown University. We’re hearing from other people who knew them professionally, socially and sexually.
Doug feels lucky his job made him aware of the case so early, as Radio Free Asia and Voice of America are both government-funded entities.
“I was aware immediately of Robert Wone’s death given that he works for an affiliated agency [of Voice of America] – and there was some discussion within Voice of America – shock mostly, but then what happened is what we saw over the past two years; a general silence on the part of the mainstream media, perhaps out of the result of squeamishness. You know, all of us have discovered it doesn’t take very much conversation, talking with people, gay/otherwise, legal/otherwise, within Washington, who are aware of this case and are puzzled by the curiosities of it, and frankly, its lack of coverage.”
Johnson believes the MSM has avoided the case because it involves solely minorities:
It was about people who are not, let’s be honest, the sort of people they normally cover. Robert is Asian-American and the defendants are gay guys. To be blunt, none of them are young blonde girls. Take a look at the Chandra Levy case: it was all over the networks, but because the people in this case are not – how do you say? – camera-ready, they get ignored.
When it comes to gay media coverage, they believe that the gay press is simply not equipped to handle a story of this size. “While the [Washington] Blade has done coverage,” they note, “they have limited resources and can only cover so many stories.” Though they also point out that the defendant’s close ties to gay Washington make the story a problematic one for gay press, as the accused hardly put the gay community in a good light. Says the Scooby gang, “The best way to encapsulate the idea of certain squeamishness over this crime and its more sensational elements almost makes this maybe “the case that dare not speak its name.’”
The four maintain that their only goal is to get to the bottom of the case and that they have not judged the defendants or made up their minds. Although Doug pipes up, “Some of us have!” Doug’s latest blog post, in which he tries to test whether the defendant’s intruder theory holds water, might give you some indication of which way he’s leaning:
“Twenty minutes: for an intruder to enter, go upstairs, both stab Mr. Wone as well as administer six small puncture wounds, somehow sexually stimulate Mr. Wone with the end result of the coroner finding the victim’s own semen in his rectum, allow enough time for the victim to continue living for a period after the stabbing (see coroner’s report) and for possible suffocation, flee the scene silently through the back door (this time not setting off the chime) while Price and Zaborsky upstairs hear muffled grunts and run downstairs – seeing or hearing no-one – to find Mr. Wone on his bed, ultimately leading Mr. Zaborsky to scream. Try as I might, I cannot see how this makes any sense, even presuming the absolute best of the defendants.”
None of the men think the defendant’s will ever be tried for murder. Brownstein says:
[The D.C. District Attorney] has a good case against them for obstruction of justice and evidence tampering, but there are too many holes to try for murder. We’re not interested in seeing justice done. That’s not for us to do and it’s not our intention with the site. There’s a difference between justice and truth and what we want is to know what happened, so that [Wone's wife] can have some peace and so the truth can be known.
We admit the story is a fascinating one and how such prominent members of the D.C. gay establishment could wind up implicated in a murder as grisly and deranged as Robert Wone’s is a deeply troubling question. What are your theories? Why is there so little coverage on such a scandalous story? And, as gay folks, do you want the coverage?