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1978 murder cold case of gay man reopened

The murder investigation of a young, black, gay man in 1978 has been reopened for investigation, Salt Lake City police officials confirmed.

Tony Adams was the campaign manager for the Socialist Party in Utah and a gay-rights activist when he was stabbed to death in his Salt Lake City apartment. His murder was never solved and was just one of several violent murders of outspoken gay people in Utah during a short period of time.

Police are not yet releasing any information about why the case has been reopened.

Adams was discovered three days after his murder on Nov. 6, 1978. Adams was 25 years old when he was found in his apartment with multiple stab wounds and his throat slit. The coroner later determined the cause of death was three stab wounds to his chest, and his throat was slit postmortem. Members of the Socialist Party contended that the murder was politically motivated due to the violent nature of the crime and because there was no evidence of robbery. The murder occurred just days before the election of 1978.

Adams was well-known in the queer community in Utah and he helped organize a protest against Anita Bryant’s appearance at the Utah State Fair in 1977. Police never made any arrests in the case and were criticized by community members for not taking the case seriously.

Community leaders were not satisfied with the investigation and said they had knowledge from a closeted officer that some in the police force joked about Adams’ death, saying, “Nigger, queer, communist — three strikes, you’re out.”
Later that month, on November 30, Doug Coleman was last seen leaving the Sun Tavern, a gay bar. His body was later found in an abandoned boxcar behind the Union Station, shot in the head. Police determined that his murder was likely not a robbery because personal effects were not taken.

A nervousness began to instill itself in the queer community due to the recent murders, as well as the assassination of gay-rights pioneer, Harvey Milk on Nov. 27, 1978.

Rev. Bob Waldrop, who was a gay-rights activist and a friend of Adams’, met with police officials after the grisly murder and asked for better police action toward a “general atmosphere of violence against gay people.” Waldrop told officials that he had received 22 death threats and said there was an overall feeling that police officials were looking the other way when it came to anti-gay violence.

“The violence and our gathering together as a community served as a galvanizing moment, in some ways,” Waldrop said. “It was one of our most public moments when we gathered and held the police accountable for their actions, or inactions as it may have been.”

The current Salt Lake Police Department cold-case file simply says that Adams was found stabbed in his apartment and that he “was a member of a local radical element.”

Anyone with information concerning the case should contact the Salt Lake Police Department, 801-799-3000.

QSaltLake will post updates on the investigation as information becomes available.

About the author

Seth Bracken

Seth Bracken is the editor of QSaltLake

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