A Tale of Two LGBTQ+ Murders in Michigan: Who Killed Dr. Devon Hoover and Ashia Davis?

What to make of two community members whose murders have gone unsolved

As 2023 draws to a close, the murders of two LGBTQ+ community members from the Detroit area officially remain unsolved, although a resolution appears closer in one of the cases than it does in the other.

Detroit neurosurgeon Dr. Devon Hoover, 53, was found shot to death in the attic of his Detroit home on April 23. Police were called there on a welfare check after he failed to show up in Indiana for a scheduled family visit.

Pride Source previously confirmed that Hoover was part of the LGBTQ+ community and lived alone in his 13,000-square-foot home in the city’s upscale Boston-Edison neighborhood. 

On June 2, the body of Ashia Davis, 34, a Black transgender woman from Detroit, was discovered in a Highland Park hotel room

Highland Park police said they received a 911 call at about 1:30 that morning with the caller saying they noticed an open door to a room at the Woodward Inn. Davis was subsequently pronounced dead after EMS responded to the scene.

While neither case has yet to result in an arrest, Hoover’s case has drawn a higher profile, including a write-up in People magazine, and authorities say they expect a break soon.

At the Nov. 2 meeting of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, Detroit Police Chief James White said he was in regular communication with Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and was "hopeful" there would be an announcement about Hoover’s case by the end of the year.

"We are confident that we should be able to bring some closure to this family very, very soon," White was quoted by The Detroit News as telling the board.

In contrast, not much has been said about Davis’ murder. Michigan State Police’s (MSP) Special Investigation Section took up that investigation at the request of Highland Park Police. 

Other than releasing surveillance video of a suspect seen approaching, and then later running from Davis’ room, there have been no further public statements.

At the time of the murder, Lt. Michael Shaw, the public information officer for MSP Second District Headquarters, said it was not known whether Davis had been sexually assaulted or if the murder was related to Davis being transgender.

When contacted by Pride Source, Shaw said that there have been no updates in the investigation since then, although they are still seeking tips at 855-MICH TIP.

However, he did confirm that despite nearly six months having elapsed since the murder, an official cause of death has yet to be released. That’s despite witnesses on the scene, including victim advocate for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Julisa Abad, saying Davis appeared to have died of a gunshot wound.

Abad could not be reached for comment for this article.

Shaw also said that “at this moment” they are not sure whether Davis knew her assailant. 

On the other hand, police have released numerous details about Hoover’s death, including that when his body was discovered, it was wrapped in a blanket and a comforter, naked but for one black sock, and that he had been shot twice in the back of the head.

Additionally, Chief White said immediately after Hoover's body was discovered that the killing was not random, and that the assailant and victim knew each other.

In fact, a person of interest was arrested but then later released.

Meanwhile, friends of Davis have been left with few answers, and even less hope, that her killer will be found.

One of those friends, Timothy Clark, started a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money for her funeral.

“Ashia Davis was taken away from us in a senseless act of violence,” he wrote on the page, which raised just over $2,000 and is no longer accepting donations. “A beautiful soul with a heart of gold. Ashia is a part of the transgender community that is often targeted. She has a family that includes an aging mother that is just completely devastated.”

To that point, trans women like Ashia live in a reality in which their very existence places them at a higher risk for violence. According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Davis’ death was one of at least 25 transgender and gender non-conforming people whose lives were ended through violent means.

According to a fact sheet by Everytown Research, while just 13 percent of the trans population in the United States is estimated to be Black, 67 percent of known trans homicide victims killed with a gun were Black women.

So what are we to make of the disparity between the public statements by police in these two cases? According to Dr. David Hayes, a Michigan-based criminologist, not as much as one might think.

“Although communications in high-profile investigations are sometimes closely held to the vest by law enforcement, there is generally always a good deal of activity behind the scenes,” Dr. Hayes told Pride Source. “How that is communicated, though, is decided by each individual department and lead investigator. At its core, the two cases are incredibly dissimilar. Dr. Hoover's death was in a familiar place and law enforcement, based on past homicides, could be reasonably well assured that the perpetrator was known to the victim. Davis, on the other hand, presents a different issue.”

Hayes says there can be no doubt that transgender women of color like Davis face a higher chance of being murdered. 

“The reasoning behind that could be layered, but there are modern schools of thought…and a historical precedent, using what some call 'castration language,' coalesc[ing] into transgender women of color evoking murderous reactions within their communities just for existing,” he said.

Hayes adds that while not many details are publicly known about the circumstances of Davis’ murder, her chances of being the victim of a stranger would be far greater than most.

Regardless, Tori Cooper, the HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, says the personal tragedy of Davis’ death can’t be summarized in mere numbers.

“Ashia Davis was a beautiful human being who deserves at a minimum to be alive today, sharing her cheerful spirit with us,” said Cooper. “Anti-trans rhetoric and stigma perpetuate this violence. It’s beyond unacceptable that not nearly enough of those in power have spoken out against this inhumanity. We continue to call for justice — for Ashia and for all those we’ve lost without sufficient answers.”

And that personal tragedy is also felt by Dr. Hoover’s friends and family.

“We, the family of Devon Hoover, wish to express our profound sadness at the loss of a beloved son, brother and uncle,” the family said in a statement, reported by WDIV. “We grieve his untimely death and will miss him greatly. We are so grateful for the many words of kindness and stories from people who were touched by his life. He was a gift from God and used his talents to bless many.”

While a break in his case appears close, Crime Stoppers of Michigan is still offering a reward of $22,500 for any information leading to an arrest. You can submit a tip by calling 1-800-SPEAK-UP.

However, as best as can be determined, no such reward is being offered in Davis’ case.

And that is a tragedy that speaks for itself.