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New West trans woman's killing remembered in true crime podcast

Canadian True Crime delves into the life and death of January Marie Lapuz.

The life and death of a New Westminster resident who was killed in her home in 2012 is the subject of new true crime podcast.

The Canadian True Crime podcast has just released an episode about the killing of January Marie Lapuz.

The transgender woman, who was a sex worker, died after being attacked in her home on Sept. 29, 2012 by a client, following a dispute over money.

But was there more to it than that?

That question is at the heart of the podcast as host Kristi Lee delves into Lapuz’s life and her death at age 26 at the hands of then 20-year-old Charles Jameson (Jamie) Neel, an East Vancouver resident. Neel pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received an eight-year sentence in 2014.

Podcast focuses on unanswered questions about attack

Lapuz and Neel had agreed to meet for a sexual encounter, but they hadn’t agreed on a price in advance. Court documents say Neel knew in advance that Lapuz was transgender and that the violent argument that ended in her death didn’t stem from that fact.

The podcast asks further questions about that assertion, noting there was only Neel’s word for what happened in Lapuz’s home that night.

The podcast points out it would be “extremely unusual” for a sex worker to threaten a client with a weapon over a price when she could have simply told him to leave.

At a sentencing hearing held in October 2014, the court heard that Lapuz, who was 5-11, was significantly larger than Neel and that Neel was defending himself. The court found Neel did not intend to cause Lapuz’ death, despite the fact that he “overreacted in an explosive and extremely violent manner,” as court documents note.

The podcast points to the extreme violence of Neel’s attack on Lapuz; she was stabbed 18 times in a bloody attack that only ended when a neighbour and the neighbour’s friend came to investigate the noise.

The podcast also notes — as did the court — that Neel fled the scene that night and left the Lower Mainland, fleeing first to Calgary and then to Thailand, where his father was working.

How being trans made Lapuz more vulnerable

The Canadian True Crime podcast reminds listeners of the extra vulnerability of trans people, noting those who are transgender are at a much higher risk of suffering physical or sexual assault in their lives. It reminds the listener how Lapuz turned to sex work for survival after being “marginalized and alienated” — and it points out that, even after her death, she was misgendered in a press release issued by police that called her by her birth name, despite the fact her name had been legally changed to January Marie.

“It’s clear to see why January’s community believed hate was more of a factor in her death than self-defence,” the podcast notes.

How generational trauma from residential schools played a role

Even with its obvious empathy for January, the podcast looks at Neel’s own troubled life with an even hand, revealing some of the information provided in a Gladue report — a type of pre-sentencing report that can be provided for Indigenous offenders.

Neel’s mother, who had attended residential schools, abandoned the family when Neel was just 18 months old — a fact his father said had been a significant trauma from which Neel never fully recovered.

As a child, Neel faced developmental delays and struggled behaviourally, socially and academically in school. His troubles continued into high school and adult education, and he didn’t have a “significant employment history” in his short adult life.

January's smile was 'like sunlight up in the sky'

Whatever Neel’s motivations in the attack, the podcast notes, the effect of Lapuz’s death was profound.

Her community mourned the loss of a leader; she was the first trans person to hold an executive position in Sher Vancouver, an organization for LGBTQ+ South Asians. Her friend Alex Sangha of Sher Vancouver described her as a "bright light and shining star."

And her mother, Betty Lapuz, was left heartbroken.

“Her smile is like sunlight up in the sky,” Betty is quoted as saying. “She was everything I had.”

The podcast also pays tribute to some of the work done in Lapuz’s honour — including the award-winning short documentary My Name Was January, and the January Marie Lapuz Youth Leadership Award that Sher Vancouver now presents every year.

You can find the podcast at Canadian True Crime, Episode 134.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
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