After Nine Years, A Step Toward Justice
Last month, State Attorney Mark Ober sought and received a grand jury indictment for two counts of first–degree murder against Scott Schweikert in the 2003 killings of two young gay Tampa Bay men, Jason Galehouse and Michael Wachholtz.
Jason and Michael, both 26, disappeared within 24 hours of each other nearly nine years ago, on December 20 - 21, 2003. Michael’s body was discovered on January 6, 2004 in Town & Country, wrapped in a sheet and placed in the backseat of his Jeep Cherokee. Jason’s body was never recovered.
Within days of their disappearance, Jason’s and Michael’s family and friends raised their voices and demanded the case receive the attention it deserved. They also enlisted Equality Florida’s assistance.
We held a town hall meeting in our offices so that family, friends and the community could talk directly with law enforcement. Tampa’s police chief, the investigating detective, and the LGBT liaison, now Chief Jane Castor, all attended town hall and listened carefully to the information community members had. We even set up an adjacent room where the detective leading the case could privately interview individuals with stories to tell.
Equality Florida also educated the police on some of the unique aspects of working with the LGBT community, including the need to talk with a victim’s partner and friends, who often know more about the day-to-day lives of the person than their blood relatives.
That night and over the subsequent weeks, many courageous young gay men came forward to report being the victims of sexual assault, rape and torture. They described very similar experiences and a very similar assailant. Some knew their attacker by name.
In November 2005, Steve Lorenzo received a sentence of 200 years in federal prison, having been convicted on seven counts of “drug-facilitated crimes of violence.” In January 2007, Schweikert received a 40-year sentence, having been convicted on the same federal drug charge in Michael’s case.
According to investigators, Schweickert also admitted to assisting Lorenzo in the torture and murders of Jason and Michael. Police found physical evidence in Lorenzo’s home to support Schwiekert’s admission.
Over the past nine years Equality Florida has maintained contact with the State Attorney’s office, having met with them in just the past year to discuss the status of the case and to highlight the importance of bringing murder charges as a means of seeking justice for Jason, Michael, their families, friends, and for the LGBT community.
As Schweikert and, eventually, Lorenzo, are brought to trial on these long overdue murder charges, what won’t likely be mentioned is the fact that Jason and Michael are not the only young gay men from Tampa Bay to suddenly disappear and never be heard from again: Bradley Lee Williams disappeared on June 9th, 2001, Mark Allen Thompson disappeared in November 1st, 2001, and James Shumaker disappeared in October 20th, 1995.
Also missing and never heard from are three young gay men who lived in Drake Tower, just one block from Steve Lorenzo’s Ft. Lauderdale home: Mark Jackson (June, 2004), Barry A. Block (July 1988) and David G. Rhodes (June 1988). Lorenzo had owned the home since 1986.
Bringing these murder charges may well be a step toward justice not only for Jason and Michael, but also for many more victims, families, and friends than we’ll ever know.