BALDWIN PARK — A person found beaten to death in a Baldwin Park motel room last week was identified by authorities as a 26-year-old man was a transgender woman known to loved ones as Melony Smith, friends said Monday.
Smith, who was listed at the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner as Vanhxay Inthichack, was discovered dead in her motel room in the 13900 block of Francisquito Avenue about 1:30 p.m. Sept. 9.
Detectives Thursday identified Stephen Gonzales, 28, of West Covina as a suspect in the slaying. Lt. David Coleman of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau said. Gonzales, who was already in jail following a drug possession Wednesday, was expected to appear in Pomona Superior Court Tuesday.
The relationship, if any, between Gonzales and Smith was unknown to both friends and investigators. A specific motive has not been released, however court documents show he was charged Monday with robbery, in addition to murder.
Leticia Alvarado, who works as a cashier at the motel where Smith had been staying on and off for more than three years, said she first discovered her friend’s body.
“We became very close,” Alvarado said. “She called me sister. I was her sister.”
“Before I go to work, I always stop by her room and we have breakfast. That day she wouldn’t answer her phone.”
Alvarado sent she went to the room and asked a maid to open the door and saw Smith’s body lying on the floor.
“She was all bruised up. She had blood on her head. She was lifeless. I could tell she was dead.”
Investigators identified Gonzales as a suspect based on surveillance camera images and cell phone data, Coleman said.
Prosecutors charged Gonzales Friday with murder and robbery, according to a felony complaint filed in Pomona Superior Court. He was also accused of the special, sentence-enhancing allegation of committing murder during the course of a robbery.
Alvarado and another friend of Smith’s, Misty Vale, said they’d never seen Gonzales before.
“We don’t really know why he did it or what’s the relationship with him,” Vale said.
The friends described Smith, who worked for a security company, as well-liked and mild-mannered.
“Everybody liked her at the hotel,” Alvarado said. She was very helpful to everyone. She was funny and outgoing.”
Though shy around strangers, “She was friendly to the people that she knew,” Alvarado added.
Vale said Smith had been saving up money for a car and was hoping to return to school to become a dental hygienist.
She grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, moving out of her family’s home at age 16 because her family disapproved of her being transgender, Alvarado said.
“She decided to leave the house, because her family wouldn’t understand,” Alvarado said. “She moved in with her cousin.”
But she continued going to high school and graduated Sierra Vista High School, the friend said. “She was very proud of that.”
Family members could not be reached for comment Monday.
A viewing was scheduled from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at the SkyRose Chapel of Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, 3888 Workman Mill Road, Alvarado said. The funeral will take place Thursday at 1 p.m., to be followed immediately by burial.
Alvarado thanked members of the transgender community who came together to raise money to help pay for the services.