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Thriller Thursday: Targeted For Being Gay

Due to this post from Roni Loren (thank you for the warning, Roni) I’ve decided to remove most photos from Thriller Thursday. I hope you’re still able to enjoy them!

Hate crimes. They’re nothing new, and yet they seem to grow more vicious as our society supposedly evolves. Hate crimes can occur because of race, gender, disability, class, age–the list is extensive. One group in particular has been targeted heavily in the last two decades: gays and lesbians. Billy Jack Gaither is just one of several victims of a violent hate crime.

Sylacauga, Alabama has a population of under 15,000, and in 1999, very few were openly gay. Billy chose to stay in the small community, living at home so he could care for his devoutly Baptist parents. As an adult, Billy had finally gotten to a point of peace about himself. Everyone who knew Billy well accepted his sexual orientation, and while he didn’t overtly broadcast his preferences, he didn’t hide them, either.

39-year-old Billy Jack Gaither was murdered on February 19, 1999. His throat was cut and his body bludgeoned with an ax handle before he was thrown on top of a pile of old tires and set on fire.

If you’ve studied murder at all, you know overkill is a sign of rage.

But what could hardworking, mild-mannered Billy Jack have done to cause such anger?

Apparently, Billy Jack made the mistake of being himself around the wrong people.

Less than a month after the murder, police arrested Charles Monroe Butler, Jr., age 21, and Steven Eric Mullins, 25. Butler came forward first. The night of murder remained vivid in his mind, and he described it in great detail. He was playing pool in a tournament at a local bar. Mullins came in and got him after a fight had broken out at The Tavern. The two went to Watersheds, a public place everyone goes to party. Butler then claimed Billy Jack started talking “queer stuff.” He would later tell Frontline Billy Jack propositioned the men for a threesome. Things quickly got out of control.

This is an excerpt from Charles Monroe Butler’s interview with Frontline:

You’re saying Billy Jack basically hit on you, right?


And you kicked him. Why?

I don’t know. I’d been drinking a lot whiskey, and just didn’t have no understanding . . . I didn’t even know the man, for him to be hitting on me. . . . Tempers just flared. It’s like he didn’t have no respect.

He was disrespecting you?



Well, sir, I don’t know. It’s not like I’m some gay tramp out there, waiting to be corn-holed by some prick.

So if a woman had done that to you, that wouldn’t be disrespect?

No, sir, I don’t reckon so.

According to Butler, it was Mullins who cut Billy Jack’s throat and stuffed him in the truck. They drove out to a desolate location, got the tires and ax handle Mullins had already stocked in the trunk, and Butler started lighting the tires.

Here’s where things get interesting. Butler insisted he knew nothing about the plan before that night, but Mullins claimed he’d told Butler he wanted to “get rid” of Billy Jack two weeks prior to the murder. He also claimed he hardly knew Billy Jack and the victim had propositioned him twice before he’d killed him, which Butler said was a lie.

Their stories don’t match up, and we’ll probably never know the exact truth.

In Mullins’s official statement to police, he said that after he drug Billy Jack out of the trunk and left him on the ground for dead, the victim made a last ditch effort for his life. Billy Jack reared up and knocked Mullins down the hill. By the time Mullins crawled back up, Billy Jack was trying to leave in the car. Butler had disappeared.

According to Mullins, after Butler showed back up, the older man beat Billy Jack to death and the two men tossed his body onto the burning tires. After the murder, the two friends cleaned up and went out for a drink.

Frontline did a a series of interviews on the murder, and Billy Jack’s brother Ricky remembers Mullins being more than an acquaintance. Billy Jack often loaned Mullins money or gave him a ride to work. There were also rumors they were more than friends, something both Ricky Gaither and Charles Butler believe to be true.

So why did Mullins and Butler kill Billy Jack Gaither?

In court, Mullins stated he killed Billy Jack because he was a “faggot.”

That’s why he killed him, because he was a faggot and he wanted his money. They went out and partied after they threw my brother on the tires. –Ricky Gaither.

Butler claimed he felt disrespected by Billy Jack’s assumption that he too, was gay. He also told Frontline there were rumors Steve Mullins and Billy Jack were together, and that his attorney had discovered Mullins was flat broke. He theorized Mullins offered both himself and Butler to Billy Jack in exchange for money, but that’s never been proven.

He regrets his actions, even had nightmares about them. Yet he did nothing to save Billy Jack’s life when Steve Mullins was beating him to death. The court found both Steve Mullins and Butler guilty of first degree murder. They’re currently serving life without parole.

Ricky Gaither believes Billy Jack may have been killed because Steve Mullins was afraid his reputation would be ruined, that he had to put on an act for the younger Butler. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t find significant comments from Steve Mullins about his decision to murder Billy Jack Gaither other than his original statement to police.

I’ll never understand crimes like this one. Everyone has their religious beliefs, and we may not all agree, but crimes like these are utterly heartbreaking. Is it ego? Self-loathing? Ignorance? What drives a human being to kill over something as basic and uncontrollable as sexual orientation?

Frontline Series of Interviews (Ricky Gaither, Kathy Gaither, Charles Butler).

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26 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: Targeted For Being Gay”

  1. I think that behind it all is fear. If Butler was a closeted gay man, he was probably terrified on many levels. The fear of hellfire probably being one of them. I think that fear can drive people to the most evil acts, especially against those who remind us of who we really are.

    • Actually, I think it was Mullins who may have been in a relationship with Billy Jack, but yes, Butler probably had the same fear. Even if he wasn’t gay, he may well have been paranoid of being labeled as such. I agree – self-loathing is often a major motivator for these kinds of crimes. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. I agree with your above comment, that perhaps Mullins was gay and hated himself for being something he loathed. Which he probably loathed because our society is so intolerant. I’m sickened by this level of brutality, well, ANY brutality against anyone who is just being who they are. I applaud you for posting about this and hope that our nation can continue to move towards a more accepting society on any level, sexual orientation, race, gender, religion. It’s just time to realize that all that stuff doesn’t matter. We’re human.

    • It amazes me that society is so intolerant. With all the horrible things wrong in the world today, to worry about what – or who – someone prefers in the bedroom is a waste of time. Thank you so much. It’s a sensitive issue for me, and I was very proud of our president yesterday. And you’re absolutely right – we’re simply human. Maybe one day society as a whole will realize that.

  3. beverlydiehl

    For those who don’t like, but “tolerate” people being gay, I’d like to encourage you to check out THIS post, if you haven’t already: Small excerpt:

    “You don’t know what it’s like, man. You don’t know what it’s like to live here and be gay. You don’t know what it’s like to have freaking nobody. You don’t know what it’s like to have your own parents hate you and try and cover up your existence. I didn’t choose this. I didn’t want this. And I’m so tired of people hating me for it. I can’t take it anymore. I just can’t.”

    Bring tissues, and be prepared to reconsider what tolerance and bullying really is.

    • Thanks for sharing that. It’s just awful. I will never understand why so much is made out of sexual orientation. People are who they are. So much cruelty in this world over simply being human. And it’s ironic how much people will tolerate when they’re aren’t religious implications attached.

  4. Wow…this is truly sad. I know that we have a long ways to go, but at least Obama made a stand yesterday. I think as long as organized religion can point to the Bible and interpret “love their neighbor” to mean “if he is straight, but not if gay or lesbian” then the problem will persist. Of course that’s not the only reason there is prejudice, but it doesn’t help. Good post, Stacy.

    • It is very said. This happened less than a year after the murder of Matthew Shepard but received less national attention. Thankfully, better laws are in place now, but hate is still everywhere. Yes, I’m so glad Obama finally made a stand yesterday. The fact that such a basic civil right is even a political issue at all speaks to the controlling mindset of this country. And I completely agree.
      Thanks for commenting.

  5. The loss of any life is a loss to all of us. I can only hope that Butler and Mullins are prepared for a real interesting karmic payback.

  6. Ugh. These kind of stories really hit home for me because I have several friends who are gay. And you know what? They’re some of the most intelligent, respectable, and beautiful people I’ve ever met. Isn’t it funny how, in some people’s minds, that’s completely wiped clean by something as superficial and unimportant as their sexual orientation?

    I’ll never, ever understand why people will feel the need to “fix” and control other people’s lives when it’s not their business in the first place.

    • Of course they are, because being gay is simply part of their genetic make-up. It’s no more an indicator of intelligence et. al than race is. Just amazes me how others see it differently. IMHO, who really cares? We are all people, and if you believe in a higher power, created by him. There are SO MANY MORE important things to worry about in this world than someone’s sexual preference.

      Your last sentence says it all for me. It’s really not their business, no matter how much they try to rationalize it.


  7. This is so sad, Stacy. It seems like younger males are most often unable to accept gay males; so often it ends in violence. Thank goodness the world is slowly changing, with novels/movies like Brokeback Mountain, that help people look at the issue from another perspective. And a president that openly supports gay rights.
    Hopefully someday we’ll learn to live peacefully.

    • Isn’t it? And what’s even more sad is that the bullying continues today, in a society that’s supposed to be so much more advanced. It’s just awful. I truly hope Obama’s stance will make a difference, but he has so many haters it’s hard to tell. Thanks for the comment:)

  8. I definitely think ignorance plays a huge role, along with upbringing. I was raised in a very religious family, and taught that homosexuality was a sin at church. But my best friend was gay, and I knew that if there was a god, he/she wouldn’t create or hate people for who they love. Hating people for differences has never made sense to me.

    I saw a Dateline interview with Dahmer and his father recently, and can’t help but wonder if the boy wouldn’t have become a serial killer if his family and peers had been more accepting of his sexual preference. (Just one factor that seemed to contribute to his crimes…) Thanks for another thought-provoking post! And timely.

    • stephscottil

      I agree, ignorance is huge – you can tell the level of education played a huge part just by reading those few quotes above. Lack of education, fear and taught violence. It’s sad that the Bible has been perverted to excuse hate crimes for some; even though most church going folk I know would disapprove of this, many still believe the gay lifestyle is a chosen one, that if a person is born gay they should spend their life in denial of it or seek God to right them of it. It’s heartbreaking to see someone raised in the church who has begged and pleaded for God to fix them so they can be real with their family. I’ve seen it.

      Thanks for sharing such an important point.

      • You’re right, it’s very sad the Bible has been perverted to this point. I disagree with the idea of the gay lifestyle being chosen. There is scientific proof of the opposite…and that would sad and infuriating to see. If one believes in, then believe you’re made as He intended you to be.

        Thank you for stopping by.

    • Yes, upbringing is very big. It’s amazes what the church has taught and continues to teach. I won’t get too far into that because it will spark a whole other debate, lol. You’re right, I find it hard to believe this loving God would create people he didn’t want on the earth. What’s always amazed me is those who thing THEY have the right to decide how a person should live…

      That’s a very good point about Dahmer. I do believe there is a genetic component to serial killers, but I think they are also major products of their environment, and that’s definitely the case with Dahmer.

      You’re welcome, and thank you for the great comment as always!

  9. I think ignorance, fear and self-loathing are all behind these kinds of crimes. It sounds to me like even if either or both Mullins and Butler were either struggling with their own sexual identities or homophobic and disgusted with themselves on some level for their ability to use Billy Jack while judging him. I will never understand cruelty like this and can only hope we are slowly moving in a better direction. Another thought-provoking and fascinating post, Stacy!

    • I agree, Pam. I think they both had some interest in the same sex, and because of a myriad of factors, couldn’t handle it. I do think Butler is full of it when he says he hadn’t heard of Billy Jack until that night as well. Thanks so much for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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