Like the story of Roxanne Ellis and Michelle Abdill, the shooting of Claudia Brenner and murder of Rebecca Wight was one that I remembered and had in mind when I started this project. I think I remembered it because it was one of the first cases of anti-gay violence that I heard about. Unlike some other cases, there could be little doubt that Brenner and Wight were attacked because of their sexual orientation. Their killer stalked them — hunted them, really — as they hiked along the Appalachian Trail.
He saw them kiss. And, despite claiming to be repulsed by them, followed them from one campsite to another. The women thought they were finally rid of him when the settled down in their campsite. The looked around again and again before the finally relaxed, and eventually began to make love. The didn’t see him watching from 82 feet away. They didn’t know he was there until he started firing. Eight bullets. Seven hits. Four miles. Three hours. Two women went into the woods together. One walked out.
This is what happened to Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner.
Rebecca Wight (1959 – May 13, 1988), a 29-year-old lesbian, was killed on May 13, 1988, in Pennsylvania’s Michaux State Forest, when Stephen Ray Carr fired on Wight and her partner Claudia Brenner (1956 – ).
Rebecca Wight — a student, of Iranian and Puerto Rican heritage, who was working on her Master’s Degree in Business Administration — and 32-year-old Claudia Brenner — a Jewish, Manhattan-born architecture student — were partners for two years, after meeting over breakfast while both were students at Virginia Tech. Wight was living with a boyfriend at the time.
In May 1988, Wight and Brenner were hiking the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania. They had parked their car at Dead Woman Hollow, and hiked into Michaux State Forrest where they set up camp.
The couple kissed in the woods, having waited until they were alone. They thought were alone, until the morning of May 13.
Stephen Roy Carr
It was Wight who first encountered Stephen Roy Carr. She was walked to a public restroom near their campground, nude except for he shoes because she thought no one else what there. There she ran into Stephen Roy Carr.
Carr, 22, sometimes lived in a cave and carried a .22 caliber rifle. He asked Wight for a cigarette. She said she didn’t have one, and hurried back to the campsite, where she told Brenner that someone else was there. The couple dressed, and decided to find a more private campsite. They walked past Carr as they left their campsite.
“See you later,” he said to them.
The couple encountered Carr again, when the stopped to look at their map later that day. They kissed gain. Carr, behind them, asked if they were lost. Carr’s .22 caliber rifle was slung over his shoulder. Wight and Brenner turned to look athim, and said, no, they weren’t lost.
Brenner and Wight finally found a place. After looking around to make sure they were alone, the couple set up camp. They had dinner, talked, and around 5:30 p.m. they began to make love.
Unseen by the couple, Carr watched them from 82 feet away. He raised his rifle and fired eight bullets at the women. Brenner was hit in the arm, face, head and neck. She took a total of five bullets.
Wight was shot twice, in the head and back. The last shot was fatal, shattering Wight’s liver.
The eight bullet missed.
Wight fell, calling to Brenner to hide behind a nearby tree. Unable to get up, wight gave Brenner her wallet as Brenner set out to get help.
Brenner wrapped a towel around her neck to control the bleeding, and set out on what would a four mile, three hour journey. One car slowed. They looked at her and kept driving. A second car, two teenage boys, stopped and picked her up. Brenner wanted to go back for Wight, but the boys took her to the Shippensburg police station.
At the station, Brenner gave the police all the details of their ordeal except one. She did not tell police that they were lesbians.
Wight died beneath the tree, from her wounds. The police found her body that night, and stayed with her until morning to photograph the evidence. Brenner received word of Wight’s death while in the hospital.
Carr thought both women were dead. He left 25 rounds of ammunition at the scene, along with the knit cap he’d worn. Police found them at the scene. For 10 days after the shooting, Carr hid in a Mennonite community. (Some reports said he hid in an Amish community. Since member of the community did not read the news or watch television, they did not know Carr was a suspect in a shooting until one member, who had secretly watched television, recognized Carr from the composite drawing on the news and called police.
Police arrested Carr on a warrant from Florida for grand larceny. He told police that he was glad to be leaving, because he didn’t like the way men kissed men there. Carr told police that his rifle and other belongings had been stolen. When police told him his belongings had been found at the murder scene, Carr claimed that he thought he’d been shooting deer, until he heard screaming.
Carr waived his right to a jury trial in exchange for an agreement by the prosecution not to seek the death penalty and to drop several lesser charges. At trial, Carr claimed he had been enraged by the sight of the two women having sex, that the two women had taunted him by having sex in front of him. His public defender said he’d been raped in a Florida prison, and raped as a child. His public defender claimed that the couple’s lesbianism was provocation that caused her client “inexplicable rage.”
The court refused to allow evidence of Carr’s psychosexual history, ruling it irrelevant.
The judge in the case also disallowed the introduction of Brenner’s and Wight’s relationship in court. Thus forcing the defense to cut a deal and accept a sentence of life without parole. On March 8, 1991 Carr’s appeal, based on the court’s decision to disallow introduction of his psychosexual history in court, was denied.
Brenner moved to Ithaca, New York and went on to write a book about the shooting, Wight’s death, and her ordeal — Eight Bullets: One Woman’s Story of Surviving Anti-Gay Violence — and to become an active speaker against anti-gay violence.