Update on the Lives and Deaths of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson

The story of Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson resonates through recent events even though they’ve been dead for more than ten months.

Britney and Crystal were 24-year-old queer women of color from Houston. Their bodies were left near a dumpster, Crystal died of a gunshot wound and Britney due to severe head trauma. They were survived by Crystal’s five-year old daughter Zaniah as well as their parents, siblings and extended family. Both families express at best a mixed degree of support for the young women, more denial of their identity tied to hope they might change or outgrow it.

Crystal Jackson and Britney Crosbey
Crystal Jackson and Britney Crosby (Source: ABC News)

Meanwhile, Britney’s father – Larry Cosby – has been arrested on related charges, but not yet charged with murder.

The Houston Press just published a lengthy story about Britney and Crystal. It hits a lot of notes that we’ve heard in recent months – family rejection, poverty, ambition to move ahead in the world, teen-aged pregnancy, racialization, religiosity, intrafamily violence and denial, denial, denial.

And so much pain and loss.

But he will tell anyone who asks about his daughter his version of the truth. “Crystal was not gay,” he says, cutting each word out with care. “She was confused.” He says he’ll never believe that part of her life was real, was what she really was and what she wanted. Still, he sometimes steps over and pays his respects to Britney when he visits Crystal’s grave. Otherwise, they don’t talk about Britney at all.

They have the person everyone believes to have killed his daughter and her girlfriend, but he hasn’t been charged.

The recently cleaned driveway lit up like a Christmas tree when investigators brought in the Luminol. Larry’s room was covered with his daughter’s blood, Cook says. “The carpet was terrible. It was severely bloodstained, and he had throw rugs placed conspicuously over those spots,” Cook says.

Britney’s wallet was found in a field near the house, and a fingerprint taken from the Bolivar scene matched Larry’s left thumbprint, according to the criminal complaint. He claimed the shutter had been removed from the house before he came home from prison. He couldn’t explain how the fingerprint had gotten there. The detectives took Larry to Galveston and attempted to interview him. He didn’t cooperate or talk, and they couldn’t get any response out of him, Cook says.

Within hours, he was charged with tampering with evidence for moving the bodies. The charges may be upgraded to murder if law enforcement can conclusively identify the murder weapons from the collected evidence being reviewed by the FBI, Cook says. “There’s lots of little pieces. There’s no doubt in our mind that he killed them, but we can’t exactly prove it,” Cook says. “Right now we believe there’s enough circumstantial evidence to charge him with murder, but we’re not the ones who have to prosecute it or prove it. That’s the district attorney’s job.”

So everyone just waits? For what? For how long? Then what?

If you read the longer version of the story, you’ll see how the deaths of Britney and Crystal have devastated the lives of their family. I was especially struck by the comments of little Zaniah, now being raised full-time by her maternal grandparents. She was apparently at the Cosby home when the murders took place or shortly thereafter. I can’t begin to imagine the trauma she’s trying to process. The legacy of denial and silence will not be helpful. Can she hope to grow up well-adjusted given these circumstances?

Crystal’s father rejected his daughter’s identity as a gay woman based on religiosity. So allegedly did Britney’s father, only a different religion. Crystal’s father did not kill his daughter, he did not throw her into the street or refuse to care for her and her child. He did not really shun Britney. Or is just the contrast with the jealous, violent Larry who begrudged his daughter a pizza and smashed her head open? Are the two fathers alike or not? A little of both? Is the difference a significant difference?

We’ve spent recent months discussing how black lives matter, considering the impact of faith-based reparative counseling and family rejection on the lives of LGBTQ youth and demanding that queer women be part of the dialogue. The story of Britney and Crystal is almost a perfect convergence of these issues and yet it remains uniquely their story – their lives, complicated and nuanced and filled with promise, that were extinguished.

A suspect in custody, evidence, the details of their lives and lots of publicity. And, yet, we have no simple answers. We have dropped the story. Over at Towleroad, John Wright asks how this would have played out if the victims of murder were a young white, gay male couple.

Was this a hate crime? How do we advocate for our allies and acknowledge the various ways we experience oppression differently? Where do we get those skills?

I think John Wright is onto something – the media, both traditional and bloggers, must continue to tell the stories. And not just our own interpretations of the stories, but to amplify the stories of voices often marginalized. The in-depth glimpse into the lives of Crystal and Britney offers no easy or simple answers, there’s no satisfactory ending to their tragic tale. Who are the bad guys and the good guys?

I wish I knew.


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