Gemmel Moore has been labeled by some as a homeless black prostitute and a gay sex worker since being found dead of a drug overdose last July in the home of a white, politically powerful West Hollywood businessman.
Gemmel’s friends and family, however, say such labels are unwarranted and are merely part of an orchestrated plot to discredit Gemmel and protect powerful Democratic Party donor Ed Buck, a successful businessman who’s made major contributions to political campaigns locally and nationally.
They say Buck, 62, preyed on Gemmel and other struggling black gay men, got them hooked on methamphetamine – sometimes injecting them while unconscious – and then enjoyed watching them react to repeatedly higher and higher doses of the drug. And they say Buck has escaped prosecution in upscale West Hollywood because he is rich, white and politically connected and Gemmel was poor, black and politically powerless.
“If Buck were not a wealthy white Democratic donor, he would already be arrested and charged for Gemmel’s murder,” said Jasmyne Cannick, a social and political activist who has been working with Gemmel’s family. “He is getting away with murder.”
Last week, the L.A. County coroner’s office confirmed that Gemmel died July 27 of a fatal dose of meth that was injected into his body. According to reports, investigators found “24 syringes with brown residue, five glass pipes with white residue and burn marks, a plastic straw with possible white residue, and a clear plastic bag with a ‘piece of crystal-like substance.’”
Cannick said anyone else found with that amount of drug paraphernalia in his home would have been prosecuted by now. “If you had that many syringes and drugs and other things in that quantity in your house, you’d be in jail,” she said. Anybody would, she said – except Ed Buck.
Neither Buck nor his lawyer responded to repeated Wave requests for comment in the case, but his lawyer previously contended that Buck was not involved in Gemmel’s death. He said the coroner’s initial ruling of an accidental overdose should have closed the case and the continuing investigation is unwarranted.
“It is unfortunate that the sheriff’s department is reacting to unsubstantiated allegations,” attorney Seymour Amster said in a previously published report. “This is a tragedy, not a crime. [Buck] had no involvement in Gemmel’s death.”
Black elected officials at the state level, however, are not so sure. They are calling on the state Democratic Party to support a full and fair investigation of Moore’s death and to return any money Buck donated to the party.
“The issue of the young man had been coming up, but had been pushed under the rug by many different factors over the last few months. I thought it was important that we bring it to the forefront,” said Darren Parker, chair of the African American Caucus of the state Democratic Party. “Our silence condones [Buck’s] actions.”
Devin T. Murphy, chairman of the state’s Young Democrats’ Black Caucus, agreed.
“Gemmel Moore was a young black gay man who died in the home of one of our party’s donors. We cannot and should not be taking money from a man who clearly is hurting people – in particular black gay men,” he said. “All black lives matter.”
A plea for justice
For her part, Gemmel’s mother said all she wants is justice. La Tisha Nixon, bristles at the negative labels some have placed on Gemmel, the oldest of her five children. She described Gemmel as a bright and creative 26-year-old who loved to travel, enjoyed cooking for his family and spent much of his early life in church, testifying about the Lord before the entire congregation.
“We used to go to church a lot; four, five times out of a week. That was my peace,” recalled Nixon, who said she sought refuge from her abusive husband at a Pentecostal church in Los Angeles.
Early on, Nixon said she suspected her son was gay and she’d ask him about it, telling him it was OK to be who he was. But Gemmel would vehemently deny it, she said, leading to tension and confrontation between the two – especially after Gemmel started drinking more and becoming distant and defiant.
Things came to a head when she and Gemmel got into a heated argument. She gave him a choice: Get your life together or leave. “He packed up his stuff and he left. We were living in Victorville at the time and he went back to L.A.”
Months later, Gemmel called his mother, apologized for his behavior, asked for her forgiveness – and announced that he was gay. “We all knew it already. We were fine,” Nixon said. “That was the end of it. We didn’t have any problems with him being gay.”
Gemmel went back to Los Angeles, but would come to visit often for a few days, then go back home. Last year while visiting his mother, Gemmel told her about a wealthy businessman he’d met named Ed Buck.
“‘The guy doesn’t want to have sex, he just wants my time. He likes young black, gay guys and he gives you money just for spending time with him – smoke some weed, that’s it,’” Nixon recalls Gemmel saying. “It just sounded fishy to me. I said, ‘Gemmel are you sure?’ ”Gemmel’s response: “I got this, Mom.”
Later, Gemmel told his mother that he “never had sex with Ed Buck” and that they would just get together and hang out.
“He (Buck) just liked to get them hooked on meth. That’s his motive. He’s a meth addict, so he wants to get young black men hooked on meth,” she said. “He likes to see them high.”
In fact, excerpts from Gemmel’s own journal, shared with the Wave, support that claim:
“I honestly don’t know what to do. I’ve become addicted to drugs and the worst one at that,” Gemmel wrote. “Ed Buck is the one to thank. He gave me my first injection of crystal meth… It was very painful, but after all the troubles, I became addicted to the pain/fetish fantasy.”
Frantic phone call
One night earlier this year, Nixon received a frantic call from Gemmel. Crying, he told his mother that Buck had shot him in the arm with a drug, but he didn’t know what kind. He told his mother that he begged Buck to let him go, but Buck held him captive in his apartment for hours.
Nixon told her son to go to the hospital to find out what he had been injected with and then to file a police report. Gemmel later told his mother that he did file a report with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station – but when Nixon went to get a copy of it, she was told it did not exist. Nixon believes Gemmel made the report, but that it was never recorded in the system.
Since Gemmel’s death, many gay black men have surfaced to corroborate Gemmel’s claims and to accuse the West Hollywood Sheriff Station of dismissing their efforts to file police reports against Buck. Other gay men said they were reluctant to go public with incriminating information against Buck for fear that they would be arrested for prostitution or drug-related charges or persecuted by authorities trying to protect Buck.
In an effort to urge others to come forward, Nixon attended a West Hollywood City Council meeting in August and asked for help obtaining immunity for witnesses who might have evidence or testimony that could shed light on her son’s case.
Shortly thereafter, human rights attorney Nana Gyamfi – who has been working closely with Nixon – announced that the district attorney’s office had granted immunity to several young men who had claimed to have had drug-related encounters with Buck.
One of Gemmel’s closest friends, Cory McLean, said he and Gemmel spent a lot of time looking for ways to expose what Buck was doing to him and other black, gay men. He said Buck supplied gay men with drugs before injecting them with meth to get them addicted. Gemmel’s journal – which McLean said Gemmel started to create a paper trail about Buck’s activities – was an important component of their plan to expose Buck.
“The journal wasn’t just out of nowhere, him writing his thoughts. No, he had to leave a trail because he knew that this was deep and he was always scared. Completely scared,” said McLean. “But I never wrapped my head around death, ever.”
Spiraling out of control
Shortly after Gemmel frantic call to his mother, his life began spiraling out of control, family and friends said, as his addiction to meth increased and he started having seizures. His mother convinced him to come live with her in Texas for a while – which he did for three months before announcing he was going back to California.
Nixon questioned why her son needed to go back to Los Angeles.
“This time I have a plan,” Gemmel told his mother. “I’m going to make it work.”
The last time Nixon heard from her son was on the day he died. He sent her a text from the airport: “I love you mom. I’ll call you later tonight.”
Later that evening, Nixon did receive a phone call – but it was from the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station telling her that her son had died from a drug overdose.
Gemmel had been back in California less than seven hours.
His death came as a shock to Nixon, who said she found out about her son’s addiction to meth only after reading his diary and talking to his friends. “We had no idea he was addicted to meth. He was so good at hiding it. We didn’t know any of this.”
After Gemmel’s death, his friends confessed that they knew of his addiction, but didn’t want to betray Gemmel by telling his mother.
‘After he was dead it was too late’
“I don’t want to make anybody feel bad, but if I had of known, maybe I could have handled it a lot differently,” said Nixon. “After he was dead, it was too late.”
McLean said one of the last conversations he had with Gemmel was about him getting his life together. Gemmel had planned to move to New York with McLean to get back on his feet and rebuild.
Gemmel called McLean the day before he left Texas to head back to Los Angeles and McLean begged him not to go back. McLean felt his best friend was trapped in a lifestyle that he couldn’t escape. Gemmel told him, though, that this was the last time he would meet Buck and he would leave Los Angeles shortly thereafter.
Since Gemmel’s death, McLean spends a lot of time going through old text messages and photos of Gemmel on his phone.
“I just want people to know that outside of the lifestyle that people choose to live, they’re real humans that are loved and that love people,” he said. Regardless of his choices, Gemmel should not have gone the way he did.”
“I know Gemmel is not resting in peace. He is up and he is watching and he is waiting on Ed Buck to be found.”