The longtime boyfriend of 31-year-old Stacey Lee arrived at the couple's Point Breeze rowhouse Monday night after work. He immediately noticed something was not right.
"The house light was on," said the boyfriend, 39, referring to a small fixture next to the front door. "It's never on."
The boyfriend of Stacey Lee, a transgender person, asked not to be identified for fear of jeopardizing his job. Police do not consider him a suspect, and said he was at work when she was killed. There is no indication that the death was a hate crime, police said.
Police are investigating the death as a homicide; the medical examiner ruled it strangulation.
The boyfriend said he tried to reach Lee several times during the day Monday on her cell phone and the home phone. When he went to open the front door of their home since February 2009, it was locked.
"Stacey always left her key on the inside of the door," he said. "I usually walk in and then lock the door using her key."
The couple's five dogs rushed to the doorstep as he entered the house with his own key. That also was unusual.
"When she's in there, the dogs are with her," he said.
And then he saw that the back door was closed. They left the back door open so the dogs could freely run into the fenced-off backyard.
"The only time it's closed is when we go to sleep," he said.
Upstairs, he found her in the bedroom. She was on the bed wearing underwear. He noticed that she was not wearing a wig, which told him that she had not been expecting anyone.
"She always has at least a wig on, even if it's just to come down to get a pizza," he said.
He said he tried to shake her awake: "I touched her skin. It felt like it never felt before. I knew she was dead."
That is when he called police.
They had been together since 2003. They met at a party when Lee - whom police also identified as Michael Lee - was 24 and he was 33.
"I haven't slept or eaten" since finding the body, he said.
Neighbors on Manton Street recalled Lee fondly.
"She was a good neighbor. Every time I walked by, she said, 'Hi, how you doing?' " said Tuirle Towen.
"It's a shame what happened," said Jerdan Miles, 48, a four-year resident. He called across the street to her boyfriend, "I'm sorry for your loss."
Friends will remember her at 7 p.m. Saturday with a candlelight vigil at John F. Kennedy Plaza. A funeral will be Tuesday.