A well-respected activist for Madison gays was stabbed to death in a Puerto Vallarta resort hotel over the weekend after meeting a 36-year-old man and bringing him back to her room, authorities said Tuesday.
Felicia Melton-Smyth, 41, was among a group of 14 tourists who arrived Saturday at the oceanside resort for a weeklong vacation.
Trip organizer Terry Halverson said he and others had been out clubbing with Melton-Smyth on Sunday evening.
"Felicia left our group and went out by herself for awhile," Halverson said.
Two hours later, shortly after midnight, Halverson said he walked into the penthouse unit that he, Melton-Smyth and another member of the group were sharing to discover her mortally wounded.
Police arrested Francisco Javier Hoyos Reyes, and authorities said he has confessed, saying Melton-Smyth offered him $20 for sex but refused to pay him at the hotel.
Halverson said Melton-Smyth wasn't fluent in Spanish.
"It is very possible she did not know he was a prostitute," he said.
The killing shocked members of Madison's gay and lesbian community, where Melton-Smyth had been a community activist, an entertainer and a fundraiser for the Madison AIDS Network and other charities.
Melton-Smyth had been employed at the UW Medical Foundation as a technical analyst for 14 years, said Connie Kinsella, vice president of business services.
"She was a very, very bright, talented woman with an unforgettable sense of humor," Kinsella said Tuesday. "She lived life with an appetite for joy that was astonishing. She brought passion and compassion to everyone she met."
Melton-Smyth had been planning on moving to Puerto Vallarta next year, said friends Mike and Debbi Egan, and had gotten involved in fundraising benefits there.
Tammy Frame, of Phillips,Melton-Smyth's sister, said late Tuesday that she and the victim's father, Gerald Frame, are bringing the body home from Mexico.
"(We) will be having a family and friends service when the time comes," Frame said. "She was a gay activist and did what she could for people dying of AIDS. She was very much loved by many people."
\ Man in a bedroom
Halverson, who owns Alternative Lifestyle Travel Madison, said he walked into the Hotel Brisas Del Mar penthouse early Monday and saw a man in one of the bedrooms.
He said he saw blood on the bed and ran downstairs to call police. Shortly afterward, the man ran down the stairs, pushing down the front desk clerk who tried to stop him, Halverson said.
Halverson said he chased the man down the street but lost him. Minutes later, police arrested Reyes.
"He was jumping into the ocean, screaming that he did not want to go to prison," Halverson said.
Reyes had one of Melton-Smyth's carrying bags with beer and liquor bottles in it, Halverson said.
"When the police were chasing (him) he swung the bag, breaking bottles inside and injuring one officer in the face before (he was) apprehended," Halverson said.
Halverson said the killer took at least $100 that Melton-Smyth had with her and about $300 left in the room by a roommate.
Reyes, from Coahuila, Mexico, had been in Puerto Vallarta about four days before the incident, said Lynn Roche, public affairs officer at the U.S. consulate in Guadalajara.
\ Outpouring of support
Eric Finhert, a friend who was to have shared Melton-Smyth's new Madison apartment in two months, said Madison's gay and lesbian community was showing enormous support for each other as news of the death trickled out of Mexico.
Finhert said Melton-Smyth dropped out of performing - lip-synching in elaborate female costumes - competitively a dozen years ago.
"That's another past life," Finhert said. "Now she enjoyed performing for the knowledge that the performance was going to benefit a charity."
Her last show, a charity benefit, was in April at the Club 5, Finhert said.
"Her over-the-top production numbers were always amazing," he said. "When she performed, she was just glamorous. The bigger the better. Over the top was just right."
Melton-Smyth, who was born Todd Lee Frame in Blue Mounds, changed her name and gender in the 1990s, She told Our Lives magazine last summer that becoming a transsexual and having gender-changing surgery was just a natural evolution because she felt and dressed femininely.
Having survived numerous surgeries and other scares, she had written her own obituary, Finhert said Tuesday.
"As organized and as professional as she was, she felt she needed to have that in place."
Childhood friend James Martin, who now lives in Madison, said Frame graduated from Wisconsin Heights High School in 1985. Frame moved to Madison and eventually began entertaining in lip-synch performances at the New Bar and other Madison nightclubs, Martin said.
Melton-Smyth became active in AIDS fundraising after her friends began dying of the disease, according to the interview in Our Lives.
"Felicia has a tradition of spending her holidays with AIDS patients," the story said. "... Almost all of her charity work is designed around fundraising for the AIDS Network."