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Body of Transgender Mom, Who Lacked Housing, Found In Woods; Foul Play Not Ruled Out

Jessi Hart, 42, who struggled to find stable housing during the pandemic, was found dead in a wooded area in Washington County, Oregon on Oct. 17. Officials have deemed her death “suspicious.”

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Trans Woman’s Death ‘Suspicious’, Says Law Enforcement
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Authorities are investigating the “suspicious” death of a 42-year-old transgender mother whose body was found in a stretch of woods outside Portland, Oregon last month. 

On Oct. 17, deputies recovered Jessi Hart’s remains from a wooded area near Banks, Oregon, roughly 25 five miles west of Portland. Detectives suspect she had been dead at least two weeks earlier. Hart was positively identified following an autopsy by the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office. Her cause and manner of death have not yet been released by officials.

However, investigators, citing evidence from the area where Hart's body was found, said her death was “suspicious.” On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said investigators haven't ruled out foul play.

"The Violent Crimes Unit is doing everything we can to follow up on leads and tips related to the death of Jessica Hart,” Detective Walter Monk said in a statement sent to Oxygen.com. “This is a complicated case that will take some time to solve, but we are hopeful that we will be able to determine what happened. These types of cases can have a traumatic effect on everyone involved, and we hope to find answers for Hart's friends and family.”

Prior to her disappearance, Hart was living on the outskirts of Portland with her 13-year-old son, Caleb, and their cat, Loki. She often slept in her black Saab convertible, authorities said. The car, which was found by investigators, had recently been spray painted white. The 42-year-old was last seen alive wearing a camouflage hat, sweater, stretch pants, and black Skechers tennis shoes.

After transitioning in 2016, Hart lost her construction company, her home, and had a fallout with family members, Portland alternative news weekly, Willamette Week reported. For almost half a decade, Hart couch surfed, slept at shelters, took odd jobs, and sometimes lived on the streets.

“It sounded like her family really just pushed her and Caleb out once she started transitioning — and really soured on her — which kind of launched her into this 5-year saga of housing instability,” Sophie Peel, a reporter for Willamette Week, told Oxygen.com

Peel met — and profiled — Hart this summer for a feature story on homelessness amidst the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, Hart was staying at a series of Portland-area motels, which had been subsidized, and were later funded by non-profit assistance.

"I'm hopeful that Caleb will make it through this," Hart said in the published feature. "I don't have much hope for myself. It's been four years and I'm exhausted. I went from not having anything to worry about, taking him to Disneyland every year for his birthday, to nothing.”

As the pandemic shuttered shelters and schools alike, the added pressure of providing for her teenage son, Caleb, weighed heavily on Hart’s mental health, Peel said.

“I think the days felt like a chore to her,” Peel added. 

After publishing her feature, Peel said she occasionally exchanged text messages with Hart but lost touch with her in July.

Jessi Hart Fb 1

According to the National Center For Transgender Equality, transgender people experiencing homelessness face an increased risk of violence and a more difficult time securing adequate housing, in comparison to their unsheltered cis-gender counterparts. 

In 2021, at least 43 transgender people have been killed, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, which tracks transgender deaths. Last year, 44 transgender killings were recorded, the highest total since the organization began compiling their annual list in 2013. Many of the victims are often Black, Latinx, and in some cases, surviving on the streets. 

“Housing insecurity often places so many from our community in dangerous and concerning situations,” Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a statement. “Had Jessi Hart had access to secure housing, it is possible that she would still be with us today. As transgender people, we often face so many challenges and uncertainties, including housing and employment security, and, sadly, these situations can lead to greatly unfortunate outcomes. My heart and that of the community goes out to her son, Caleb.”

Audrey Savage, Hart’s girlfriend, described the Portland mother as “intelligent and thoughtful and caring.”

“I’ll miss everything about her,” Savage told Willamette Week. “I loved her quirks. The whole shorts with the knee-high socks added to the stretch pants thing. She also took almost all my hats. When they found her, they found her in my camouflage hat.”

Anyone with additional information related to the ongoing investigation into Hart’s death is urged to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s Office at 503-846-2700.

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