On Christmas morning in 2003, a security guard on the Johnson & Wales Harborside campus in Providence, Rhode Island discovered the body of a young man leaning up against a chain link fence. Fingerprints would later identify the man as 22-year old Roy Weber.
Roy was part of a population of men who engaged in street-based sex work in Providence, many of them exchanging sexual acts for money to support their substance use. Almost 20 years later, Roy’s homicide is still unsolved, though police have photos of a man they’ve said could have information about what happened to Roy. Still, no arrests have been made to this day.
Richard Holcomb knew Roy Weber, their lives intertwined by their mutual lifestyle at the time. He’s now in recovery, and Rich has spent much of his adult life advocating and raising awareness for street-based sex work and helping researchers, health care professionals, and the general public better understand the realities of that life, one that he fell into at a young age.
This is the case of Roy Weber, but it’s also the story of Richard Holcomb and how he sought recovery and helped reclaim Roy Weber’s legacy by helping other men like him.
Do you know this man? If you have information about the 2003 unsolved homicide of Roy Weber, please contact the Providence Police Department at (401) 272-3121.
The Invisible World of Male Sex Work
When I started researching Roy Weber’s story, the name Rich Holcomb appeared around every corner. I truly wonder if Roy’s memory and story would’ve lived on as it has without Rich Holcomb’s work. I contacted Rich on LinkedIn and thankfully, my message reached him. He agreed to share his story on Dark Downeast.
“I’m from Providence, Rhode Island,” Richard began, “I’m a person in recovery from substance use and sex work. I was using substances on the streets of Providence. After I became homeless and addicted to substances, I entered sex work to support my addiction.”
Sex work is a term that describes exchanging sexual services, performances, or products for compensation. It can refer to prostitution, a term that is considered outdated and derogatory, but that is still used commonly by law enforcement to describe the criminalized act of exchanging sexual services for money, either on the street or online.
“I had been approached by older men since I was 10 years old in the city of Providence, and I always turned them down,” Rich explained, “But when I started using drugs, I knew it was a quick, fast, easy way to make money. And with substance use, pretty much the part of my brain that had any sort of logical thinking was shut down. All that mattered was getting more drugs. So I fell into that world and started exchanging sex and sexual acts for money to get the next hit.”
Sex work by men does not have the same spotlight or public awareness as women or transgender people.
Richard Holcomb described male sex work as an invisible issue that cannot be easily detected. He explained that a male sex worker might appear to be a young man waiting for the bus with a baseball hat and hoodie on the street corner, making it difficult for the average person to pick up on what’s happening.
Although there are certain areas in Providence that cater to male sex workers, such as bathhouses and adult bookstores, it’s still not something that can be spotted with the naked eye. Even when he brought researchers, acquaintances, and professionals to those areas, they were often unaware of what was happening until he pointed it out to them.
About Roy Weber
Rich is honest about how he knew Roy Weber. They met after he returned to Providence from Montreal, Canada where he’d been living on the street and engaging in sex work to survive. His relationship with Roy was a product of their parallel lives at the time.
When he came back to Rhode Island, his addiction followed him and he just started doing the same thing there. He ran into Roy, who also used drugs out on the streets and engaged in sex work.
“If he had $10 and I had $10, we put our pennies together and we would go and buy drugs at the local projects up the street from downtown,” Rich told me.
Roy Weber’s life was rough from a very young age. According to reporting by Zachary Malinowski for the Providence Journal, Roy was born outside of San Diego and the family later moved to Newport, Rhode Island. Roy’s father would eventually leave, and it was hard on Roy. His family says that was when Roy started hanging out with a rough crowd and drinking and using marijuana. His substance use advanced to ecstasy and cocaine.
In 1996, when he was just 14-years old, Roy had been reported as a runaway twice in three months. He’d ended up in state group homes and that’s when he became a known element to police, but former Providence Police Maj. Stephen Campbell, who worked on Roy’s case in 2003, told the reporter, quote, “Not in a highly criminal way.” At least, not at first.
As an older teenager, Roy was known to hang around adult video stores and clubs downtown where he’d get picked up by men who paid him for sex. A bartender at a club called 69 Union Street at the time filed a complaint that Roy was suspected of soliciting sex in exchange for drinks.
In 2003, he was arrested several times and wanted on outstanding warrants in Providence and Newport, Rhode Island for various charges, including domestic assault. He served a few months in a minimum security unit at the Adult Correctional Institution for violating his probation for that conviction.
There’s little information about Roy Weber and who he was when he was at his best. His family told the Providence Journal that as a kid, he loved science and reading. Another source says Roy loved to make art and enjoyed spending time with his brother Ryan and sister Alicia.
But the pieces of his humanity that made Roy, Roy, the positive memories and best parts of his personality are lost in the reporting of his murder. Roy’s story is overshadowed by his reported substance use and sex work and life on the street. Rich Holcomb never had the opportunity to learn who Roy was outside of substance use and sex work either.
Richard Holcomb told me, “I wish I had gotten to know him clean.” He acknowledged that at the time, neither of them were leading a clean lifestyle, and they were both out on the streets engaging in sex work. He described Roy as a very broken person who didn’t seem to want to be doing what he was doing. However, Richard also recognized that no one in that lifestyle wanted to be trapped in a world of substance use and sex work. He acknowledged that these issues often went hand in hand with the lifestyle.
For Rich and for Roy and for other men living the same lifestyle, sex work was just a means of survival they were conditioned to.
Rich reflected on his own experiences with male sex work and the challenges that came with breaking free from the ingrained behavior. He noted that therapy and hard work were required to move beyond it. He wished that Roy Weber had been given the opportunity to undergo treatment and work through his issues.
Rich said, “He was so young when he passed away, so there was just very little work, if any, that was ever done on that stuff.”
It was December 25, 2003. Roy Weber’s sister, Alicia Weber, and his mother, Lisa, were at their Bayside Village apartment Newport, Rhode Island. They’d expected a call or a visit from Roy the night before, given the holiday, but he didn’t turn up and the phone didn’t ring. Alicia told The Providence Journal that she could already sense that something was wrong.
By 5 p.m. on Christmas Day, three detectives from Providence Police as well as officers from the Newport police department arrived at the apartment of Roy’s sister and mother to deliver heartbreaking information. Roy had been found dead in Providence.
Police told Roy’s family what they knew so far. According to Malinowski’s reporting, a security guard at Johnson & Wales University’s Harborside campus off Allens Avenue had been making his rounds around 10 a.m. when he saw a man leaning up against a chain-link fence. The man hadn’t been there when he circled around about an hour earlier.
As the security guard got closer, he found a pool of blood near the man’s head. He was warm to the touch, but not breathing.
First responders to the scene found a young white man with gunshot wounds to the back of his head. He was wearing black pants, a black sweatshirt, and white high-top sneakers that looked brand new. His red hair was matted with blood. The man had no ID on him, but police would later learn the victim’s name by matching his fingerprints to a record in a national database. He was 22-year old Roy Weber.
It may have been Christmas morning, but the investigation began immediately. Providence detectives and crime scene technicians scoured the scene for any clues. Any possible evidence found at the scene that day has not been publicly disclosed, but investigators have said that they did not find a murder weapon. Detectives pulled security video from cameras on Johnson & Wales campus, but the tape was unhelpful. Rain and fog obscured the footage, and the cameras weren’t pointed the right direction anyway.
That evening and in the days that followed, detectives visited bars in downtown Providence where Roy was known to hang out, hoping to learn any clues about his murder. Early conversations and footwork by detectives uncovered several crucial details surrounding the circumstances of Roy Weber’s life in late 2003. Investigators were able to establish a rough timeline of the days and hours leading up to his death.
According to reporting by Zachary Malinowski, in the months before his murder, Roy visited his mother in Newport, showing up at her apartment with his face bloodied and badly beaten. He wasn’t wearing any shoes. Roy told his mom that he’d been jumped. He later told several of his family members that a drug deal had gone bad and he feared for his life if he went back to Providence.
Then in early December 2003, Roy had supposedly been living with an older man in Massachusetts. He told his mother and sister that it was a nice place, and the man liked him better than another quote-unquote street kid who also lived there. The situation concerned his family, but things seemed better. And then Roy returned to Providence.
Investigators learned that on Christmas Eve 2003, Roy Weber was in Providence with several other men at the Cathedral Square Apartments. Today, the complex is classified by its property management company as “affordable housing for the elderly and disabled”. In the early 2000s, the apartments were a hotbed of stabbings, assaults, drug-related offenses, and other criminal activity.
Witnesses placed Roy at the apartments, where he and others were using crack and engaging in sex work. Some of the people there were residents of the complex and others were individuals who lived and worked on the streets of Providence. The witness statements were just rumors until a month into the investigation when detectives confirmed the stories with the help of cameras in the apartment building’s lobby.
On Christmas Morning at the 6:35 a.m. timestamp, Roy Weber is spotted in the footage. He’s facing the camera and clearly visible, talking to a young Black man whose back is to the camera. At the 6:36 and 6:54 a.m. timestamps, there’s a middle-aged white man in the lobby, too.
Roy Weber’s body was found less than four hours later, so identifying the people he was with in that apartment complex lobby during those final hours of his life was high priority. And so police decided to publicly release two images of the middle-aged white man seen in the security footage.
I obtained the images of that man from the now-defunct royweber.com website. The was created by private investigator Thomas Shamshak, who took on Roy’s case at no cost to his family. According to Internet Archive capture records, the site was active from 2008 to about 2012 but is now only accessible through the Wayback Machine Internet Archive.
In the two security footage images, the man appears clean shaven with a neat, short haircut. His face is angular with a sharp nose and strong jawline. He might be wearing a high-collared, dark jacket, but any other description would be guessing on my part. The photos are posted at darkdowneast.com.
In 2007, Maj. Stephen Campbell of the Providence Police Department told the Providence Journal, “We think that Weber was with this guy. We don’t know who he is.”
If police have since identified this individual, they haven’t made it public. The search for the mystery man continues.
Episode Source Material
- Police still seeking leads in 2003 killing by W. Zachary Malinowski, Providence Journal, 01 Jul 2007
- Police: Suspect in 2003 Providence murder ‘shouldn’t rest too easy’ by Sarah Doiron, Kim Kalunian, WPRI, 24 Sep 2021
- R.I. groups serving female and male prostitutes to merge by Amanda Milkovits, Providence Journal, 26 Mar 2016
- Project Weber/RENEW
- Web Archive: royweber.com
- Invisible Documentary, Grauman Films