Beautiful, sexy, smart. This is how his friends described Russell Fritz Saliganan, who began embracing his homosexuality at a young age. He later became known in the gay community as Nathalia Ann Gonzales.
Because of his qualities, Russell had many suitors.
"Kilala siya dito sa amin dahil sa taglay niyang kagandahan at talino," said his brother, Chevalier.
"'Yung mga boys talaga, pinagtitinginan siya. Kukunin 'yung number niya. Hindi siya nahihirapang magkaroon ng love life," added his best friend, Laser De Guzman.
Russell's family, who hail from Ilocos Norte, accepted his homosexuality and urged him to become successful in his career. They wanted him to become a doctor—a dream Russell fulfilled. He got his medical degree and became a dermatologist.
"Matalino talaga si Russell, kasi kahit 'yung mga classmate niya, binansagan siyang parang anatomy wizard," De Guzman said. "Tapos Dean's Lister siya sa College of Medicine sa Fatima sa Valenzuela."
Beauty and brains. Russell Fritz Saliganan a.k.a. Nathalia Anne Gonzales was the subject of men's desires. Photo courtesy of Nathalia Anne Gonzales's Facebook page
But even though he was busy with his career, Russell was a mainstay in gay beauty pageants. He bested other contestants and held several titles.
"Kahit doctor na siya, mahilig siya sa mga pageant," Chevalier said. "Ginagamit niya ang hitsura at talino para mapanalunan ang title sa mga pageant na sinasalihan niya."
At the age of 30, Russell was at the peak of his life.
Title holder. Over the years, Russell Fritz Saliganan a.k.a. Nathalia Anne Gonzales won several titles in gay beauty pageants. Photo courtesy of Nathalia Anne Gonzales’s Facebook page
Little did his friends and family know that his life would soon come to a bloody demise.
It was close to midnight of January 11 earlier this year when Russell's neighbor noticed that the light in his apartment was on. When she peeked through his window, he saw Russell lying face down and drowning in his own blood.
The crime scene
Operatives from the Homicide Section of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Unit responded to the crime scene.
"'Yung kalahati ng katawan niya ay nakapasok dun sa pinto--siguro doon sa tulugan kasi isang kwarto lang eh--na maraming saksak," CIDU Homicide Division Chief P/Insp. Elmer Monsalve said.
"Kung titingnan mo 'yung saksak niya, may mga defense wounds sa katawan. Maaaring nagkaroon muna ng pag-aaway."
They also dismissed robbery as a possible motive.
"Kasi, una, walang forced entry. Maayos 'yung pinto, maayos 'yung kandado, walang sinira," Monsalve said. "Kasi kung 'di niya kilala, maaaring sinira muna 'yung pinto."
The authorities also saw bottles of beer on the table and vomit in the bathroom, which suggested that the victim
was having drinks with another person before the crime was committed. They also found a bloodied knife in the apartment which they deduced was the murder weapon.
Autopsy reports showed that Russell sustained 51 stab wounds which suggested that the perpetrator was harboring intense anger towards the victim.
Russell's friends and family suspected that the suspect was another homosexual insecure of his achievements or a call boy who the victim brought home.
Unfortunately, they did not find any evidence that would suggest the identity of the perpetrator. However, a witness surfaced the next day.
Lover or killer?
The witness identified himself as Homer Andan, Russell’s neighbor. Homer was deaf and mute but through the help of his mother, he was able to relay the events leading to Russell's death.
According to Homer, on January 9, two days before Russell's body was found, he saw the victim with a man, buying beer and ice at the nearby sari-sari store.
A few minutes later, the two went home, holding hands. Homer didn't know the name of the man but he vividly remembered his face because he always saw him with the victim.
This strengthened the authorities’ suspicion that the victim knew his killer. Later on, they identified the man as one John Patrick Torres, allegedly Russell’s lover.
"'Pag umuuwi sa probinsya si Dr. Fritz, siya 'yung naiiwan sa bahay," Monsalve said. "Talagang nagsasama sila as magka-relasyon. Mag-boyfriend."
Further investigation revealed that Russell tried in the past to break up with the suspect, as he felt suffocated by their relationship.
"Naglabas ng sama ng loob si Russell tungkol dun kay Patrick," Laser recalled. "Hindi ko naman akalain na ganun ka-heavy 'yung nararamdaman niya, na naiinis na siya. Sabi nga niya, 'Nabu-bwisit ako kay Patrick kasi alam naman niya na may pasyente ako, nagtatrabaho ako, tawag siya nang tawag sa akin. Paano ako manlalalaki dun eh nasa loob ako ng clinic?'"
But Patrick refused to let go of Russell.
"Siguro nung oras na 'yun, nagsalita na ng final si Dr. Fritz para hiwalayan na niya 'yung boyfriend niya. Kaya nga po kung titingnan mo 'yung tama ni Dr. Fritz, 'yung mga saksak sa kanya, may mga defense wounds. Kaya nagkaroon talaga ng pagtatalo o nagsagutan sila," Monsalve said.
"Hindi matanggap ni Patrick Torres na hinhiwalayan na siya ni Dr. Fritz."
Justice for Russell
The authorities mounted a follow-up operation and on January 14, John Patrick Torres was arrested in Cubao, Quezon City.
Patrick was charged with murder and is currently detained at the Quezon City Jail while his case is being tried. ABS-CBN SOCO tried to get his side but he refused to be interviewed.
The victim's family and friends, meanwhile, are grateful that justice has been served for their dear Russell.
"Mabilis. Less than a month 'yung nangyaring action," Laser said. "Naramdaman ko kahit papaano, may justice."