Longform

Who was Angie Zapata? Her murderer's trial didn't tell the whole story.

Page 2 of 5

At around age sixteen, Angie began being Angie all of the time. "Her makeup was the shit," Camacho says. "It's like, 'You're a boy, I'm a girl, and you do your makeup better than my ass....' And her hair — oh my God, I hated her freaking hair."

It took Angie two and a half hours to do her hair, to first blow-dry her long locks, then straighten them, then curl the ends. She was equally meticulous about her clothes — which Camacho described as "cute and tight and a little hoochie" — though she wasn't picky about brand names: "If it wasn't good, she'd make it look good."

And Angie always had to look good when she went out, whether it was to cruise up and down Federal Boulevard in Denver, listening to music and smoking cigarettes, or to dance at Tracks, a gay nightclub on Walnut Street. Angie and her friends went there most Thursdays and danced until their legs burned, Camacho says.

It's the one-on-one time that Camacho misses most. Like the time she and Angie gave each other tattoos with India ink, or the time they tried to wax each other's legs. "Oh, my God, do not give us bleach," Camacho says. "We'd go to the store and get some dye, and literally, it was bad. She tried to give me streaks. Oh, no. I looked like a freaking cheetah. I had spots all over my head."

Angie was silly, Camacho says, always telling jokes and "talking crap." "I'd say, 'At least I have boobs and I don't need socks,'" Camacho says. "And she'd say, 'At least my boobs are perfect with these socks.'" Angie would sing along to Celine Dion to make her friends laugh, and she'd make up raps. She was constantly being funny.

But she was also strong, toughened from years of teasing. When she got hurt, she didn't really show it. Camacho remembers that when they went together to enroll at Artistic Beauty College in Thornton to become cosmetologists, the instructors told Angie that at school, she'd have to eschew her makeup, pull her hair back and go by "Justin."

"When they said she couldn't wear makeup, I was like, 'Fuck that! Hell, no!" Camacho says. "But she was like, 'It's okay. I still want to go school.'" But Camacho could tell Angie was hurt. They never spoke about it again, and they never went back.

Instead, Angie continued babysitting her sister's three kids. She told friends that when the youngest, three-year-old Diego, was old enough to go to school, she'd try again. She never got the chance. "Every time I close my eyes, I can picture her looking at me," Camacho says. "Sometimes I try not to think about her. She's not ever going to come back."


Stephanie Villalobos, sister

Stephanie Villalobos's little brother never wanted to play with trucks. He wasn't interested in pretend races, and he never even opened the Hot Wheels cars he got as presents.

Instead, he liked to watch his older sisters apply their makeup. He liked to braid the rat-tail he wore at the nape of his neck. And when the grownups cut it off, he wrapped a blue baby blanket around his head, gathered the excess into a ponytail and swung it around. "When she was seven or eight, she already knew how to walk in heels," Stephanie, 23, says of her sister Angie, the woman her brother Justin would become. "She knew what makeup was called and what went where."

Stephanie remembers when Justin told the family he was transgender. She, Justin, their sister Ashley and their mother were sitting around, gossiping and telling secrets about themselves. Ashley admitted that she wasn't a virgin anymore, and Stephanie confessed that she was gay. Justin said he "liked guys but wasn't gay" and that he felt he was a woman.

But things were hard at school. Angie often came home crying, upset because kids were picking on her. Stephanie, who was four years Angie's senior, felt she had to defend her little sister. "They'd be like, 'Your brother is gay,'" Stephanie says of the bullies. "I'd be like, 'So what if he's gay? How are you going to stop it?'"

The family encouraged Angie to fight back. One time, two guys were harassing her at a gas station. She came home and told Stephanie, and they went looking for them. When they found them, Angie asked if they wanted to fight. "They started swinging at each other," Stephanie recalls. "She was beating them up so bad, making them bleed."

Afterward, she told the guys to tell their friends they'd been beaten up by a joto, Spanish slang for a homosexual. She was five-foot-ten — six feet with heels on — and she didn't take crap.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Melanie Asmar is a staff writer for Westword. She joined the paper in 2009 and has won awards for her stories about education, immigration and epic legal battles. Got a tip? She'd love to hear it.
Contact: Melanie Asmar