By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
By Roy Edroso
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
By Zachary D. Roberts
Since his death last September, friends and relatives of Dean Johnson have tried to make sense of the strange details surrounding the demise of the six-foot-six, 46-year-old icon of New York gay nightlife.
On September 20, Washington, D.C., police took Johnsons body from the apartment of Steven S. Saleh, a disabled former employee of the Commerce Department. Because of a police error, Johnsons body then lay unclaimed for more than a week in a local morgue. Strangely, Johnson wasnt the only tall gay New Yorker to die in the apartment that week. On September 16, four days earlier, the police had removed another bodythat of six-foot-four, 26-year-old Jeremy Conklinfrom Salehs one-bedroom in the upscale Envoy Towers.
Both deaths appeared to be the result of drug overdoses, and toxicology reports later confirmed itboth men died with large amounts of oxycodone (a powerful painkiller sold as OxyContin) in their bloodstreams. Police have indicated that they didnt consider either case to be the result of foul play after talking with Saleh.
Johnson wasnt only a nightlife legend who had started the weekly party Rock and Roll Fag Bar in the late 80s and led the band, the Velvet Mafia; friends also knew he was proud that he could make a living as a prostitute well into his forties. As Radar reported last month, Saleh was a john willing to turn over about $1,500 for a night of rough sex with Johnson, even though he spent some of his time in a wheelchair because of intense pain associated with fibromyalgia. Conklin, meanwhile, was a young Arizona kid who had been visiting Saleh, and who wound up dead on his living-room floor. Radars account of what happened next had a somewhat romantic flair: Rather than abandon his john, Johnson jumped on a train to console his friend. Most prostitutes would have immediately cut off contact. But Johnson, who was known to have a heart as big as his legendary member, frequently ignored the golden rule of hustling: never get attached, Radar reported.
Perhaps. But the Voice has obtained Johnsons e-mails to Saleh, which lay out in more detail what the three men had in mind for their weekend in D.C. before two of them turned up dead.
Johnsons e-mails reveal that Saleh was a particularly needy john, sending him multiple messages a day. On one evening in August, after Saleh had sent several attention-seeking missives, Johnson sent back a curt reply: Im going back to bed, so dont freak when I dont answer ur emails. Two days later, after several messages about problems with his pain, Saleh got another short reply: Im getting ready for my next client. I cant answer any more emails today.
Saleh wanted badly for Johnson to visit him, but money was an issue. On September 13, he acknowledged that Johnson would rather fly, but asked if he could purchase a train ticket for him instead. Johnson apologized for being bitchy in their exchange about the plans, but explained, [No] one who isnt freakishly tall can know how discomforting it is not to fit in a world that is too small so i get really sensitive about this particular issue. Saleh assured him that hed checked to see that the train seats were large enough for him.
This exchange settling the issue of Johnsons train tickets occurred two days before Conklin first arrived on the scene, taking a cheap Chinatown ride to D.C. to meet Saleh. Conklin, ebullient and muscular, was interested in Salehs offer of free room and board for someone who would help take care of him, according to John Allen, a Massachusetts man who was Conklins boyfriend.
Allen and Conklin had been together over the summer, but the young Arizonanestranged from his Mormon familywanted to try a new life in D.C. Salehs offer, for about a month of boarding, seemed like a good way to make the transition, and Conklin wanted to make an initial trip to check things out. On the night of the 15th, at 10:30 p.m., Allen says Conklin called to tell him that he had made it to Salehs apartment. He said he was doing fine. He couldnt wait to see me after the weekend.
Meanwhile, Johnson started getting e-mails from Saleh about his visitor. Saleh, sounding like he was apprehensive about Johnsons reaction, at first claimed that Conklin wouldnt be around when Johnson arrived, and emphasized that he wouldnt be having sex with him. But Saleh later e-mailed a photograph of Conklins penis and suggested that the young man join in their activities. Maybe hell learn something, Johnson responded. But later, Saleh sent several more messages saying that Conklin had been drinking his Bacardi rum. Saleh says that it didnt surprise him after looking at Conklins MySpace page. He concluded that Conklin was recovering from some kind of abuse in his background by turning to drink. He told Johnson that he was trying to get Conklin to relax.