No bail for North Adams man charged with killing his wife

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NORTH ADAMS — After allegedly bludgeoning and stabbing his wife to death on Thursday, Mark S. Steele-Knudslien cleaned up, took a shower and went to a liquor store, he told police.

He turned himself in to Adams Police about 8:40 p.m. Friday, telling them he'd "done something very bad," and held out his hands to be cuffed.

Steele-Knudslien, 47, told police he and his wife, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, 42, had gotten into an argument, during which he "snapped" and hit her numerous times in the head with a hammer before stabbing her in the back with a large kitchen knife.

He told police he wrapped her body in a tarp and moved her to the basement in the couple's North Adams home.

North Adams Police were notified and went to the couple's Veazie Street home and found Christa's body where Steele-Knudslien said it would be — wrapped in bedding and a tarp, secured with a rope, according to court documents.Steele-Knudslien entered a plea of not guilty in Northern Berkshire District Court on Monday morning to a lone count of murder in connection with his wife's death. Judge Paul Vrabel has ordered him held without bail pending a pretrial hearing set for Feb. 7.

Upon arrival at the couple's home late Friday, police found evidence of the assault in the living room. Investigators also found blood-soaked paper towels and a sponge in a trash bag in the kitchen.One large knife was apparently missing from an otherwise full butcher block in the couple's kitchen. A knife and hammer were wrapped up within the tarp containing Christa's body, according to police.

The knife wound to her back cut through part of her right lung and punctured her heart, according to the autopsy, which determined Christa died from blood loss caused by the wound.

Multiple blunt force trauma injuries to the head were contributing factors to her death, the autopsy said.

Adams Police said they had responded to the couple's home several times for unspecified "neighborhood issues" during the two or three years they lived in Adams before moving to North Adams about a year ago.

The couple were married in April 2017, according to the North Adams City Clerk's office.

Christa, a transgender woman, was an organizer of the Miss Trans New England Pageant in September 2009. On a website, published under the name Christa Hilfers, she identified herself as the CEO of the pageant, and an organizer of the New England Trans United Pride March and Rally, held in Northampton in October 2009.

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Justin Adkins, a longtime friend of Christa's who moved from Williamstown to Pennsylvania last year, said her intent in helping create the pageant was to give trans women more visibility and celebrate their beauty.

"Her whole thing was that trans women need to be seen as beautiful and have access to spaces that they don't normally have," he said.

"When she stepped into a room, you knew she was there," Adkins said. "She was excited about life in general almost every time I ever saw her."

"Her life had never been an easy life, and she just took life by the horns and ran," he said. "She's going to be missed by the trans community for sure."

The Planet Transgender blog marks her death as the first murder of a transgender person in the U.S. in 2018. There was no indication during Monday's proceeding that her gender identity had a role in the killing.

Christa's public Facebook timeline contains a post and photo from the morning she was killed about how happy she was to have a snowblower to help dig out from the recent snowstorm. An entry from Dec. 25 said she had an "AMAZING Christmas" with her husband and great friends. Other recent entries were upbeat and detailed the remodeling work in their home and the efforts of herself and her husband to quit smoking.

Jennifer Wahr, of the Elizabeth Freeman Center, an LGBTQ counselor and advocate for North and Central Berkshire County said, due to confidentiality, she could not say whether she had worked with Christa, but said, in general, issues of domestic violence impact transgender people at higher rates than their non-transgender counterparts. The Elizabeth Freeman Center offers a hotline for domestic violence and support services for the LGBTQ community: 866-401-2425.

Wahr cited a 2015 report from The Williams Institute, a UCLA think tank, which said nationally 31 to 50 percent of transgender people, especially transgender women, experience intimate partner violence in their lifetime, compared to about 20 percent of non-transgender people.

"We are saddened and angered to hear about (Christa's) death. Her death brings home the reality that trans and gender-nonconforming people face extraordinary levels of physical and sexual violence," Wahr said. "Sometimes that violence comes from people we love and trust."

A GoFundMe page has been established to assist in covering the costs of Christa's funeral, www.gofundme.com/christasfuneral.

Reach Bob Dunn at bdunn@berkshireeagle.com, at @BobDunn413 on Twitter and 413-496-6249.


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