Bob Staley remembers the night he met his best friend, Martin Christopher Urbina, like it was yesterday.
It was 1991 at Backstreet, a nightclub mainstay in Detroit’s LGBTQ+ scene. They met through a mutual friend: Staley’s upstairs neighbor played tennis with Urbina. Staley remembers dancing with Urbina while their friends left the dance floor. The club was hot and the pair was sweaty, Staley tells the Reader. When Urbina asked to borrow a 100-year-old handkerchief that Staley kept in his pocket, Staley says he thought it was a little weird. He still agreed.
“That was the start of a beautiful friendship,” Staley says.
More than two decades later, when speaking at Staley’s wedding, Urbina had that same handkerchief in his pocket. That kind of care and attention was typical for Urbina, Staley says.
That 30-year-old friendship was cut short when Urbina was murdered last August in a brazen, daytime stabbing in Cook County Forest Preserve in River Grove. Though there was a witness, no suspects have been named and clues are similarly scant. Media coverage of the murder of the 52-year-old has been minimal.
The attack left Urbina’s family and friends scrambling for answers. Staley says detectives told him it was likely a gay hookup-app encounter gone horribly wrong. And while he rebuffed that theory previously, he says he now believes detectives. It was out of character for Urbina to be out of the house on social business during the day, he says, but it’s not an impossible notion.
“At the beginning of this, I was thinking I could figure this out, you know, because you feel you know everything about your best friend,” Staley says. “I felt, ‘I’m gonna have to know this.’”
Urbina originally wanted to become a priest. But that plan changed during a 1995 trip to Chicago to attend orientation at a seminary. After a night out, Staley says his best friend never looked back.
“He never looked at that seminary, never even went to the orientation because we went out the night before, and he just fell in love with the city,” Staley says. “And he moved here within a year.” Staley followed in 2001.
For more than 20 years, Urbina, who lived in Rogers Park, was a quality analyst in the engineering department at Ford Motor Company’s Chicago assembly plant. His coworkers described him as a sweet man, the first person to bake a birthday cake for a colleague. Longtime friend Steven Foust recalled the pranks they played on each other at work, like putting tape on the bottom of a computer mouse or throwing things over their cubicle walls.
The people that knew Urbina—who called him Marty or Chris, depending on the city—say he was an attentive, passionate, and loyal friend, that he was prone to big gestures of affection.
Melinda Dobson, a friend and colleague of Urbina’s for 19 years, recalled her 50th birthday, nine years ago, which featured a three-tiered cake in the shape of a Tiffany jewelry box, thanks to Urbina. She says it made her feel like a princess. “And I was,” she laughed. “A 50-year-old princess!”
“[Urbina was] just really willing to sacrifice to help anyone any way he can,” Dobson says. “Even if he may not be in a position, financially, he’ll give you his time. And he’s just always extremely thoughtful.”
Foust says he first met Urbina 15 years ago at Sidetrack, the popular Northalsted gay bar, and met him through Staley. Foust says he was immediately struck at the direct questions Urbina asked. “It was really him getting to know people,” he says. “He just jumped right in.”
But few are as heartbroken as Urbina’s 90-year-old mother, Henrietta, whom he cared for and lived with for decades. By Staley’s estimation, Urbina had only ever lived apart from his mother for seven or eight years when he left for college. Staley says that as much as they were mother and son, they were also companions.
According to a GoFundMe—set up to raise money to rent billboards, hire private investigators, and place ads in local media—Henrietta now lives in Michigan with family. Without answers, she’s left to wonder what signs she could have missed, or how she could have prevented her son’s murder. Henrietta still believes that someone meant to hurt her, and took her son instead. In an interview with the Reader, she lamented in a sad chant, “My son, my son, my son.”
Just as clear as his memory of their first meeting, Staley recalls with painful specificity where he was when he got the news about Urbina’s murder. He says Henrietta had called him, and he instantly knew something was wrong. When he went to see her, she was inconsolable and kept repeating her son’s name. Staley thought Urbina had been arrested. He asked where his friend was.
“My son is dead!” he remembers her crying out. Staley says he fell to his knees, and felt breathless. He called his husband immediately.
But now, a year after Urbina’s murder, the case is cold, and a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office says detectives are still looking for clues. According to surveillance footage, both Urbina and his attacker arrived at the park in the same car, which was photographed and described as either a beige or light blue Mercury Grand Marquis. Reports at the time state that a witness saw Urbina’s attacker stab him with a sharp object before leaving in the car the pair arrived in. Urbina was pronounced dead shortly after 1 PM. Despite this evidence, authorities have had no luck identifying the driver and Urbina’s killer. Now, detectives are asking for anyone who knows anything to speak up.
Urbina’s loved ones still dream of clues, of a break in the case that will answer seemingly endless questions, and of some semblance of closure. “I want to find out what happened,” Staley says. “And I know his mother wants to find out what happened. And I just—I can’t—I won’t let it go.”