It has been 28 long years since the crime took place; 28 years from this weekend. Labor Day will never be the same for me. It is a reminder of two of the victims of the Colonial Parkway Murders – Daniel Lauer and Annamaria Phelps. Even today I cannot drive that stretch of I-64 without thinking of the two of them. I always point out the key scenes to my ever-patient wife as we drive by. She understands my chronic fixation with these crimes.
Like most of these murders, it was a fluke the victims were even together. Annamaria was in a relationship with Clint Lauer, Daniel’s brother. Daniel had been visiting Virginia Beach for Labor Day and the Greek Week festivities (which were a literal riot that particular weekend). He had decided to move in with the couple. Times had been tough for Clint and Annamaria. Clint had lost his job at Wendy’s and their power had been cut off. Daniel’s contribution to the rent was a welcome and much needed source of income.
On the trip, Daniel had brought along Joe Godsey, his wife, and their infant girl. By the end o the weekend, Daniel decided to move in with his brother and his girlfriend and was going home to Amelia County Virginia to drop off the Godsey’s and to pick up his clothing and personal items. Annamaria innocently tagged along. It would give her a chance to spend a few minutes with her family while Daniel went home and packed. Then the two of them could return to join Clint in Virginia Beach.
It seemed that everything went according to the ad hoc plan. The Godsey’s were dropped off as was Annamaria. Daniel packed and was paid by his father for some painting work that he had done. Daniel was going off to start a new life at Virginia Beach. Annamaria spent some time at her parents. Daniel picked her up in his Chevy Nova and they headed back for the two hour or so drive back to Virginia Beach on eastbound I-64.
It was late at night. There were reports were made after-the-fact that said the couple was seen at the rest area on the eastbound side of the highway in New Kent County.
The next day Daniel’s Nova was found in the rest area on the other side of the highway, in the westbound area, on the merge/acceleration ramp. It was parked at a strange angle with the driver’s window half down. Dangling from the window was a feathered roach clip which usually hung from his rearview mirror. The vehicle had been placed there with the keys – staged so that someone might see it and take it.
New Kent County Sheriff’s Department and the State Police searched the area but could find no sign of the missing pair. A lot of the area was covered with helicopters, but the dense woods made it all but impossible for anyone to have seen anything on the ground. Not enough effort was put into the search, that much is for certain.
The families were interviewed as were the Godsey’s. Everyone was put under a microscope. I cannot imagine what it was like for Clint Lauer. He was the only person that tied the two people together – his girlfriend and his brother. For him, their disappearance was a double love-loss. No one, it seemed, had a motive for taking any harmful actions against either of the victims.
The search ended. Then began the last days of dwindling summer. It rained a lot during the next six weeks adding to the gloom the families struggled with. No one gave up hope that they might yet be found. There were sightings in Williamsburg and other places, but they all turned out to be other people.
Then in October some turkey hunters found their remains just over a mile from the rest area just off of a logging road. They had been covered up with an electric blanket that Daniel had in the car. Their discovery helped investigators but was an embarrassment to the authorities. Their search had been an utter failure. No one knows what kind of evidence might have been gathered had they been found in the first 24 hours.
The bodies were just off a secluded narrow logging trail in the woods. On the trail itself was a locket that had been worn by Annamaria. Had she dropped it as a breadcrumb in hopes someone might find it and in turn, find them? Had it been cut off during the attacks that killed her and Daniel? Or had the killer placed it there as some sort of message to authorities? Perhaps it was a signal, some sort of sign to them. I leave this to the behavioral experts to dig into.
There were other questions that came up as well. The covering of the bodies is sometimes done as concealment. If the blanket had been placed over their head it could be that the killer was feeling guilty, perhaps pointing to a connection between him and the victims. Unfortunately with so much time having passed, there was no way to be sure.
The only evidence of what happened that night to the pair was a nick on one of Annamaria’s skeletal fingers. There was no way to know for sure if a knife or other weapon was used to kill them. One thing is for sure, Annamaria fought and fought with tenacity. She did not go quietly into the darkness. I doubt Daniel did either.
What we know of the killer is revealed by the location of these crimes. The logging trail was difficult to navigate in the darkness and almost impossible to turn around on. There was no mud on Daniel’s car tires, so we know that the murderer must have taken them on that trial in his vehicle. That meant that he had to have gotten control of them in the eastbound I-64 rest area and drove them the half mile further up the road to the exit, drove under the highway, then onto the logging road. That means whoever the killer was, he had scoped out the area in advance or had previous knowledge of that road. Otherwise he risked his own vehicle getting stuck or trapped back there too. The killer chose the sight because of the seclusion. The trees and dense growth muffle every sound, even today.
Further, the logging road was a tunnel through the trees. On my own visit, I was reminded of the same effect on the Colonial Parkway. Was this a killer hell-bent on duplicating the experiences he had thrilled at with his other murders?
The State Police’s theory is that the killer took control of the pair, drove them on the trail, and killed them. He went back and got the blanket from Daniel’s car to cover them up. He then returned again and moved Daniel’s car to the westbound rest area and staged the vehicle for possible theft. It was the same kind of staging that had been done of the victim’s vehicles at Ragged Island and on the Colonial Parkway.
And what of the roach clip hanging from the window? Larry McCann of the State Police believes that was a taunt to the authorities. A signal of, “Look at what I can do and you can’t catch me.” If that is the case, there is an arrogance of this murderer. To me I am drawn more the window being down. It is as if someone approached Daniel and Annamaria in their car and asked for identification. A law enforcement officer of some sort, or someone impersonating one.
When it comes to the Colonial Parkway Murders, the behavioral experts will tell you there is a distinct pattern that ties these crimes together. It’s not just the killing of pairs of victims. It is the staging of vehicles, the separation of the vehicles from the victims, open glove boxes and windows being down on the cars, and other things. Investigators, on the other hand, try and pull these cases apart. They ignore the connections and look at each one as merely a separate crime. Some say that Ragged Island isn’t connected to the Parkway Murders. Others say it is this case. For them it is easier to look at each one separately rather than as part of a pattern. Personally I find that thinking frustrating and confusing to the families.
My ultimate response to this approach is, “Fine, then make a damned arrest.” Even bringing charges in one of these cases is a victory for all of the families that have been horribly impacted by these tragedies.
Cold cases are justice denied. Cold cases continue to inflict injury to the survivors every day of every year. Cold cases demand resolution as much as any other murder…they are no less important. Justice is a patient mistress indeed when it comes to the Colonial Parkway Murders. Far too patient.
If you saw Daniel’s car or the occupants 28 years ago, please contact the authorities. Any new information is greatly appreciated. The truth is out there and someone always knows something – they may just not have had the context up until now. If you want to know more about these cases, there is a Colonial Parkway Murders Facebook page or you can reference our book – A Special Kind of Evil.