September 20, 2017 marks the anniversary of what has become known as the second pair of the Colonial Parkway Murders. At the time the connections between this crime and the deaths of Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski on the Colonial Parkway were not contemplated. The crimes were treated separately, handled by completely different law enforcement agencies. The spiderweb of connections that would link the crimes had not been seen yet.
There are almost more unknowns than knowns about the late night of September 19th and the early morning of the 20th. The known facts are straight-forward, almost benign. David Knobling had agreed to take his cousin and his brother Michael and his brother’s friend, Robin Edwards out for some fun. They were supposed to go to a movie, but ended up hitting an arcade. David drove a black Ford Ranger that night, his pride and joy. On the trip to take Robin home, his brother and cousin opted to ride in the back so she wouldn’t get wet as the rain intensified. David and Robin were in the cab for the 15-20 minute ride…it was their only time alone that night.
Robin was dropped off after 11pm on September 19th. David took his cousin and brother home, ordered some pizza and watched TV. Later he left and picked up Robin who had sneaked out of her house. No one knew the two were going to connect, or why.
Early in the morning hours of September 20th, David’s truck was spotted by partiers at Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge across the James River. Police found the vehicle parked, one window down slightly, the door ajar, keys in the ignition turned to accessories, and the radio going. There was no sign of David and at that time, no one knew that Robin Edwards was with him. Robin’s family assumed she had run away from home.
It rained heavily for two days and police searched the James River and made a cursory attempt to search the refuge, but to little avail. David’s stepfather Karl went out on his own, wearing waders, searching the swamps for any sign of his missing son. The police towed David’s truck to his father’s house, accidentally dropping some of their fingerprint cards in the process – such was the shabby state of the investigation at this point.
Two days later a jogger running on the beach of the James River spotted the remains of Robin. David was found several minutes later, further down the beach by his father and an officer. Both had been shot. David had been hit twice, once in the back shoulder with the bullet angled up – the other shot to his head. Robin had been shot in the head from behind.
The anguished families were not told of the crimes by the authorities, but instead learned about it from the local news coverage.
Robin was fourteen years old. She had been a spitfire – having runaway several times and was aged beyond her years by the experiences she had endured. In the months before her disappearance she had begun to turn herself around. David was 20 and had just started a new job. He had a girlfriend who had recently discovered she was pregnant with his child. Why they got together, no one can say for sure other than their killer(s).
To say that the investigation was botched would be complimentary. David and Robin were found a mile or so from David’s truck. Their shoes were in the vehicle, so investigators had to know they had not gone far. The fact that a search had not turned up their bodies and that jogger had been running through the crime scene, discovering their remains, only points to the sloppy police work that had taken place.
Ragged Island is a rough place with a gritty reputation even to this day. There are only two paths that the killer and his victims could have gone. One was from the parking area straight to the James River Bridge. Lined by chain link fencing and a swamp, there was no avenue for escape. The second path is a winding trail through the swamp to the beach not far from where they were found. On a rainy night, with only the lights from the bridge, either path would have been dark and dangerous.
We learned during our research that David’s vehicle had been staged that night; poised for theft. He always backed his truck into its spot – and never left it unlocked. Also David and his brother had wired the radio so it could play without putting the keys in. The killer had turned the keys to accessories to turn on the radio – something that David knew he didn’t have to do.
The killer had left the truck with the keys in plain sight – practically begging for someone to steal it – to further muddy the waters of this investigation. It turns out this was a pattern that would be followed on the next two of the cases tied to the Colonial Parkway Murders…the staging of the vehicle for theft.
The Isle of Wight Sheriff’s Department later developed a theory that one Sammy Rieder may have been involved in their deaths. He failed a polygraph test and admitted that he had seen David’s truck in those early morning hours and had stolen money from David’s wallet in the vehicle. With his death there is no one to further validate in involvement – if any – with the murders. He may have been little more than someone seeking attention by linking himself to the case. It sounds crazy, but there were others that have done that with the Colonial Parkway Murders.
The Virginia State Police have their own theory. They believe that a local drug dealer had arranged to sell drugs to David and Robin as a pretense to sexually assault Robin. It is a colorful theory but lacks the evidence or witnesses to back it up.
As with the case in New Kent County, the Virginia State Police ignored their own behavioral specialist. The investigators in both of these pairs of murders tend to think their crimes are not connected to the Colonial Parkway Murders. They may be right. Until an arrest is made, no one will know for sure. For us, it is hard to disconnect these crimes. The Colonial Parkway is only a few minutes’ drive from Ragged Island. If they are not connected – then there are multiple killers that have managed to elude authorities for all of these decades, which is just as a chilling a thought.
What are the odds that these crimes, a murder of a couple with no known enemies, in such a brutal manner, are not somehow connected? Our talk with Larry McCann of the Virginia State Police who profiled these crimes summed it up best. “You have a better chance of winning the lottery than these crimes not being connected.”
As I stated earlier, there are more unknowns here than knowns. Did David and Robin meet their killer at another location and were brought to Ragged Island to be killed, or were they there the whole time? Why had they agreed to meet in the first place? Where did the crimes take place – where the bodies were found – or at another point in the wildlife preserve?
Right now, only their murderer knows – and the silent wind-swept trees of Ragged Island.
For more on these crimes, check out our book: A Special Kind of Evil