Every year April 9 passes, and every year there is no resolution to what happened to Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey. This year is no different other than this is one of those milestone anniversaries – three decades of more mystery than answers. Every five years the media pays homage the four pairs of Colonial Parkway Murders. Every five years the same questions are asked. Who did these crimes? Why? But the most nagging question of all remains, “Where are Keith and Cassandra?”
As a writer you get to know some of these families of the victims. The completion of the book does not end our relationships. My co-author/daughter likes to say, “We are never off the case.” She’s right. One thing I have come to appreciate is that these are, for the most part, good people. They too are victims of this killer, and carry the emotional scars to prove it. In the case of the Colonial Parkway Murders, the burden of remembrance of their loved ones has, in some cases, passed from the parents to the surviving siblings.
Almost all have said that this pair of murders stands out. In the other killings the murderer left mortal remains…the families know somewhat what befell their loved ones. Not so in the case of Keith and Cassandra. Their families have no graves, no memorials, nothing. It was as if they drove off April 9, 1988 into oblivion.
The facts of the case do not change materially over time. Keith and Cassandra went on a first date together. When you see their photos, they look as if they were stars of a John Hughes from the 1980s. This was not a romantic date. They went to a movie and a party new Christopher Newport Community College (now University.) At the party, they didn’t even spend time together. Keith was on a two-week break from his long-term girlfriend; and Cassandra spent her time at the kegger talking to her former boyfriend. They left the party before 2:00am, Cassandra’s curfew. It was just enough time for conscientious Keith to get her home in Tabb, Virginia.
The next day their car was found on the Colonial Parkway – abandoned. Their clothing was in the back seat. Three of their shoes were in the car as well. The keys were in plain sight as was Keith’s wallet and Cassandra’s purse. There was no sign of either victim.
Extensive searches were launched along the Parkway. In a strange twist, another body was found in the York River near where the car was found – but no sign of either of the victims.
So what happened to Keith and Cassandra? The Park Rangers foolishly suggested they went skinny dipping in the 40 degree weather. Most of the searches concentrated their efforts on the York River and the Parkway…but there never was a bit of physical evidence to put either of them there.
The truth is only their killer(s) know for sure. What I am confident of is that whatever happened didn’t happen at the Parkway. Even if we wildly stretch our imaginations and assume that Keith and Cassandra were going to go somewhere to make out, it would not be the Colonial Parkway. Keith didn’t frequent it because of the murders of Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski there is 1986. Cassandra felt that he road was creepy and avoided it.
Whatever happened, in my opinion (and some in law enforcement) took place between the party at Christopher Newport and Cassandra’s home – along the Route 17 corridor. Yes, the car was found at the first rest area on the Colonial Parkway, but that was all. I doubt that either of them were on the Parkway. There’s no physical evidence of it. That was simply where the car was dumped by the killer(s).
There are questions that nag at me, both as a researcher/investigator and an author. The short version includes:
- Where did Keith and Cassandra confront their killer(s)? If it was along Route 17, why weren’t they seen by someone that night?
- How did the killer(s) get them to pull over? Was it someone impersonating police officers, or someone actually in law enforcement? Was it a flash of police lights or some other ploy to get their attention?
- Where are their remains? With all of the development in the region, one would think that someone would have come across their remains over the years.
- I have long believed that the removal of their clothing and shoes was a means for the killer to exert control. Why fold up their clothing and put it in the back seat of Keith’s car?
- Why take the car to the Parkway to abandon it? Was it a taunt aimed at authorities? There were dozens of places that car could have been left – why on the Parkway?
- Did the killer order them to drive around that night? There were empty beer cans in the back of Keith’s car on the floor. Did the killer take them for some sort of ride at gun or knife point? To where?
- How did the killer get away? Remember – we are dealing with multiple scenes of this crime. One, where Keith and Cassandra were confronted. Two, where they were killed. Three, where their remains were disposed. Four, where the car was abandoned. Some of these may be the same scene, regardless, there was a lot of potential travel that night. After the car was left on the Parkway, did the killer have an accomplice pick him up – or did he walk off into the night? If so, how did no one not notice him?
- What DNA, if any, can be recovered from this crime scene that is of use? Bear in mind, the Park Rangers rooted through this car twice, removing the clothing and contents then restaging the vehicle. How contaminated is the material they have left?
Of course, one of you may have the answers. On April 9, 1988 you may have passed Keith’s red Toyota Celica pulled over somewhere? Did you see the killer walking along the Colonial Parkway? Did you see someone at Keith’s car at the pull-off on the York River?
Sadly, we are left with more questions than answers. The passage of three decades has done little to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. While to me, it is important to know who this killer is; it is far more important to learn where Keith and Cassandra are. If the murderer is reading this, and there is a good chance that he is (organized killers follow their crimes), let the families know where you put their bodies. There are a lot of ways to do this without risking your exposure. Send a letter to the press, to me, or the authorities. Tell the families where they can find their loved ones.
After three decades…justice needs to be served. If that is not possible, perhaps closure for the families is a good place to start. Let’s hope that the killer is reading this and has an ounce of humanity still left in him.