Update on the book tour for A Special Kind of Evil – The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings

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We always appreciate the turnout to discuss cold cases.

My co-author (and daughter) and I are about half-way through our live lectures as part of our book tour for A Special Kind of Evil.  We are not big on book signing events at bookstores, but tend to favor lectures at libraries and colleges on the subject.  This gives us a chance to have more of a dialogue with participants and have them engage more.  We don’t sell books at these events but we do sign them.  This was never about selling books as much as it was about getting the stories out.

These events are hard to do. An hour cannot do complete justice to the stories.  I always say it is akin to trying to pour five gallons of water into a one gallon bucket.

We have some other events coming up, and we hope they too will generate some new leads as well.  Someone out there knows something…

  • November 4 – Culpeper County Public Library, Culpeper, Virginia, 3:00pm.
  • November 28 – Newport News Library, Grissom Branch, 7:00pm.
  • Williamsburg Library will be January 20 at 2:00pm in the Kitzinger Room at the James City County Branch.

We look forward to seeing you there and answering your questions.

Our session at the Tabb Library in York County was packed to overflowing.  For us this is an indication that the community there is still very interested in the cases.  More than a few things percolated up at that session.  One, a former-relative of Steve Blackmon, a former Gloucester sheriff’s deputy was there and claimed that he told family members he had been cleared of the crimes by polygraph.  That was the first time we had heard that he had been cleared.  Of course polygraphs are only as a good as the person administering them.  Blackmon, and Ron Little’s names come up a LOT in these cases as possible suspects.  Blackmon himself is out on parole for a pair of drug-related murders in South Carolina.  The attendee also told us he was aware the book had been published.  We would love a chance to speak with him…we have many questions that have come up in the last two-plus years of researching.  All-in-all, that was fascinating.

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Ten minutes before started!  A great turnout.

We were honored that friends of Robin Edwards and the family of Keith Call attended.  I am sure that it was comforting to know that their community was so engaged on finding the killer(s).

We also had a moment or two of intrigue.  Victoria was approached by one attendee, Gordy Price who asked us to call him.  Gordy was making a horror film called The Waterman and had heard about a man that had found a strange weapon buried not far from the Colonial Parkway in Seaford.  He graciously put us in contact with Keith William Krushel Jr. who had found the weapon.

Keith was clearing some property as part of a construction job back in July.  He found a machete wrapped in duct tape, buried three feet deep.  It was wrapped as if someone was trying to protect or preserve it for some reason.  His initial thought was that it was a lawnmower blade.  He handled it with gloves, just in case it was used in some sort of crime.  Smart guy.

Do you know of any crimes committed with a machete in the area?  Please reach out to the FBI if you do.  I’m confident they’d love to hear from you.

His aunt remembered the Thomas – Dowski murders both were committed with a knife and contacted the FBI who took it into their possession.  One of the agents, who had spent time on a Virginia farm, indicated he had never seen a blade wrapped for preservation like this.  This agent speculated that the knife may have been used in a crime but saved by someone else, perhaps as leverage against the perpetrator.  “You know, you turn me in, I will go and get that machete and turn it over to the authorities.”  They couldn’t come up with a reason that the killer would do that to a blade.

I was doubtful that it was used in the Thomas – Dowski case.  While a machete is a dangerous weapon, it could have been unwieldy to use to cut someone’s throat, presumably from behind.  Still, you can’t ignore something like this.  Nevertheless we turned the information over to Bill Thomas (Cathy’s brother) who followed up with the FBI.  While it is unlikely that it was used in the Colonial Parkway murders, it may have been involved with some other crime. I have included some photos to assist any would-be crime solvers.  Kudos to Mr. Krushel for doing the right thing and turning it in!

I received a half-dozen different theories and got a chance to correspond with someone that knew Steve Blackmon from his school days.  She was useful in fleshing out some details about him and his personality. It is pretty clear that Blackmon was a crooked cop.  Does that make him the Colonial Parkway murderer?  Perhaps time and new testing techniques will tell.

Our library session spurred another tip that came into our blog – one which I deleted at the behest of the requestor.  This happens more than you might think at these sessions.  This lead has been turned into the FBI via one of the family members who has regular contact with them.  More on that if anything useful does come of it.  This person claimed that they had family members that had been driving on the Parkway on October 9, 1986 and had seen Cathy Thomas’s white Civic, the two girls with their hands crossed, and may have even heard one of them calling for help.  They also saw another vehicle parked next to the Honda as well.  They called in this sighting to the police at the time.  Suffice it to say, it was fascinating.

We also did a session at the Norfolk Public Library and that was well attended as well.  What was great there was that we had a police officer in attendance and a former FBI agent. The latter assured Victoria that he sided with her, that it was likely two killers that had committed these crimes.

The Norfolk crowd had some interesting theories which is always fun.  True crime is so popular now that it has turned millions of people into amateur detectives.  We encourage this.  While we can offer our perspective on such theories, we cannot determine if they are accurate or not until an arrest is made.

So, as we move into the autumn and winter, we hope you will be able to join us soon at an upcoming event!

#ColonialParkwayMurders

#Truecrime

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Review of Ruby Ridge – The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family by Jess Walter

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This is one of those books that is a true crime and a true tragedy, both at the same time.  We all vaguely remember the story that the media put in front of us.  A family of white separatist lawbreakers huddled up on a mountain stood off against the FBI.  Memories blur for most of us.  Before reading this book I remembered that some of them were shot.  I remembered there being some horrible mistakes on the part of the federal authorities as well.

Reading this book however brought clarity to all of this.  In these times where we find ourselves where labels like “white separatists” are tossed about on the news so liberally, it is important to go back and study Ruby Ridge.

Jess Walter did an outstanding job of laying out the facts to process this seemingly innocent crime that escalated to cold-blooded murder.  The author does an outstanding job of cutting through the myths around this story and dealing with the people and what occurred.  It is no small task, given that the federal accounts do not even agree with each other.

Randy Weaver was and is his own man. He did commit some crimes.  He did nothing that warranted what happened to him and his family however.  This is a story about the government living up to its own darkest ideals.  The author gives the appropriate trail of breadcrumbs to lead the reader up the trail where what should have been a routine criminal prosecution turned into butchery.  When you frame this against the events in Waco against the Branch Davidians and Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma Federal Office Building; you find yourself as a reader asking yourself, “could this happen again?”

Ruby Ridge (the book) is a cautionary tale for all of us in these politically charged times where the rights of individuals are clashing with political correctness.  I found the book made me sit and think about current affairs, yet clearly it was written years before our current climate.  Any book that make you think, that compels you to contemplate the role of your government is destined to be a good book.

I’m glad I waited to read it – and moreover, I’m glad I finally did.

 

The Stockwell Strangler – Part 1

I have never reblogged a post- but this one captivated me.

The True Crime Enthusiast

“Obviously he is a desperate man and needs help” – Detective Chief Superintendent Ken Thompson (speaking in 1986)

Stockwell is a district in inner South London, situated in the London borough of Lambeth. It was for a time considered to be one of the poorer areas of London, but it has undergone a bit of an overhaul in recent years, and as it is in proximity to Central London and as a result has excellent transport links, it’s now and up and coming area. It does have its brushes with infamy in its history – most recently for example, Stockwell Underground Station was the scene of the high-profile wrongful killing of Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 by armed officers of the London Metropolitan Police. He was wrongfully killed after being mistakenly thought to be a suspect in the attempted bombings of 21st July 2005 – the attacks that…

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The 31st Anniversary of the Murders of Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski – the Colonial Parkway Murders

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The location today where Cathy Thomas’s Honda Civic was found

October 9, 2017, marks the 31st anniversary of murders of Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski. This was the first of the Colonial Parkway Murders and that makes it significant on several fronts.  In a recent WAVY poll, over 90% of the people believe that this string of murders are the act of a serial killer.  If that is the case, that killer attempted to recreate events that led to the deaths of Cathy and Becky over three decades ago; duplicate that experience.  It makes their murders more important to fully understand since it is the lighting of this fuse that led to six additional murders.

Cathy Thomas was a dynamic individual from what we have been able to ascertain.  She graduated from the US Naval Academy in the second class that allowed women…making her one of the true trailblazers in the service.  By almost all accounts she brought a vibrancy and vitality to those around her.  Cathy wanted to be a surface warfare officer in a Navy that barely accepted females to begin with.  She was a homosexual in the Navy at a time when that was considered a security risk.  The Naval Investigative Services (today known as NCIS) probed her lifestyle and it was one of the factors that caused her to eventually leave the Navy.  She became a stockbroker in civilian life and was already very successful in her new career.

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Cathy Thomas while in the Navy

Rebecca Dowski was a transfer student to the College of William and Mary.  Intelligent and energetic, she had completed her high school years in France.  She attended Dickenson for a short time and became a standout athlete there.  During her summers she taught at a summer camp where the kids and the parents thought highly of Becky’s enthusiasm and leadership.  Her parents divorced and that hit her hard but she never lost focus or her drive.  She transferred to William and Mary to pursue a career in international business.

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Rebecca Dowski, William and Mary Student

Cathy and Becky were introduced by Cathy’s former girlfriend and were in the early stages of a relationship.  On October 9, 1986, they were last seen on-campus, assisting another friend on a computer homework project.  Becky’s car was packed to go home over the fall break (Columbus Day).  They left campus in Cathy’s car, presumably to get something to eat and to spend some time together before Becky left.

Their car was found by a jogger near the 9.5 kilometer mark on the Colonial Parkway along the York River on October 12.  It had been pushed over the edge of the river embankment and was nose-down.

The Park Rangers presumed the white Honda Civic was a crashed vehicle and smashed the back window out to get to the occupants and rescue them.  The interior had been soaked in diesel fuel.  Cathy was in the hatch portion of the car, Becky in the back seat.  There was blood everywhere.  It became almost instantly clear that this was no drunken driven accident.  Because the bodies were found on Federal land, the FBI was called in.

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Cathy’s car after being secured by the FBI for analysis

The murderer or murderers came with several implements of death.  The victims had been strangled with a nylon line commonly used by boaters.  Their throats had been cut by a very sharp knife, nearly decapitating Cathy Thomas.  The killer had removed the rope with his knife, leaving a small piece of it in Cathy’s red hair.  The murderer put the bodies in the back of the Honda and had driven it to the spot on the Parkway where it was found.  Dousing the vehicle interior with diesel fuel, he had tried to light it…spent matches on the ground told that part of the story that night.  Diesel’s higher ignition point negated that.  Finally he had tried to push the Honda into the York River in hopes that it would wash out to sea.  Instead it had been stuck there on the embankment.

It was overkill.  Why cut their throats if you had them tied up around the neck?  What had triggered this kind of brutality?   Was it someone offended at seeing two women together, perhaps intimately?  Or was it something else that caused this level of violence in the killer?

There had been a struggle – Cathy Thomas had put up a fight.  She had a knife cut at the base of one of her thumbs. The killer had spent considerable time with his victims.  He had presumably struggled with Cathy, regained control, tied the two of them up – strangling them. Then he had cut their throats, put them in the car, and drove them to where they were found.  This was not a small portion of time he spent with his victims; which begs the question – why?  If his intent was to kill his victims, why not just shoot them as they sat in the car?  No.  This killer spent time with them as they struggled and suffered.

I could write pages of why the investigation went nowhere, attempt to lay blame and point fingers but that does not help at all and is likely a misguided effort.  None of that changes the reality that this pair of murders became cold – frigid cold.  There are questions I’d like to know, beyond the obvious “who was the killer?” These include:

  • Where did Cathy and Becky go after they left campus?  There is a presumption they were killed either late on October 9 or the early morning hours of October 10.  Where did they go after leaving William and Mary?  There was meat in their stomachs, so they must have gone somewhere for dinner – where?
  • Where did these crimes take place?  There was not enough blood to indicate they were killed where the car was found.  So where did these murders happen?  Was it on the Parkway at another pull-off, or somewhere entirely different?
  • When did the murders transpire?  There is a long span of time from when the pair were last seen and when their bodies were found.  How much time did the killer spend with them?  The timeline often answers other questions for investigators.
  • Why leave their bodies on the Colonial Parkway – a heavily traveled roadway?
  • Why were they targeted?  This is two bright (if not brilliant) young women.  What triggered such a scene of carnage? What drew the killer to these two women?

Bill Thomas has remained a stalwart champion of his sister Cathy.  He has established a Colonial Parkway Facebook page.  If you have theories, suggestions, memories, or tips – it is a great place for you to go to offer your thoughts.  I encourage you to go there and join that group.

Public events for A Special Kind of Evil and other books – Fall/Winter of 2017

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Clearly she gets her looks from her mother – though I often am credited for her “colorful” vocabulary and temper.

Victoria Hester (my co-author and daughter) have a number of public events coming up this fall and into the winter – most centered on our book on the Colonial Parkway Murders.

As a note, we don’t bring books to sell at these events.  These events are not about selling books, but rather about talking about the victims and the crimes.  We are more than happy to autograph your books or your Kindles (no joke, people ask us to do this) at the events however.  We encourage you to support your local bookstores or Amazon.com.

I will be keeping these dates current.  Sometimes things change on-the-fly with some libraries.  Bookmark this post or simply follow my blog to keep abreast.

We hope to see a lot of locals show up at these events to talk about the crimes.

October 4 – Olivet College, Michigan.  Criminology Class discussing our book The Murder of Maggie Hume and that investigation.

October 5 – Battle Creek Math and Science Center, Battle Creek Math and Science Center, Battle Creek, Michigan.  Two Forensic Classes discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

October 9 – Smithsonian Air and Space Museum – Udvar Hazy Center at Dulles, 7pm.  Blaine will be discussing his book on Frank Luke Jr. – Terror of the Autumn Skies, for the AHS Group meeting there.  Open to the public.

October 17 – Tabb Library, Yorktown, Virginia, 6:30pm – Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

October 25 – Norfolk Public Library, Norfolk, Virginia. 5-8pm  Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

November 4 – Culpeper County Public Library, Culpeper, Virginia, 3:00pm.  Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

November 28 – Newport News Library, Grissom Branch, 7:00pm.  Discussing A Special Kind of Evil.

Williamsburg Library will be January 20 at 2:00pm in the Kitzinger Room at the James City County Branch.

Needless to say we hope you are able to join us!

The 30th anniversary of the second of the Colonial Parkway Murders – Robin Edwards and David Knobling

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David Knobling
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Robin Edwards

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.

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David’s truck at the crime scene

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.

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The contents of David’s truck bed

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.

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The Ragged Island Refuge “Visitor Center” Today

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.

#Colonialparkwaymurders

#truecrime

Review of Manhunt: Unabomber

 

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Discovery is upping the true crime ante with a stellar show like Manhunt: Unabomber

 

I finished watching Manhunt: Unabomber a week or so after finishing The Keepers.  I was tempted to compare and contrast the two, but I won’t.  It’s like comparing apples and grapes.

I generally dislike shows that are scripted dramas of real events.  Mostly because there are so many bad ones out there.  But starting a few years ago with Fargo (the series) that began to change.  When the OJ miniseries came out, it was exceptional.  Manhunt: Unabomber belongs in that class of show – with high production qualities, good acting, and a great script.

This series is the story of Jim Fitzgerald of the FBI who creates a new form of criminal investigation called forensic linguistics which ultimately leads to the Unabomber’s (Ted Kaczynski) arrest.  I like the fact that the focus was less on the criminal and the horrific crimes and more on the investigation that brought this bastard to justice.

Kaczynski is the perfect foil for the mind of Fitzgerald in this series.  Yes, we all know that he ends up in jail, but there is a genius there, a brilliance that requires an equal in the form of the FBI agent.

Fitz (as he is called) sacrifices a lot to catch his prey – his marriage, his family, friends, colleagues, etc.  In the end, despite the victory, you almost feel that is hollow for the character.  Others steal his limelight and while we see justice prevail, the cost cuts like shrapnel from one of the killer’s devices.  The struggles that Fitz goes through against the rigid bureaucracy of the FBI rings true to me to this day…trust me.

The writing is brilliant as is the casting.  What I like the most is the incredible attention to details.  Ted’s cabin is almost a character all by itself, silent, yet a part of his own twisted personality.

The producers were outstanding.  They did not turn this into the gore-fest that it could have been, but gave it purpose and focus.  I hope other producers that do recreations look to this as one of those gold-standards…right up there with Fargo.

If you didn’t watch this series, get it via On-Demand or from your provider.  It is chilling, breathtaking, and educational.

#unabomber

#truecrime