The 30th Anniversary of the Last of the Colonial Parkway Murders

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The roach clip hanging in Daniel Lauer’s car

As a cold case true crime author you become emotionally invested in your work.  If you are going to do your job right, you have it.  Sometimes that connection is with investigators, other times it is with family members of the victims. You have no control over where those connections are going to come from, in many respects, you are along for the ride.

The first interview we did for the book was with Larry McCann, the Virginia State Police profiler who worked the case.  Victoria and I needed the big picture, a strategic perspective.  Larry was the guy to do that for us.  Larry taught me more about criminal profiling in four hours than I got from three textbooks on the subject.

Next came my interview with the brother and sister of Annamaria Phelps.  It was deeply moving, though I did my best to keep my poker face on.  The love and frustrations they had been forced to endure and lose was incredible.  They felt that the system had failed them…and it had.  The killer of their beloved sister has not been brought to justice yet.  Over the years they have been emotionally jerked around by investigators who flip-flopped on whether their sister’s case was tied to the Colonial Parkway Murders or not.  Despite tantalizing leads, there has not been an arrest.  For them, it tore them apart internally and brought them together spiritually.

If you think I didn’t get in the car after our interview and break down…you would be wrong.

The case is baffling and more complicated than it appears on the surface.  Labor Day weekend, 1989, Daniel Lauer went to visit his brother Clinton and Clinton’s girlfriend, Annamaria Phelps, at Virginia Beach.  He brought along three passengers, Joe Godsey, his wife, and their young daughter.  It promised to be a weekend of partying.  Unfortunately, it got out of hand – resulting in a large scale riot.

At the end of the weekend, Daniel had decided to move in with his brother and Annamaria.  The plan on that Sunday night was to drive back to their home in Amelia County, Virginia.  He would drop off the Godsey’s, grab his stuff, get paid by his father, then drive back.  Annamaria decided to come along.  Daniel would drop her off with her parents while he packed, then would pick her up and together they would drive back to join Clinton.

Everything seemed to go as planned. Annamaria saw her folks and Daniel picked her up for the drive back.  The last place they were seen by witnesses was in the east-bound rest area on I-64 in New Kent County.

The next morning, Daniel’s car was found in the west-bound rest area on the merge ramp, abandoned.  The glove box was opened and a roach clip hung from the driver’s side window which was partially lowered.  The keys were in the vehicle, as if someone was staging the car for theft.

Authorities mounted a search but found nothing.  It would be six weeks later when their bodies were found by turkey hunters just a mile from where Daniel’s car had been found.  It would take experts from the Smithsonian to help the Virginia State Police to try and piece together what happened.  All they could say for sure is that Annamaria had been cut by a knife on one of her fingers.  There was no way to ascertain the cause of death.  All we know for sure is that Annamaria fought with her killer that night.

I’ve been to the site a few times and it remains pretty much as it looked back then.  Visiting the Crime Scene In talking with investigators that were on the scene at the time, we are convinced of one thing – the killer had stalked the site out in advance, or at least had familiarity with it.  Otherwise getting back there and out again would have been a challenge.

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The logging road.  The victims were found just off it, just around the bend to the left. 

This weekend marks the 30th anniversary of their deaths.  When you write true crime, the key dates stick with you.  I cringe in August because it marks the bombing/murder in Marshall I wrote about and the murder of Maggie Hume in Battle Creek, MI.  January always makes me think of Daisy Zick and her death.  Labor Day, that is reserved for Annamaria and Daniel.  In my mind I replay everything.  How did their car end up on the other side of the highway? Why did the killer target them?  What happened in those dark woods?  What clues were lost because the police did not do an effective search?  Why did the killer stop after this pair of victims?  How did the killer get control of them?  Why didn’t someone see something on that holiday weekend?

We have new techniques and technologies that can help crack the cases…but is time running out?  No.  I don’t believe that, not for an instant.  The moment you go down that road, you only find despair.

Even today, when I drive to Williamsburg I make myself stop at the refurbished rest area – the last place they were seen.  I take a minute or two and look around and think of what happened thirty years ago at that site.  A great deal has changed, but not the mystery, and not the sense that more could and should have been done at the time.

After-Action Report on CrimeCon 2018

 

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Like I’ve said before, I’m never off a cold case.  My only regret is Victoria couldn’t join us on the stage to talk about the Colonial Parkway Murders.  

This was CrimeCon’s second year.  I didn’t attend last year because I was unsure just what it was going to be all about.  This year I was on panelist for the Colonial Parkway Murders and, having reviewed the images and reports from last year, I felt pretty sure I was not attending some crazed weirdo cult gathering.

I had a good time.  Incorrect.  I had a GREAT time.  CrimeCon is one of the few places on the planet when you can say, “I write true crime,” and people don’t wince or say things like, “Oh, that’s nice…” while backing away slowly.  I get it, for decades true crime has been a secret pleasure for a lot of people.  The people here were fans – some were die-hard fans.  Others were dipping their toes into the true crime waters.  It was a very friendly group.

A bit about the demographics.  Most of the attendees were female…I don’t know the exact ratio but it seemed like 12 to 1.  Many were younger than me, which is easy because I’m 55.  There were fans of a wide variety of sub-genre’s too – TV crime show fans, author fans, serial killers, cold cases, podcast groupies, you name it.

The night we arrived at the Gaylord Resort in Nashville we were told we couldn’t go out to dinner at the mall because there had been a murder there.  I admit, I thought they were joking at first.  They weren’t.  Talk about mistakes.  We had a large number of FBI, law enforcement, lawyers and 3,500 armchair detectives only a half-a-mile away.

Victoria and I attended the session with Dianne Lake about her time with the Manson Family.  It was an interesting presentation.  It is hard to emotionally bond with Ms. Lake given where she was and who she was with in the summer of 1969.  You get this weird feeling with her of sadness, pity, yet some degree of distaste given that she was a member of the Manson Family.  I have to admit, I was fascinated on how Charlie got his talons into her.  Dang it – I will have to buy her book now.

The next session I attended was by Jim Fitzgerald on cracking the Unabomber case.  That’s right, it was “Fitz” himself.  He explained to us what parts of the show were not based on real life and did it in an amusing way, with actual Facebook and Twitter posts he had received.  Great stuff.  His insights and role in cracking that crime were incredible to listen to.  I want to go on Netflix now and re-watch it over again.

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“Fitz”  True story – Tabby was just a character.  He didn’t get someone’s career trashed – honest.  

I talked to Fitz about a serial murder spree that Victoria and I are working on.  More on this as we move forward…but our discussion was promising!

At the same time my co-author daughter attended the session on the Golden State Killer.  They had a great panel including one of the officers involved with this scumbag’s takedown.  New facts not in the press yet were presented.  I won’t take her thunder, she promised me a blog post on it, but I was intrigued to learn they had recovered some of the souvenirs this bastard had taken from his victims.  Oh, and that wheelchair?  Totally for the press.  I think his lawyer knows he’s going to lose the case but they want to try and mitigate the sentencing with a, “poor old feeble man,” routine.  Well, it’s a routine…and not very convincing.

I met with Gemma from The Keepers.  She was very nice.  We are cold case comrades.

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Giving up on cold cases is never really an option.  

The panel on the Colonial Parkway Murders that I was on was outstanding.  Bill Thomas and Joyce Call were on it; relatives of victims of Cathy Thomas and Keith Call respectively.  Both were outstanding as was expected.  We were moderated by former FBI agent Maureen O’Connell who did an admirable job of keeping us on task (no small feat mind you.)  We had over 520 attendees for the session – which is outstanding.  Get the word out about these crimes!

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Maureen O’Connell – A Class Act
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Bill Thomas – He’s been living this for 30 years.  
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Joyce Call did a great job keeping the family perspective first and foremost.  

We both sat in on the Delphi Murders panel.  Kudos to the family members and the Indiana State Police for coming.  Deeply moving.  I met with the grandfather of one of the victims later and offered him a couple of suggestions that he might consider.  The guy looked like a truck driver for some reason.  I suggested checking with the weigh-stations near the town.  You never know…

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Let’s get these families some closure.  

 

Victoria and I attended the early morning podcast session with Nancy Grace on the Delphi Murders…which we totally enjoyed.

While the rest of my family took in the Country Music Hall of Fame, I sat in on a session by Steven David Lampley on How to Catch a Liar.  Holy crudstunk – that was useful.  Not only is it something I can use as a true crime author when I interview people – it is something I can apply in my day-job as well.  Book purchased!

I attended the Nancy Grace Meet and Greet.  Wow has she got some great fans.  We were in line all talking and chatting about cases etc.  A young woman was there telling us about her cousin and a highly suspicious suicide down in Mississippi.  It was heart wrenching.  We offered her some advice on how to proceed.  I promised to post her information – so here it is.  Spread the word true crime fans!

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Christian Andreacchio – suicide or murder victim?  I want to know.  
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This is a case that demands someone to poke at.  It has a good-old-boy cover-up vibe to it.  

Nancy didn’t just do a meet and greet, we actually had a good conversation…so much so she asked for and got my phone number so we can talk at a later date.  It helped that I had a little gift for her – an autographed copy of A Special Kind of Evil.  It has been so long since an attractive lady has asked for my phone number, I was humbled by that alone.

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Nancy was a class act.  She’s jotting down my number inside our book.  

Later, I attended a fantastic session on Serial Killer profiling by Jim Clemente and John White.  They hit on some cases that I was unfamiliar with which made it interesting.  Their banter was funny, but not disrespectful to the victims (a line some podcasters need to learn from.)  I really enjoyed Dr. White’s perspectives on what make these killers tick.  I need to touch base with him on some work we are doing.

During the time there Victoria and I connected with quite a few podcasters and got approached for autographs – which is always good.  It is nice to meet our “fans.”  True Crime has never been this popular and CrimeCon helps make it more respectable.  Next year is New Orleans!

#crimecon

#ColonialParkwayMurders

#crimecon18

#NancyGrace

The Golden State Killer’s Arrest – The Perspective From the Desk of a True Crime Author

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The faces of evil.  

I was overjoyed with the arrest of Joseph James DeAngelo for several of the Golden State Killer’s brutal crimes.  For the victims, it means that his crime spree of 12 murders, 50 rapes, and over 100 burglaries, was finally over.  He will never call his victims again and threaten them.  He will never cause nightmares with the survivors.  He looks like a pathetic old man who will likely spend the rest of his days behind bars…something I am quite comfortable with.  His reign of fear and torment are done.

We will learn more about this douchebag’s activities over time.  The nuts and bolts of the investigation will be played out the courts.  He may talk, he may clam up.  In the end it doesn’t matter.  It is a rare thing, to beat DNA evidence.

I write true crime books about cold cases.  I was thrilled when the news was announced.  I listened to the press conference live in the background while I worked my day job, hanging on every word.  It gives hope to the thousands of victims and family members out there waiting for resolution on their open cases.  At the same time it sends a ripple of fear into every murderer who believes he or she had gotten away with their crimes.  Justice comes…prodding painfully slow in many cases…but it comes.  Every uncaught serial murderer out there had a restless night of sleep as a result of this arrest.  Once more, they are forced to look over their shoulders and wonder when, if ever, the long arm of the law will apprehend them.  Good. Let these bastards sweat.  Let them worry.  Let them have a healthy dose of fear and mental anguish.

When they held the press conference the first question asked was, “Did Michelle McNamara’s book on the case have any influence?”  Law enforcement said no.  I respectfully disagree.  Her writing of that book, like any book written on a cold case, keeps it in the public’s eye.  Books like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark keep the pressure on law enforcement when it comes to cold cases.  While her book did not necessarily generate a tip that led to DeAngelo’s arrest, it spawned at least three documentaries to be produced in recent months.  It made the phrase, “Golden State Killer,” become embedded as part of our true crime lexicon.  It kept the public’s interest in the case and as such, keep the pressure on law enforcement.  While they offered Ms. McNamara any credit, I will extend it at this time.

There are others that wrote books on the case that deserve equal credit.  Countless podcasters covered the case over the last few years too and they deserve a professional nod from the true crime community.  They were part of a secret army of citizens that were struggling to keep this case fresh in the minds of a generation that did not know this murder/rape spree. They are part of that unspoken True Crime brotherhood that refuses to let cold cases remain frigid.  Hats off to all of them as well.  A job well done!

When I proposed writing my first book on a cold case, Murder in Battle Creek, there were publishers that wouldn’t touch it.  Not because of the writing or the content, but because it was about an unsolved murder.  I remember one telling me, “Who wants to read about a case that never gets closed?  True crime books have to have an arrest, a trial, and a conviction…that’s how they end.” It was such a narrow view…and discouraging.  It was as if they were saying the victim (Daisy Zick) didn’t matter, that because their crime was unsolved that no one cared. I felt differently.  I cared, and I didn’t think I was alone.  I think the public likes to be a part of such an investigation.  They want to know what went wrong and set it right.  It is in the public’s nature to want to help.  They want the facts and want to play armchair detective.  They want the pain and suffering of the families to end too.  I didn’t’ give up on trying to sell the book and was eventually successful.

The result – over two dozen new tips and leads…one just two months ago.

My second cold case book, I wrote with my daughter Victoria Hester.  The Murder of Maggie Hume exposed the flaws in some of the investigatory work in that case, as well as exposed a suspect that the public had never heard of.  The two of us had full cooperation with the prosecutor’s office and police.  We reached out to the public in speaking events and made sure the story got to as many people as possible.  The word got out.

The result – new tips and leads for the authorities to act on.

Our second book together, A Special Kind of Evil, The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings, has generated numerous new tips that have been turned over to the authorities. We have met with numerous people that are pounding the pavement in their own way, looking for resolution.  I know some folks think true crime authors make their money off other people’s misery.  They are wrong.  Most of us, the ones I know, simply want to help.

I feel like we’ve done our small part in shaking the stigma about writing about cold cases in the publishing world.  This recent arrest fills me (and my daughter) with renewed energy on the new cases we are exploring, as well as some of the new avenues we are looking into on the Colonial Parkway murders. The new cases we are looking into are exciting and bitterly cold.  We look forward to thawing them out and bringing them into the light of public debate, investigation, and speculation.

Those of us that write about cold cases never are done with our work; not until the arrest and conviction takes place.  We are on the cases until they are resolved.  That’s part of the commitment on our part. We don’t take that responsibility lightly.

In the meantime, the good guys have racked up a heck of a triumph.  This arrest is a victory for the law enforcement.  It is vindication and resolution (hopefully) for the many victims of this scumbag.  And, despite what was said in the press conference, it is a win for Michelle McNamara and her countless long hours of work and effort to keep this case in the public’s eye.

#truecrime

#GoldenStateKiller

The 30th Anniversary of the Disappearance of Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey – The Colonial Parkway Murders

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What happened here was only the end of the story…the abandonment of Keith Call’s car

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).

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Did you see this car the night of April 9, 1988?  Contact the FBI if you did.  

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.

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

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.

Rebecca Dowski
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.

Cases still unsolved  Colonial Parkway Killings Haunt 20 Years Later
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.  Or you can check out our book on the Parkway Murders – A Special Kind of Evil

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

Hester-Pardoe-4
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!