No matter how “safe” a state may be, it inevitably still has a number of unsolved mysteries and true crime tales to tell. Unfortunately, Virginia is no exception.
Throughout the years, various unsolved mysteries have captured the commonwealth’s imagination. To learn more about some of these dark stories, check out our list below.
Couple Murdered in Shenandoah National Park
The murder of Laura “Lollie” Winans and Julianne “Julie” Williams, both of whom were in their mid-20s at the time of their deaths, in Shenandoah National Park in 1996 is still unsolved to this day. The murders are especially chilling for the commonwealth’s queer communities, given that Winans and Williams were a lesbian couple and there’s no telling if that’s why they were targeted.
“On Saturday, June 1, 1996, the bodies of both women were found at their campsite near Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia,” the FBI said. “The women had been hiking with a golden retriever named ‘Taj’ and were last seen on May 24, 1996. The dog was located and turned over to rangers near Whiteoak Canyon Trail.”
While two men, Darrell Rice and Richard Evonitz, were at one point suspects in the case, the mystery of who actually murdered the two women still remains an open question. Rice was indicted by a grand jury for the murders but was later let off after DNA found at the scene was not a match.
Enovitz—who is believed to have killed three girls aged 12, 15, and 16 in the same year that Winans and Williams were murdered—killed himself as police closed in on him. Prosecutors have said that DNA found at the scene “did not exclude Evonitz as a suspect,” but also called the idea that he was the killer “specious.” Williams’ father is not convinced either, stating his belief that looking at Evonitz as a suspect is “a ruse.”
Kathryn Miles, an authority on the murders, told A&E one of the obstacles investigators had difficulty overcoming was the fact that the murders took place outdoors, where the crime scene was difficult to secure. Questions about the certainty of the DNA testing later arose.
Miles published a book, Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders, about the murders in 2022. She said she hopes the book will prompt readers to think about wrongful convictions, the fallibility of forensic testing, and who gets to feel safe in the wilderness.
Colonial Parkway Murders
Over the course of four years in the late 1980s, four double homicides occurred along the 22-mile Colonial Parkway near Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown—a series of slayings dubbed the “Colonial Parkway Murders.”
The eight victims—Cathleen Marian Thomas, Rebecca Ann Dowski, Richard Keith Call, Cassandra Lee Hailey, David Lee Knobling, Robin Margaret Edwards, Daniel Lauer, and Ann Marie Phelps—were all young adults. In each one of the double homicide incidents, the victims were noted as being couples.
A&E discussed the murders with authors Blaine Pardoe and Victoria Hester back in 2017. The authors explained that law enforcement officials held differing views on whether the murders were committed by a serial killer or were separate cases. Despite that, they feel the case is solvable given the amount of evidence present at all four crime scenes.
Oxygen even made a show about the murders in which former FBI officials talk with family members of the victims and track down new leads. Despite the new attention, the cases remain unsolved to this day.
Gina Hall Murder
The 1980 killing of 18-year-old Radford University student Gina Hall remained a mystery for many years, even as Radford resident Stephen Epperly was convicted of the crime. The reason for the lack of closure was that Hall’s body could not be found.
Notably, Epperly was the first person to be convicted for murder in the commonwealth without the discovery of the victim’s body, a Radford University criminal justice professor explained.
An unexpected twist gave the family hope in 2020, as Hall’s sister Diana Hall Bodmer announced she had discovered some of Gina’s DNA and remains with the help of Dr. Arpad Vass, a forensic anthropologist from Tennessee, according to WDBJ7.
Driven by the unveiling of a family’s dark secret—a farmer’s grandson reported that his grandfather had witnessed two men dismembering a body in Meadow Creek in 1980—Bodmer and Vass used a new instrument to detect DNA buried beneath the ground. They uncovered traces of Hall’s remains across eight locations in the New River Valley, including at a house on Claytor Lake in Pulaski County where the murder was long believed to have been committed.
Bodmer told WDBJ that she won’t stop until she fully excavates all eight of the locations and hopefully—finally—finds all the pieces to this decades-long puzzle.
Caldwell Fields Murders
Heidi Childs, 18, and David Metzler, 19, were found murdered at Caldwell Fields, a Jefferson National Forest rural recreation area, in Montgomery County in 2009. The Virginia Tech students were shot to death while on a date.
Having arrived at the campgrounds to hang out for a short while at around 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 26, 2009, high school sweethearts Metzler and Childs would never make it home. A man walking his dog early the next morning found the teens’ bodies.
Metzler was found in the driver’s seat of the car, with glass scattered around the gravel beside his door. He had been shot through the driver’s side window. Heidi’s body was discovered outside of the vehicle. She had been shot in the face with a .30-30 hunting rifle. Her purse, her silver Motorola Razr phone, silver Sony Cybershot camera, ID card, Virginia Tech lanyard, and a credit card were missing from the scene.
Fourteen years later, the victims’ families are no closer to an answer as to who took their loved ones from them.
“So there’s still a killer out there on the loose,” Corinne Geller, spokesperson for the Virginia State Police, told WDBJ in 2021. “And being able to be sure our community is safer because we found the person responsible for this one particular double homicide, then we’re fulfilling our obligation as state police, as public servants, as public safety professionals and of course to the families most impacted.”
Geller added that investigators still receive tips more than a decade after the killings.
“It is encouraging to still see that information come in, because that shows you that the community and the folks that live within Virginia and beyond, they still care about this case as much as we do, State police, and they still want to see it solved and they want their community to be safer.”
The case once again garnered media attention in 2022 when The Roanoke Times reported it had not been added to the commonwealth’s new cold-case database.
Ursula Haberland Murder
Unlike the other murders listed above, a 2001 killing in Upperville didn’t target a young adult but rather 81-year-old Ursula Haberland. She was shot multiple times and left to die on her kitchen floor in her home, which was set off a long gravel drive.
Haberland lived alone with the exception of her Welsh corgi, who WUSA9 described as “the only known witness to the murder.”
Investigators don’t know a motive, as nothing of value was taken from Haberland’s home—$1,000 in cash was even left tucked in a desk drawer.
Despite an initial lead about an unfamiliar truck in the area and neighbors putting together a $23,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, the investigation has failed to produce results.
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