Posts tagged “Route 29 stalker

The Mysterious Whereabouts of Ralph Leon Jackson

To read this article, purchase The Best of the Spingola Files, coming to Amazon.com’s Kindle store in January 2012.

Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Route 29 Linkage?

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA, June 6, 2010 — After leaving the Shenandoah National Park, the Spingola Files (SF) traveled to the college town of Charlottesville, the home of the University of Virginia. 

But before venturing into town, SF visited the periphery of Anchorage Farms, where David Bass, the owner of the 720 acre property discovered the body of Morgan Harrington in late January. 

The property of Anchorage Farms begins approximately 60 feet from the center late of Route 29.  The entrance to the property is gated, although, at the time we visited, this gate was pulled open.  I sincerely doubt that an individual, having just committed a homicide, would risk entering the dump site from this location.

That being said, the area of the farm where Morgan’s body was located is easily accessible from the Blandemar Estates subdivision.  Saying the Blandemar area is an atypical subdivision is an understatement.  This is very upscale development. By my estimation, the lots are five acre parcels.  In the area near Waldemar Drive, only two homes are visible, one of which is under construction and probably didn’t exist at the time of the murder.  Another large home sits at the intersection of Blandemar and Waldemar Drives; however, trees surrounding this residence might obstruct the view of its occupants.

I believe the Morgan’s killer probably parked his vehicle on Waldemar Drive — possibly in front of the home currently under construction — threw Morgan Harrington’s body over his shoulder and walked onto the Anchorage Farms property. 

Without a doubt, this is a case that reading the police reports would likely answer several questions, although I believe that the suspect is very familiar with the area.  Why drive ten miles and then pick this particular spot to dispose of a body?  Why not choose other areas that are more isolated and closer to the John Paul Jones Arena?  My guess is the suspect felt comfortable in the vicinity of Anchorage Farms and is likely aware that this particular sector of the property would not be checked for some period of time.

SF then visited Charlottesville proper.  On the Copeley Road bridge — at the spot where Morgan Harrington was observed hitching for a ride — a make-shift memorial stands just above a set of railroad tracks. Today, this area was home to the NCAA baseball regional.  Pedestrian and vehicular track was particularly heavy.  On the evening of the Metallica concert, my guess is many more people were present. 

Looking at other open investigations, the Morgan Harrington case has some similarities to the 1996 homicide of Alicia Showalter Reynolds, which was initiated on Virginia’s Route 29—a major arterial highway located only a few blocks from the Copeley Road bridge.  Showalter Reynolds’ credit card was located on Clay Street in Culpepper the day she was abducted.  Her parka was located on Route 626, although her body wasn’t discovered until May 17, 1996.  Harrington’s purse and cell phone were found in a parking lot near the UVA athletic fields shortly after her disappearance.  Her Pantera t-shirt was discarded and located two days later near the West Lawn apartments.  In both instances, the killer disposed of the property of the victims, almost as if he hoped they would be located.

Certainly, the method of operation originally developed by the Route 29 stalker (i.e. pulling alongside female motorist and encouraging them to stop due to car trouble) would no longer be effective.  The proliferation and use of cellular telephones would require the perpetrator to alter his MO.

NEXT: check back tomorrow as SF will post an update regarding the search for Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010


Prowler on the Parkway

In Virginia, a killer — more likely a handful of killers — are at large.  From 1986 to 1989, at least eight people became homicide victims on or near the Colonial Parkway.  Within hours after a passerby found the first victims, Cathy Thomas and Becky Dowski, inside a white Honda, investigators told family members that they believed the suspect was either a law enforcement officer or a police impersonator. The perpetrator bound Thomas and Dowski before slitting one of the women’s throats with enough force to cause partial decapitation.

While some believe the Colonial Parkway murders ended in 1989, and that the suspect is either dead or currently incarcerated, the May 1996 homicides of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in a remote area of Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park are strikingly similar.  The two hikers were found bound and gagged with their throats slit.

In fact, the remains of David Knobling, Robin Edwards, Daniel Lauer, Annamaria Phelps, Alicia Reynolds, and Morgan Harrington, have dotted the Virginia country side.  The bodies of another couple — Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey — have yet to be located. All of these investigations remain open.  

Over the course of the past month or so, I have had the privilege to communicate with some of the victims’ family members.  This dialog caused me to do more research and dig a little deeper.  These brutal, unsolved homicides are extremely troubling. A good possibility exists that more than one killer is fulfilling his violent fantasies and remains at large to commit yet another heinous offense.

Last night, Virginia’s WAVY Channel 10 broke the news of my upcoming visit to the Richmond area. 

http://www.wavy.com/dpp/news/local_news/agent-volunteers-to-revisit-parkway-case

While the report claims the Spingola Files is conducting an “independent investigation” from the FBI, I will not be acting in a law enforcement or private investigative capacity.  Instead, I am exploring these cases from the perspective of an investigative journalist.  Hopefully, my coverage of these events will call out volunteers to assist in the search of Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey, cause a person with relevant information to come forward, or somehow uncover a small piece of the puzzle needed to unlock the anonymity of the killer(s).  

Visit this Web site for updates on the Spingola Files visit to Virginia in early June.  I plan on posting information — in some cases live — as I speak with those involved in these complex investigations.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Shooting Suspect Invokes His Penile Rights

A search warrant filed in a Virginia court confirms that purported Blue Ridge shooting suspect, Ralph Leon Jackson, made statements against his penal interests about his penile interests.

During a search warrant executed at Jackson’s Howardsville Turnpike home, investigators discovered two plastic containers with the words “male enhancement” written on them.  A detective later spoke to Jackson, who said that the substances made him “foggy.”

In an earlier column, I discussed the significance of the Blue Ridge Parkway incident:

http://www.badgerwordsmith.com/spingolafiles/2010/04/09/a-break-in-the-case/

Reading between the lines, however, the substances marked “male enhancement” are not, in all likelihood, physician prescribed, which means they could be anything Jackson believed would enhance “male” behavior, such as ecstasy or other mood altering medications.

Reports claim that Jackson suffers from advanced prostate cancer and is under going chemotherapy.  In many instances, prostrate cancer spreads to the bones, creating a particularly excruciating condition.  Severe pain sometimes leads the afflicted to self-medicate with non-prescribed drugs.  As such, it will be interesting to hear the toxicology results.  

Moreover, media reports indicate that police have filed the paperwork needed to retrieve Jackson’s DNA.  Typically, unless a preliminary test is fast tracked, two to nine months are needed to compare samples with CODUS, a national DNA databank maintained by the FBI.

On another note, readers of this site are keenly aware of my interest in these Virginia cases.  A possibility exists that one suspect — whether it is the Colonial Parkway murders, the Route 29 stalker case, the Shenandoah National Park slayings, or the Morgan Harrington homicide — may have had a hand in these other incidents.  

Over the course of the last month, I have communicated with family members of the Colonial Parkway victims.  In the near future, the Spingola Files will travel to Virginia to highlight these troubling cases. By raising the profile of these unsolved offenses, it is possible that persons with knowledge of these crimes will come forward and shed some light on the identifies of these nefarious killers.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Blue Ridge Parkway Shooting Update

The man charged with the bizarre Blue Ridge Parkway shootings of two people is undergoing drug treatment for cancer. 

According to the news magazine The Hook, the co-owner of the business employing Ralph Leon Jackson, age 56, describes the accused gunman as “nice guy” and “a good worker.”  Barbara Lambert, of Delmar’s Auto Repair, further notes that Jackson is suffering from advanced prostate cancer and undergoes chemotherapy treatment, which may result in noticeable weight loss. 

As I noted in an earlier posting, the similarities between Jackson and a 1996 composite drawing of the alleged Route 29 stalker are striking.  In the composite sketch, the suspect appears more robust with thicker hair. 

According to the Web site chemocare.com :

“…weight loss after chemotherapy is associated with side effects of chemo that can sometimes interfere with your ability to eat or drink and affect your ability to maintain your healthy weight.  Chemotherapy weight loss may occur as a result of: poor appetite, eating less, diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and dehydration.”

Moreover, the subsequent dismissal of the federal indictment against Darrell Rice revealed the presence of DNA belonging to another individual at an associated crime scene. Investigators will now compare Jackson’s DNA against the person of interest.

Hopes of an expeditious resolution to other investigations are apparently premature.  While Jackson initially cooperated with detectives, he has now exercised his Sixth Amendment right to legal counsel. 

Nonetheless, investigators from the Virginia State Police are likely scouring Department of Transportation records in an effort to ascertain what vehicles Jackson owned or operated in the mid-1990s.  The suspect’s occupation may complicate matters.  As a mechanic, Jackson probably had access to vehicles he serviced, both at his place of employment and while doing work on the side.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010


A Break in the Case?

A possible major break has occurred in the Colonial Parkway/Route 29 stalker investigations.

On April 7, the Augusta County (Virginia) Sheriff’s Department apprehended Ralph Leon Jackson, age 56, at his home on Howardsville Turnpike.  On the evening of April 5, authorities allege Jackson shot two people, with no apparent motive, at a scenic overlook on the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway. 

As the couple, 18-year-old high school senior Christina Floyd and WNRN operations manager Timothy Davis, 27, took in the sights; Jackson allegedly fired at least three shotgun blasts.  One of the rounds struck Davis, who tumbled 150 feet down a cliff.  Investigators believe Floyd wrestled the shotgun away from the shooter.  

The news magazine The Hook, reports that Jackson had “no known connection to the victims whom he began shooting from his vehicle, a burgundy Kia Sephia.”

Jackson, a life-long area resident, made admissions linking him to the shootings. 

Considering that nearly 14 years have eclipsed, a composite sketch of the Route 29 stalker — a man responsible for the 1996 death of Alicia Reynolds — looks similar to Jackson. 

To view a booking photo of Jackson visit:

http://www.newsleader.com/article/20100409/NEWS01/4090331/1002/news01

To view a 1996 composite sketch of the Route 29 stalker, created from witnesses’ descriptions, visit: 

http://www.wtopnews.com/index.php?nid=25&sid=714427

The Colonial Parkway murders began in 1986.  A jogger discovered Cathy Thomas’ vehicle — a white Honda — on an embankment along the York River south of the Cheatham Annex.  The suspect(s) strangled Ms. Thomas and Becky Dowski with ropes and then slit their throats. Over the course of the next four years, two other couples were found murdered and another couple, still missing, is presumed dead.

The Route 29 stalker used the ruse of potential car trouble to encourage women to pull to the side the road.  From January 17 to March 2, 1986, the suspect made at least 23 contacts with female motorists.  Most of the women ignored the suspect’s demands to pullover.  In two instances, those who accepted assistance left the suspect’s vehicle unscathed.  The suspect attacked another woman, Carmelita Shomo, who managed to exit the vehicle.  In open court, Shomo identified Darrell Rice as her abductor.  A fourth woman, Alicia Reynolds, accepted a ride.  A man walking his dog discovered her body on May 7, 1986, near a rural road in Culpeper County. 

Convicted of the attempted abduction of Ms. Shomo, the federal government indicted Rice for other crimes, but when DNA for another individual was located, federal prosecutors dismissed these charges.

Jackson’s arrest has the potential to tie many of the loose ends, especially if he cooperates. 

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


Spingola Files Polo Shirts Now Available

Since this Web site’s inception, a number of people have passed along tips regarding interesting investigations.  Many of these cases merit further scrutiny.  To look further, however, the Spingola Files — like any other worthy operation — is in need of additional resources. 

In an effort to develop the revenue needed to dig deeper, I have created a line of Spingola Files polo shirts.  Available in sizes medium, large and extra large, these classy black shirts feature the trademarked Spingola Files logo. 

As many of you know, obtaining information via open records, conducting detailed research, and traveling to venues to explore open homicide cases, takes both time and money.  I am more than willing to invest the time.  After all, justice, in many instances, is illusive.  Now I am asking the readers of this site to underwrite some of the expenses by purchasing a polo shirt or two. 

My goal is to raise the necessary funds to travel with a colleague to Charlottesville, Virginia to thoroughly examine the Morgan Harrington case, the Colonial Parkway murders, and activities related to the Route 29 stalker. 

To get a look at the official Spingola Files polo shirt and obtain an order form, please visit:

http://www.classifiedads.com/clothing_apparel-ad2649021.htm

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010


Broken Bones, Broken Hearts

New information has surfaced regarding the homicide of 21-year-old Morgan Harrington. On St. Patrick’s Day, Morgan’s parents, Dan and Gil Harrington, held a news conference in front of the John Paul Jones Arena on the University of Virginia campus. 

Morgan Harrington disappeared after attending a Metallica concert at the JPJ Arena last October. A farmer discovered her body on January 26 in a relatively remote area of his property.  Forensic pathologists wasted little time declaring the missing woman’s death a homicide. Investigators have not disclosed the specific cause of death. 

Police, however, released Morgan’s body to her family in February. Her parents believe broken bones made it evidently clear that their daughter suffered a violent death.

“A monster walks among you,” Morgan’s mother, Gil Harrington, told the media, “a violent, sadistic and dangerous man.”

By going public with this information, the Harrington’s are walking a tight rope. In most instances, detectives usually prefer to keep details of an open investigation under wraps. When specifics about a case leak out, two things generally happen: first, the killer discovers details of the criminal inquiry from the newspaper. Second, information that bleeds into the public eye can compromise the integrity of a confession.

Why then would the Harringtons go public with any details that may reduce the chances of the government obtaining a conviction in their own daughter’s tragic death? It is apparent that the Harringtons do not want to see another family suffer through the same ordeal that has rocked their lives. By painting a picture of a possible serial killer fulfilling his violent fantasies of power and control, the Harringtons are providing notice to potential victims. I also see the Harringtons’ news conference as an effort to keep political pressure on investigators and prosecutors.  Not for one minute do they want this case to get back benched or turn cold.

The Charlottesville, Virginia news publication The Hook reports that Gil Harrington suggested “a possible link between Morgan’s abduction and death and other unsolved cases in Virginia, including the Colonial Parkway murders and the Route 29 stalker.”

The modus operandi of the Colonial Parkway killer differs significantly. From 1986 to 1989, the suspect killed three couples, primarily young adults. Links from these cases to Morgan Harrington’s are the disposal of the bodies.  In two instances, September 1987 and October 1989, investigators located victims of the Colonial Parkway killer in secluded areas.  At first glance, it appears the suspect targeted couples in parked vehicles — primarily in remote areas — in the vacinity for the purposes of sexual liaisons. Investigators believe the killer may have impersonated a police officer. Nearly 20 years have passed, which leads me to believe that the Colonial Parkway killer is either dead or incarcerated. 

The Route 29 stalker developed and fined tuned his demented fantasies as a Good Samaritan motorist.  Active during the late 1980s, this middle-aged white male would flash his headlights and pull along side female motorists.  Using the ruse of car troubles —  sparks emanating from underneath the car or other mechanical problems — he would encourage his victims to pull off to the side of the road.  The suspect would then conduct a supposed examination of the car and offer transportation to a nearby telephone or service station.  Initially, several women accepted rides without consequence.  Later on, however, he attacked one woman, who escaped, while another, Alicia Reynolds, went missing and was later found dead in a remote wooded area. Victims described the suspect, at the time, as being clean-cut and 35 to 45 years-of-age. 

Although specific details pertaining to the deaths of the victims in both the Colonial Parkway and Route 29 matters are not public, I believe the current ages of these suspects, as well as their methods of operation, may exclude them as suspects in the death of Morgan Harrington.

In my February 1, 2010, Spingola Files post, I provided a limited profile of Morgan Harrington’s killer:

“Imagine the would-be killer trolling for possible victims, which he probably has done a dozen times before. A heavy metal concert is taking place on a large college campus that is bound to produce a target rich environment of attractive co-eds — the kind of women that, in a typical social setting, would never give the killer so much as the time of day.  He is probably driving a van or an SUV with heavily tinted windows. Having run through this scenario in his head a hundred times before, he is on the lookout for the perfect victim: a woman isolated and slightly inebriated.  The perpetrator — and their may be more than one — is hoping to find a woman whose inhibitions may be numbed by naïveté and/or alcohol.  He finds this woman thumbing for a ride on Copeley Road.  As she jumps in, the driver checks his mirrors for possible witnesses, and believes he’s in the clear.”

As in the Route 29 stalker case, investigators working the Morgan Harrington investigation are likely on the lookout for potential witnesses offered rides by a probable white male suspect. The broken bones on Morgan’s body indicate a classic power and control killing. These types of suspects go through cooling off periods; however, over time, the urges to kill — propelled by their intense fantasies — rise to the surface. They garner great satisfaction in reveling in their control of the victim and the pain they have inflicted. 

In the interim, the Harrington family and investigators anxiously await the results of DNA testing from the state crime lab. “One thing we have clearly learned,” Dan Harrington told the Charlottesville Daily Progress, “is that things do not work as they do on CSI.”

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Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010