Ever since the premiere of Southern Nightmare (are you listening yet??), I’ve been extra interested in cases from my home state of Virginia.
I grew up in Charlottesville, so I remember the anxiety that wracked the town when Morgan Harrington disappeared after attending a concert a John Paul Jones Arena, where I’ve gone to shows for years. Her middle name is my sister’s name. My mom was extra freaked out when Hannah Graham disappeared from the downtown mall, because my sister spent so much time there. When DNA connected Jesse Matthews to the murders of both women, and the assault of a third woman in Northern Virginia, it was pretty terrifying to learn that he’d been hunting all over town as a fucking cab driver.
Following those cases helped make me a murderino. And when I first started working for an anti-violence agency, I think the murder of UVA student Yeardley Love was on my mind. She was killed on my mom’s birthday in 2010, and I think she and her friends used to drink at the same Corner bar I went to.
Then I learned about cases that were even closer to home, once a wise coworker told me that the news neglects to report on the disappearances of girls who aren’t white college students. That’s how I first heard about all of the women who disappeared along Route 29 north of Charlottesville, not far from where my parents used to live. The list includes Hannah and Morgan, as well as two other women I recently read about: Julianne “Julie” Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans, who were murdered while they camped in the Shenandoah National Park in May 1996.
This article about them was left out on the couch for me like a love note: A Murder in the Woods by Kim Dinan in Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine. (Fun fact: I did an internship there in 2010!) Julie and Lollie’s murders remain unsolved, but they share several similarities with the couples who were killed in another series of cold cases, the Colonial Parkway murders.
The Wikipedia page doesn’t offer a ton of info on the murders, which are believed to have been committed by the same serial killer. Between 1986 and 1989, three couples were found murdered along or nearby the Colonial Parkway, and a fourth couple is missing and presumed dead. In hopes of learning more about the victims and leads in the case, I looked to the podcast sphere and found a ton of in-depth coverage. There’s almost too many to choose from – I already tore through a highly binge-able three part series created by William & Mary students, and Unsolved podcast has a four-part series that I’ll be queuing up soon.
Speaking of podcasts – I also came across Septic from the Roanoke Times. It takes a retrospective look at the case of Ashley, a young mother in Pulaski who was convicted for the death of her five-year-old son Noah after he drowned in a septic tank on the property near their trailer. Because of the circumstances and her own history, Ashley was treated viciously by the media and her own hometown. By reviewing her story in a sympathetic light, it seems that the two reporters helming this series are determined to make some amends for the role that the Roanoke Times played in her suffering. It’s a super sad listen, but lately I’m digging stories that bring humanity and dignity to the people and victims that society is eager to cast aside.
Up next: RVA
As I’m coming up on five full years as an RVA transplant, I plan on looking into more cases from my new hometown. Richmond has quite a rich, murdery history – it used to be known as the murder capital of the country, after all…