The Colonial Parkway Killer

Between 1986 and 1989, at least eight individuals and possibly an additional four more were killed in the Colonial Parkway area of Virginia. The serial killer has never been found and the Colonial Parkway murders remain unsolved.

On October 12, 1986, the bodies of Cathleen Thomas (27) and Rebecca Ann Dowski (21) were found by a jogger in the back seat of their vehicle.  The vehicle was pushed down an embankment off the Colonial Parkway in area frequented by gay couples.  Their throats were slashed, rope burns were found around their neck and wrists as well as signs of strangulation.  There were no signs of struggle or sexual assault and their personal belongings were undisturbed.  It also appeared that the killer attempted to set fire to their bodies and the vehicle, but was unsuccessful.  The killer then attempted to push the vehicle into the York River.

It was almost one year later when the Colonial Parkway Killer struck again.  In September, 1987, David Knobling (20) and Robin Edwards (14) were found murdered on the James River  near Smithfield, VA.  They were both partially clothed  and Edwards was found with her jeans unfastened and her bra around her neck.  Knobling’s truck was found earlier with the keys still in the ignition, the radio on and the driver’s door opened.  Knboling’s wallet was on the dashboard.  Again, there was no signs of struggle.  The driver’s side window was partially rolled down, which led investigators to speculate as to why it would be rolled down when it was raining the night they disappeared.

On 9 April 1988, Cassandra Lee Hailey and Richard Keith Call went on their first date.  His vehicle was found on the Colonial Parkway the following day.  To this day, they have not been found and assumed to be murdered by the Colonial Parkway Killer.

Keith Call’s red Toyota Celica was found the following morning about 3 miles from where Knobling and Edwards were found. The car was parked at a Colonial Parkway overlook.The  authorities found it unusual that the driver’s side door was open and Call’s wallet was on the console.  The glove box was open. Hailey’s purse, bra, one boot and the couple’s underwear was left in the car.

In October, 1989, the skeletal remains of Annamaria Phelps (18) and Daniel Lauer (21) were found by a hunter in the woods near a rest area off Interstate 64 between Williamsburg and Richmond, VA.  The vehicle was found in the rest area with the keys in the ignition along with Ms. Phelps purse on the seat.  The couple had been missing for one month before they were found.

 Money did not appear to be a motivation in any of these murders, and the victims did not appear to struggle. Law enforcement officials began to theorize that the serial killer was either a law enforcement officer or posed as an authority figure. This may explain why Call’s glove box was opened – in an attempt by Call to obtain his registration that is normally held in the glove box.

In addition to the theory of the Colonial Parkway Killer being a law enforcement officer or posing as one, others suggest that the killer is a rogue CIA operative from the Central Intelligence Agency, which have a training center in nearby Camp Perry in York County. Other experts claim it may be more than one killer working as a team.

Other Victims
Speculation exists that the serial killer’s first victims may have been Michael Margaret (21) and Donna Hall (18) whose bodies were found on August 21, 1984. Their bodies lay in a wooded area near Kings Crossing Apartment Complex in Richmond, Virginia. They were stabbed multiple times and their throats were slashed without an apparent motive.

Brian Craig Pettinger was last seen at a Hampton dance club and his body was found in February, 1987 in a marshy area of the James River in Suffolk, VA.

Laurie Ann Powell (18) was last seen in March 8, 1988 walking down a road in Gloucester County. Her body was found in the James River on April 2, 1988. She had multiple stab wounds to her back.

Recently, crime scene photographs regarding the Colonial Parkway killings where leaked into the public domain by a former photographer who worked for the FBI. Although this caused some embarrassment for the FBI, it did renew interest in the case. The FBI has recently doubled the reward for information leading to the arrest of this serial killer to $20,000.

In December, 2009, FBI Norfolk Field Office Special Agent in Charge Alex J. Turner, stated fingerprints and trace evidence from the crime scenes will be tested using the latest advances in forensic laboratory testing. Turner could not provide a date of when these tests would be completed, but he did state they are expediting the examinations.

A previous profiler on the case stated the killings have obviously stopped and there are two possibilities: “They are either dead or in prison,” he said. “People like this don’t stop.”

The results of these forensic tests may be made public any day now. Perhaps we will soon learn who is responsible for the most gruesome unsolved crimes in the commonwealth of Virginia.

Parkway Murders at
Colonial Parkway Killer/Wikipedia
A fresh push to solve suspected serial killings in Va/The Washington Post
FBI Double Reward in “Colonial Parkway Murders”/Richmond Times-Dispatch

Jim H

Jim was born and raised in Naples, Italy. He created this website in December 2009 because of his fondness for historical mysteries. Since creating the website, Historic Mysteries has grown incredibly fast and more than 3,000 people visit this site daily. Thank you for stopping by and please bookmark this site.
  • Deborah

    Does anyone know why he came to Florence, SC? The reason I ask is because there is an unsolved double homicide in another part of the state that happened in Aug. 1976 (Sumter) I believe- these two people – a man and a woman have never been identified. I am just curious.

  • petercabrera

    I also feel like this case should get more recognition than it does as well.

  • LadyElaine

    Have there been any changes/updates to the case(s)?