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The Colonial Parkway Killer

Victims of 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.

References
Parkway Murders
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

About Jim Heddlesten

Jim Heddlesten
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 over 300 mysteries are now documented on this site. Thank you for visiting and please bookmark this site.
  • Ifigureditout

    The killer was in jail for manslaughter. He is out now. He lives in Florence south Carolina I doubt the evidence is enough to convict him. But he did it. I have spoke to FBI. They know about what I am saying. I just don’t think they have what they need. Steve. They are gonna get ya You know what you did… How do you live with it? And he was a cop.

  • Kiley

    My aunt told me that since he might be acting like a cop, people don’t have to pull over untill they are in a lighted area and a place where people can see whats going on. I didn’t really understand it at first why this person would kill these people, but then i remember that there are so many sick people these days. Hopefully this person that did all of this mess is either dead or in jail.

  • http://parkwaymurders vicki walker

    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 i thought with this murder her boyfriend had been arrested for her murder she was a friend of my sisters and they always were fighting and he used to beat her up they were fighting the nite she disappaered from what i understand so can someone let me know

    • Ifigureditout

      Mrs walker you are correct her boyfriend chris and her were fighting and she got out of the car. Walking on hickory fork road. Haynes mill pond area. But she was seen in a chevy blazer deputy car that night at little sue. Chris was released and not charged. He was a suspect. But never charged. The deputy who she was in the car with Her moved to south Carolina shortly after kieth and Cassandra went missing. Coincidence?? No.

  • dont wana say

    The murderer was in jail… he is out now… he was law enforcement and law enforcement knows he was involved they jus have no physical evidence.. if he did them all ?? who knows but powell and the others that could be linked to liberty security … that would be a yes ..as old achool law enforcement retires and gets from behind the blue wall..their lips tend to get a lil looser and if you ask direct questions they tend to answer with what they know.. i knew keith call and i personally want this sollved so his and all the other victims families can be at peace..

  • Bill Thomas

    The families conducted a search for Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey over the weekend using cadaver dogs. More searches will follow. The publicity seems to be generating more tips as well.

    http://www.wtkr.com/news/wtkr-cp-colonial-searchdogs,0,5867383.story

    Thanks.

    Bill Thomas
    Brother of Cathleen Thomas

  • robert.c.wade

    any updates as of yet?

  • http://www.historicmysteries.com Jim

    Interesting analysis! Thank you.

  • Militarylady

    Plus the four on the left block all look the same in facial features as do the four on the right as to dark arched eyebrows, hair and facial features. I do not know of the others inserted into this as to type. Perhaps the men and women were representative of a type or a couple that he fixated on. They are not similar, they are exact.

  • Militarylady

    I too think with Jim after the map showing the region. As the Navy Base is near to the concentration of double murders and in the fall time of October and September in each year except April something is going on.

    ‘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’.

    My View. This takes us on another diagram path prior. This is the most likely place the killer or killers frequented at the time I assert. Vocational and personal. Motive is not a reason for murder. Emotion is. A psychopath does not need a motive. He needs a cause.

    This would make sense of the skill and violence used on a trained combatant. Being ex forces I too would have had that skill as Jim would have. This takes us to 1984 and August. In October 86 two years later two more in the same way would die. Someone or two persons as executioners were completing the same voyeur stance as Zodiac in watching and selecting then?

    On October 12, 1986, the bodies of Cathleen Thomas (27) and Rebecca Ann Dowski (21)
    York River, again a water course.

    Single victims in water. Water again is used as geological preference.

    ‘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.

    Insert. February to September.

    It was almost one year later when the serial killer struck again. In September, 1987, David Knobling (20) and Robin Edwards (14) were found murdered on the James River near Smithfield, VA.

    Water course again.

    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’.

    Water course same location.

    ‘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’

    Was this near water too?

    There are chosen correlations of space here and access. Water as River is paramount to the killer or killers.

    ‘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’.

    .
    Link the first and last in woods and Richmond and you have a pattern.
    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.

    As geology and marine sciences are my forte something is wrong here. Someone was stationed all this time during all the murders in some official and academic service in uniform and had knowledge of the water levels, geology and intimate lives that were watched. But Jim your research is better than mine. I own land and understand it, and so I think of my knowledge prepared to someone else. He returns to his predation zone and cannot move. I think they posted him out, or he died. Or one did of the duo. I also think they were using a service vehicle which means they had to dump, and were in uniform so could not drive the cars or trucks to a location. They dumped and needed a watercourse. Ask why and whom. I share it as it is your work I have pasted and commented on.

  • Bill Thomas

    Jim, thanks again. Yes, the idea that the killer or killers might be military (Navy, Marines, Merchant Marine, or other branches since Norfolk is a massive port) has been part of the investigation. There is a sort of pattern to the Colonial Parkway Murders. One couple per year for four years (really three as you said), from 1986 to 1989, then stop. Was the murderer in port and blowing off steam? Was he later transferred? This is something we have talked with the FBI since Thomas/Dowski and Call/Hailey are FBI cases. Phelps/Lauer and Edwards/Knobling are Virginia State Police cases, so I am not certain if the Virginia State Police ever looked into that theory.

    Bill Thomas
    Brother of Cathleen Thomas

  • http://www.historicmysteries.com Jim

    Bill, thanks for the updates. Has anyone looked into the possibility of a service member potentially committing these crimes? No offense to our great men and women in uniform (I served 6 years in USN), but the murders took place during a 3 year time frame and the first thought that came to my head was how military duty assignments usually last 3 years. Just a thought.

  • Bill Thomas

    Jim, thanks for your excellent coverage.

    Someone asked me today why I thought the investigation had not gone anywhere. Here are a few thoughts on why the Colonial Parkway Murders investigation stalled.

    These are just my opinions; I am hopeful that the FBI and the Virginia State Police have jump-started the investigation, and we may have better results this time around.

    First, I believe that in 1986 the FBI got stuck on this rather odd notion that my sister Cathy and her friend Becky had been killed by my sister’s first girlfriend, who had remained friends with Cathy and had even introduced her to Becky. Whoever killed Cathy and Becky had a good deal of physical strength in order to overpower them, strangle them with rope and then cut their throats. My sister’ first girlfriend was a gentle, slight woman; Cathy and Becky were both female athletes in top condition. The theory made no sense right from the start.

    The FBI agents who investigated the murder were all straight white men who had no sense of the lesbian community, or how gay women in Norfolk lived their lives, particularly women who were mostly in the service (both Cathy and her first girlfriend had served in the Navy) and lived their lives in a very quiet, private way. By the time the FBI got off their original ‘lesbian love triangle’ idea, I believe that several years had gone by. It wasn’t until more straight couples had been killed or disappeared that the FBI and the Virginia State Police realized they might be dealing with a serial killer.

    Perhaps the biggest reason for why this investigation is still stalled is that these four double homicides were investigated by different agencies– the FBI and the Virginia State Police– in three different offices, as well as by the U.S. Park Service Police, county and local law enforcement. Even the two Virginia State Police cases (Edwards/Knobling and Phelps/Lauer) are handled by two different Virginia State Police Offices located many miles apart. This is absurd. The coordination, and the friction between agencies was a nightmare. My family has been hearing about this friction for 23 years.

    Once the murders apparently stopped in 1989, and Task Force assigned to this investigation broke up in the early 1990s, it was largely over. While many of the advanced forensic tests including DNA testing and the national databases did not exist in 1986 when the Colonial Parkway Murders started, the evidence, for the most part, was never resubmitted for advanced testing as the science improved.

    A number of FBI agents worked this case over the decades, but all career FBI agents are transferred as their careers move along, so every few years, a new agent had to learn the particulars of a very complex and very cold case Further, I do not believe that investigating murders is what the FBI does much of these days. Most of their experts investigate white collar crime, computer fraud, and financial wrongdoing. Since 9/11, the FBI has been redeployed as an anti-terrorism agency. This Colonial Parkway Murders case was no longer a priority, and moved to the bottom of a very dusty pile of cold cases.

    It was not until reporter Mike Mather of WTKR TV Channel 3 (CBS) in Norfolk broke the story in September, 2009 that the Colonial Parkway Murders crime scene photos had been leaked by the FBI that the families began working together again and regained the leverage to compel the FBI to devote some resources to the case. After four months of the Bureau being bashed in the press by the families, Special Agent in Charge of the Norfolk Office Alex J. Turner called a press conference on Friday, December 18, 2009. He announced that the FBI had investigated the leak of the Colonial Parkway Murders crime scene photos and determined that they had been taken without authorization by an FBI photographer, now deceased.

    In January, 2010, the FBI then flew in family members from the Dowski, Thomas, Call and Hailey families to the FBI offices in Newport News, Virginia. They announced that all of the evidence in the two FBI cases would be sent to Quantico, Virginia for advanced testing at the FBI lab. A full-time FBI agent, cold case specialist Crosby Brackett, would be assigned to the case. A top to bottom review of the 130 suspects in the case would take place.

    Similar meetings then took place in January, 2010 with the familes from the two Virginia State Police cases, first with the Edwards and Knobling familes regarding the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge killings in Isle of Wight County, and then with the Phelps family regarding the Phelps/Lauer murder at the I-64 rest stop in New Kent County. They committed to advanced forensic testing as well.

    As of April 1, 2010, the eight Colonial Parkway Murders families await the result of the renewed investigation and the long overdue forensic tests.

    Bill Thomas
    Brother of Cathleen Thomas

  • http://www.historicmysteries.com Jim

    Hi Rosanna. I think I finally got it right this time. Thank you for your kind words

  • Rosanna Phelps Sedivy

    Hi Jim, thank you so much for your interest and to everyone’s support in solving these cases. It means alot to our families to have this. Great job on the coverage, I read it yesterday and did not have time to comment but her name is Annamaria it doesn’t have a capital M,. I appreciate Jennifer being on top of things, I dont know where we would be without her help. Annamaria was a wonderful sister, my heart will forever ache for her, and my family never be whole without her.

  • http://www.historicmysteries.com Jim

    Jen,

    I appreciate your comment. I made the correction to your sister in law’s name. We all hope the results will lead to the break your family has been waiting for.

  • Jen

    My name is Jennifer Phelps, I am the sister in law to AnnaMaria Phelps, not Anna Marie. I would like to thank you for keeping our story alive. There has been renewed interest in our case and evidence has been sent to the labs for testing. We are hoping for a lead in one of our cases that might lead to a break for all of us.

  • robert

    Fantastic research, this is pretty interesting.