Colonial Parkway murders
Colonial Parkway Murders
Span of crimes
|October 1986–September 1989|
The Colonial Parkway Murders were the slayings of at least eight people apparently by a serial killer along the Colonial Parkway of the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia (or nearby) between 1986 and 1989. During that time, three couples were murdered and one couple is missing and presumed to be dead. The linking of the four crimes is circumstantial, and no suspects have ever been publicly identified.
This section relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (November 2018)
The first two known victims were United States Naval Academy Class of 1981 graduate Cathleen Thomas, 27, and College of William & Mary senior Rebecca Ann Dowski, 21. On October 12, 1986, Columbus Day weekend, their bodies were found inside Thomas' white 1980 Honda Civic at the Cheatham Annex Overlook along the Colonial Parkway in Williamsburg, Virginia. Thomas was working as a stockbroker at the time of the murder. An autopsy found rope burns on their necks and wrists, signs of strangulation, their throats had been slashed, and diesel fuel was poured over the bodies and the car but the car failed to ignite. Their purses and money were found inside the car. It appears that Thomas may have struggled with her attacker as a clump of hair was later found between her fingers. Thomas was nearly decapitated. Both women were fully clothed and there was no evidence of robbery or sexual assault. It was considered a double murder.
On September 20, 1987, David Knobling, 20, and Robin Edwards, 14, were shot to death in the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge, on the south shore of the James River in Isle of Wight County, near Smithfield, Virginia. Knobling's black Ford Ranger pickup truck was found at the refuge parking area next to the James River Bridge with the wipers and radio on and some articles of clothing inside. Three days later, the two bodies were discovered by Knobling's father and a search party along the water's edge of the James River.
On April 10, 1988, Christopher Newport University students Cassandra Lee Hailey, 18, and Richard Keith Call, 20, were reported missing after attending a party in the University Square area in Newport News during their first date together. Call's red 1982 Toyota Celica was found, unoccupied, at the York River Overlook on the Colonial Parkway the next day with some articles of clothing inside. Their bodies have never been found, but both are presumed dead.
On September 5, 1989, just after Labor Day weekend, Annamaria Phelps, 18, and Daniel Lauer, 21, vanished while en route to Virginia Beach. Phelps had been dating Lauer's brother at the time they went missing. Lauer's car, a gold 1972 Chevrolet Nova, was soon found abandoned at the I-64 New Kent rest stop in New Kent County and it was discovered to have been heading in the wrong direction, away from their intended Virginia Beach destination. On October 19, 1989, the skeletonized bodies of Phelps and Lauer were found in a wooded area by hunters along Interstate 64 between Williamsburg and Richmond. The hunters discovered the bodies on a logging road about a quarter-of-a-mile from Courthouse Road, a location about a mile from the I-64 New Kent rest stop where Lauer's car was found. At least one of the badly decomposed bodies appears to have suffered knife wounds.
In 1991, the Virginian Pilot ran a three-part series on the Colonial Parkway Murders by reporter Greg Schneider, who was permitted special access to FBI lead investigator Robert Meadows. The series was published again by the paper in 2010.
In 1996, the unsolved case of the Colonial Parkway Murders was presented on national television on the program Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, a series that aired from 1993-1999. Actor Steve Altes portrayed the killer.
In 2007, the disappearance and presumed murder of Cassandra Hailey and Keith Call was featured in the Investigation Discovery program Sensing Murder, whereby investigators brought in psychics Pam Coronado and Laurie Campbell to gain new insights into the crimes. The show mentioned that this disappearance may be part of the Colonial Parkway Murders. Psychic Pam Coronado felt that the killings were all related but that the locations of the cars were not where the actual violence occurred.
In 2008, E! Entertainment Television presented a full-length documentary, THS Investigates Serial Killers on the Loose, which features a segment on the Colonial Parkway Murders.
In September 2009, it was discovered by CBS News affiliate WTKR that nearly 80 highly graphic crime scene photographs of Colonial Parkway Murders victims were used to instruct a class by a retired and now deceased former FBI photographer. Former WTKR investigative reporter Mike Mather found that much of the evidence, stored for over two decades, had yet to be tested for DNA and other trace evidence.
In 2011, author Michelle McNamara, author of I'll Be Gone in the Dark, on the Golden State Killer, later an HBO series, published a two-part exploration of the Colonial Parkway Murders in her True Crime Diary.
On October 8, 2016, the Richmond Times Dispatch ran an in-depth article on the 30th anniversary of the Colonial Parkway Murders case: After 30 Years, Relatives in Parkway Murders Hope for a Break in Cases
On October 8, 2016, the Virginian-Pilot published in-depth story, "The Killer Could Still be Out There: 30 Years Later, Still No Answers in the Colonial Parkway Murders"
On May 4, 2018, the Colonial Parkway Murders were covered in featured panel discussion at the annual "CrimeCon" true crime convention in Nashville. Moderated by former FBI Special Agent Maureen O'Connell, the panel featured family members and advocates Joyce Call and Bill Thomas along with Blaine Pardoe, coauthor of a book on the case, A Special Kind of Evil: The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings.
On June 25, 2018, editors at Listverse released a new article, "Ten Disturbing Facts About the Colonial Parkway Murders."
On July 23, 2018. WTVR News 6 in Richmond reported that there was additional DNA evidence available for testing in the Colonial Parkway Murders.
On December 22, 2018, veteran reporter Mike Holtzclaw wrote an article for the Daily Press marking Colonial Parkway Murders whistleblower Fred Atwell's passing titled: "Former Deputy's Death Leaves Parkway Victim's Families Wondering What He Knew."
On April 25, 2019, The New York Times published a story on the use of DNA in the Golden State Killer case, the Colonial Parkway Murders and other unsolved homicides titled Sooner or Later, Your Cousin's DNA is Going to Solve a Murder.
On September 17, 2020, the publication Forensic Genomics published an article by family member Bill Thomas covering the Colonial Parkway Murders entitled "The Family Perspective."
On January 15, 2021, the Oxygen Network announced that a four-part true crime series, Lovers Lane Murders would cover the Colonial Parkway Murders. The four episodes were to feature former FBI profiler Jim Clemente, as well as investigators including former FBI Agent Maureen O'Connell and former prosecutor Loni Coombs, together with crime scene reconstruction expert Dr. Laura Pettler. The series made its debut on February 11–12, 2021.
On February 4, 2021, in advance of their Lover's Lane Murders television series, the Oxygen Network released a series of videos including "Why Would Law Enforcement Not Release All Records On a Case Like the Colonial Parkway Murders? and "Was the Colonial Parkway Killer Pretending to be Law Enforcement?"
On July 23, 2021, The Daily Beast published an article about the Colonial Parkway murders, primarily focusing on the murder of Cathleen Thomas and Rebecca Dowski, the first known victims of the Colonial Parkway killer.
In June 2010, the victims' families requested the assistance of a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective Steve Spingola. In 2010, Spingola published Predators on the Parkway, a 29-page magazine article that detailed his findings.
Spingola proposed that the murders are the work of different killers, especially the slayings of Cathleen Thomas and Rebecca Dowski. Spingola believes the Thomas-Dowski crimes are directly linked to the deaths of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams who were found with their throats slashed in the Shenandoah National Park, 180 miles west of the Colonial Parkway, in 1996.
In 2010, a note was discovered in a box taken years earlier from Annamaria Phelps' apartment. The note, which was undated and purportedly written by Phelps, indicated that she was to meet someone in a blue van at a rest stop. While the Virginia State Police claim the information in this note was previously examined, one of the state police investigators working during the 1989 Phelps-Lauer murders told a television reporter from WAVY-TV that he was "unaware of the existence of the note."
- List of fugitives from justice who disappeared
- List of serial killers in the United States
- Murder Accountability Project Tracking America's Unsolved Homicides
- Turner, Joe (December 19, 2020). "Colonial Parkway Murders Remain Unsolved". Historic Mysteries. Retrieved March 23, 2021.
- Lohr, David (September 6, 2011). "Fred Atwell, Controversial Figure In Colonial Parkway Murders, Arrested In Georgia". HuffPost. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
- Schneider, Greg. "Part 1 | Agent stalks dark path of serial killer". pilotonline.com. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
- Schneider, Greg. "Part 2 | Serial Killer's Trademark: Colonial Parkway Murders". pilotonline.com. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
- Schneider, Greg. "Part 3 | Scores of suspects – but no serial killer". pilotonline.org. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
- Mather, Mike (September 22, 2009). "Sensitive FBI photos from Colonial Parkway murders leaked to the public". WTKR. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
- Mather, Mike (September 23, 2009). "FBI takes new approach in hunt for Colonial Parkway killer". WTKR. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
- "A cold case heats up: The Colonial Parkway murders". pilotonline.com. The Virginian Pilot. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
- McNamara, Michelle. "What'd We Miss?". truecrimediary.com. Retrieved January 29, 2021.
- "The Colonial Parkway Murders | Dark Minds". Investigation Discovery. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
- Holtzclaw, Mike; Williams, Amanda. "Parkway". Daily Press. Archived from the original on May 27, 2019. Retrieved December 31, 2016.
- Green, Frank. "After 30 years, relatives of victims in Parkway Murders hope for break in cases". Richmond Times Dispatch. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
- Kimberlin, Joanne. ""The killer could still be out there": 30 years later, still no answers in the Colonial Parkway Murders". pilotonline.com. The Virginian Pilot. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
- "Colonial Parkway Murders: Help Find a Killer". crimecon2018.sched.com. Retrieved February 3, 2021.
- Welton, Benjamin (June 25, 2018). "10 Disturbing Facts About The Colonial Parkway Murders". listverse.com. Retrieved January 27, 2021.
- Staff, Web (July 23, 2018). "Authorities have 'potential perpetrator DNA' in Colonial Parkway murders, family says". wtvr.com. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
- "Dateline Crime Capsule: The Colonial Parkway Murders". NBC News. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- Holtzclaw, Mike. "Former deputy's death leaves Parkway victims' families wondering what he knew". dailypress.com. Retrieved January 30, 2021.
- Murphy, Heather (April 25, 2019). "Sooner or Later Your Cousin's DNA Is Going to Solve a Murder". The New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
- Peterson, Britt. "Victims, Families and America's Thirst for True-Crime Stories". The Washington Post Magazine. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
- Thomas, William (2020). "The Family Perspective". Forensic Genomics. 1: 4–6. doi:10.1089/forensic.2020.0002.
- Crist, Allison. "Lovers' Lane Murders Sets Out to Solve the Infamous Colonial Parkway Murders". online.com. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
- "Why Would Law Enforcement Not Release All Records On A Case Like The Colonial Parkway Murders?". oxygen.com. Oxygen. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
- "Was The Colonial Parkway Killer Pretending To Be Law Enforcement?". oxygen.com. Oxygen. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
- "Who Committed The Lovers' Lane Murders? Inside The Unsolved Cases". accessonline.com. Retrieved February 11, 2021.
- Rohrlich, Justin (July 23, 2021). "Inside the Maddening Search for Virginia's Colonial Parkway Serial Killer". The Daily Beast. Retrieved July 24, 2021.
- Burkett, Jon (May 17, 2010). "New Investigator Looking into the Colonial Parkway Murders". WTVR-TV. Archived from the original on May 20, 2010.
- Spingola, Steven (August 3, 2010). Predators on the Parkway (1st ed.). Badger Wordsmith LLC. p. 37. ASIN B003YCPFN8.
- Knight, Matt (August 10, 2010). "New details published in Colonial Parkway murders". WTKR. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
- "Is note a break in Colonial Parkway murders?". WAVY-TV. August 10, 2010. Archived from the original on October 30, 2010. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
- "Murder Accountability Project: Tracking America's unsolved homicides". murderdata.org. Retrieved January 31, 2021.