Colonial Parkway murders

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Colonial Parkway Murders
Span of crimes
October 1986–September 1989
CountryUnited States

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 killer has not been identified.


First couple[edit]

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.[1] 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. Both women were fully clothed and there was no evidence of robbery or sexual assault. It was considered a murder.

Second couple[edit]

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.

Third couple[edit]

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.

Fourth couple[edit]

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.

Media coverage[edit]

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.[citation needed]

In 2007, the disappearance and presumed murder of Cassandra Hailey and Keith Call were 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.[citation needed] 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 location 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.[2] Former WTKR investigative reporter Mike Mather found that much of the evidence stowed for over two decades, had yet to be tested for DNA and other trace evidence.

In 2010, a team from FBI Norfolk and FBI Headquarters met with the victims' families.[3]

In 2013, the Colonial Parkway Murders were profiled in the Investigation Discovery television series Dark Minds, with host and true crime author M. William Phelps.[4]

In October/November 2015, the Colonial Parkway Murders were featured in a three-part podcast series produced by student journalists at College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA.[5]

In February to May, 2016, the Unsolved Podcast in Baltimore, MD did a four-part podcast series, each episode focused on one of the double homicides in the Colonial Parkway Murders.[6]

In October 2016, there was extensive coverage of the 30th anniversary of the Colonial Parkway Murders, including an 8 part multimedia presentation by the Daily Press newspaper.[7]

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 [8]

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 [9]

On July 30, 2019, the Washington Post Magazine ran a story on the search for answers in the Colonial Parkway Murders and other cases titled Victims, Families and America's Thirst for True-Crime Stories [10]

Spingola profile[edit]

In June 2010, the victims' families requested the assistance of a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective Steve Spingola.[11] In 2010, Spingola published Predators on the Parkway, a 29-page magazine article that detailed his findings.[12]

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.

2010 note[edit]

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.[13] 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."[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lohr, David (September 6, 2011). "Fred Atwell, Controversial Figure In Colonial Parkway Murders, Arrested In Georgia". Huffington Post. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  2. ^ Mather, Mike (September 22, 2009). "Sensitive FBI photos from Colonial Parkway murders leaked to the public". WTKR. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  3. ^ Mather, Mike (September 23, 2009). "FBI takes new approach in hunt for Colonial Parkway killer". WTKR. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  4. ^ "The Colonial Parkway Murders | Dark Minds". Investigation Discovery. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  5. ^ "The Parkway". The Flat Hat. College of William & Mary. October 23, 2015. Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  6. ^ Galore, Heidi. "Unsolved Podcast". Retrieved January 28, 2018.
  7. ^ Holtzclaw, Mike; Williams, Amanda. "Parkway". Daily Press.
  8. ^ Green, Frank. "After 30 years, relatives of victims in Parkway Murders hope for break in cases". Richmond Times Dispatch. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  9. ^ Murphy, Heather. "Sooner or Later Your Cousin's DNA Is Going to Solve a Murder". The New York Times. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  10. ^ Peterson, Britt. "Victims, Families and America's Thirst for True-Crime Stories". The Washington Post Magazine. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
  11. ^ Burkett, Jon (May 17, 2010). "New Investigator Looking into the Colonial Parkway Murders". WTVR-TV. Archived from the original on May 20, 2010.
  12. ^ Spingola, Steven (August 3, 2010). Predators on the Parkway (1st ed.). Badger Wordsmith LLC. p. 37. ASIN B003YCPFN8.
  13. ^ Knight, Matt (August 10, 2010). "New details published in Colonial Parkway murders". WTKR. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  14. ^ "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.

Further reading[edit]