Open main menu

The Colonial Parkway Murders were committed by an apparent serial killer believed to have murdered at least eight people 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 never been identified, and his or her whereabouts remain unknown.

Colonial Parkway Murders
Span of crimes
CountryUnited States



First coupleEdit

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 apparently 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 coupleEdit

On September 22, 1987, David Knobling, 20, and Robin Edwards, 14, were found 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 coupleEdit

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. Neither body has been found, but both are presumed dead.

Fourth coupleEdit

On October 19, 1989, the bodies of Annamaria Phelps, 18, and Daniel Lauer, 21, were found in New Kent County by hunters in the woods near a rest area on Interstate 64 between Williamsburg and Richmond. Phelps had been dating Lauer's brother at the time they went missing on September 5, 1989, Labor Day weekend, when they vanished en route to Virginia Beach. 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 gold 1972 Chevrolet Nova had been found heading in the wrong direction, away from their intended Virginia Beach destination. At least one of the badly decomposed bodies appears to have suffered knife wounds.

Media coverageEdit

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 2013, the Colonial Parkway Murders were profiled in the Investigation Discovery television series "Dark Minds," with host and true crime author M. William Phelps.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]

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.[5]

Spingola profileEdit

In June 2010, the victims' families requested the assistance of a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and featured investigator on Cold Justice Steve Spingola, a detective with a national reputation for excellence.[6][7] After visiting the crime scenes, Spingola spoke with family members, tipsters, and law enforcement veterans. In August 2010, Spingola released Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders, a 29-page magazine article that detailed his findings.[8]

Spingola proposed that the murders are the work of different killers, especially the slayings of Cathleen Thomas and Rebecca Dowski. The former homicide detective 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.

After Spingola's team of investigative journalists (known as the Spingola Files (SF), after their Web site's online moniker)[9] visited Yorktown, Virginia, a family member of one of the victims searched the belongings of her deceased relative. A note was discovered that may identify a possible person of interest in one of the couple-homicides.[10] While the Virginia State Police claim the information in this note was previously examined, one of the lead investigators at the time of 1989 murders told a television reporter from WAVY that he could not recall such a note.[11]

Profile criticismsEdit

Spingola's lengthy magazine article has its critics. A family member of one of the victims claimed the former detective sought to profit from his writings. In Predators on the Parkway, Spingola also described the vehicle of a possible person of interest mentioned in the recovered note, which a family member of a victim dubbed "irrelevant" to the overall investigation. But Spingola and his SF staff insist that the note found in a victim's belongings is "very significant" and that the proceeds from Predators on the Parkway are used to off-set costs associated with records requests and travel to explore other unsolved homicides.[8]

Investigation statusEdit

In September 2009, after the story broke on CBS News affiliate WTKR that nearly 80 highly graphic crime scene photographs of Colonial Parkway Murders victims were used inappropriately to instruct a class by a retired and now deceased former FBI photographer, the FBI reopened its investigation of the Colonial Parkway murders.[12] Former WTKR Investigative Reporter Mike Mather and investigators soon found that much of the evidence, stowed for over two decades, had yet to be tested for DNA and other trace evidence.

Responding to the resulting media and family member criticism, a team from FBI Norfolk and FBI Headquarters met with the victims' families in January 2010.[13]


  1. ^ Lohr, David (September 6, 2011). "Fred Atwell, Controversial Figure In Colonial Parkway Murders, Arrested In Georgia". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  2. ^ "The Colonial Parkway Murders | Dark Minds". Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  3. ^ "The Parkway". Flat Hat News. 2015-10-23. Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  4. ^ Galore, Heidi. "Unsolved Podcast". Retrieved 2018-01-28.
  5. ^ "Parkway". Daily Press.
  6. ^ Jon Burkett (May 17, 2010). "New Investigator Looking into the Colonial Parkway Murders". Archived from the original on May 20, 2010.
  7. ^ "The Spingola Group". Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Spingola, Steven (August 3, 2010). Predators on the Parkway: A Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders (Spingola Files Book 2) (1st ed.). Badger Wordsmith LLC. p. 37.
  9. ^ "Spingola Files". Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  10. ^ "New details published in Colonial Parkway murders". August 10, 2010. Archived from the original on October 31, 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2016.
  11. ^ "Is note a break in Colonial Parkway murders?". Wavy-TV 10. August 10, 2010. Archived from the original on October 30, 2010. Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  12. ^ Mike Mather (September 22, 2009). "Sensitive FBI photos from Colonial Parkway murders leaked to the public". Retrieved July 16, 2016.
  13. ^ Mike Mather (September 23, 2009). "FBI takes new approach in hunt for Colonial Parkway killer". Retrieved July 16, 2016.

Further readingEdit