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Colonial Parkway Murders

  (Redirected from Colonial Parkway Killer)

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
Victims 8
Span of crimes
Country United States
State(s) Virginia
Date apprehended


Colonial Parkway Murders VictimsEdit

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 Coverage, Television Reports and PodcastsEdit

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[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 2016, journalist/attorney Allison Hope Weiner interviewed Bill Thomas, brother of murder victim Cathleen Thomas, as part of an overview of the Colonial Parkway Murders on her Los Angeles based show Crime Time.

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 August and September 2016, the "Real Crime Profile" podcast produced in Los Angeles, CA ran a series with four hour-long episodes featuring retired FBI Profiler Jim Clemente, writer/producer on Criminal Minds and New Scotland Yard Behavioral Analyst Laura Richards speaking with Bill Thomas, brother of Colonial Parkway Murders victim Cathleen Thomas.

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]

In January and February 2017, the "Shattered Lives" podcast featured two episodes with Parkway victim's siblings Bill Thomas, Joyce Call and Jennifer Phelps discussing the 30th Anniversary of the Colonial Parkway Murders and the status of the investigation.

In September 2017, the True Crime Critique podcast with host Jeremy Ryan welcomed Colonial Parkway Murders brother and advocate Bill Thomas.

On May 4, 2018, the Colonial Parkway Murders were featured in a live panel discussion at CrimeCon 2018 in Nashville, TN with former FBI agent Maureen O'Connell moderating a panel with true crime author Blaine Pardoe, and victim siblings and advocates Joyce Call Canada and Bill Thomas.

On July 7, 2018, The Murder In My Family podcast launched with host Mike Morford and guest Bill Thomas discussing Cathy Thomas and the Colonial Parkway Murders.

On July 24–25, 2018, the True Crime Garage podcast discussed the Colonial Parkway Murders in a two-part feature.

On July 27, 2018, Nancy Grace covered the Colonial Parkway Murders on her national Sirius XM radio show and podcast with Cathy's brother Bill Thomas and a panel of experts.

Assistance of Detective SpingolaEdit

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.[8][9] 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.[10]


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)[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]


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.[10]

Books based in the Colonial Parkway Murders CaseEdit

"A Special Kind of Evil: The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings", a new book on the Colonial Parkway Murders by true crime authors Blaine Pardoe and Victoria Hester, was released by WildBlue Press on July 12, 2017.[14]

In 2015, author Renee MacKenzie released "23 Miles", a fictional account based the Thomas/Dowski murder, the first of the Colonial Parkway Murders via Affinity Rainbow Publications.[15][16]

The 1992 best selling novel,All That Remains by Patricia Cornwell closely based on the Colonial Parkway Murders, published by Charles Scribner's Sons.[citation needed]

Colonial Parkway Murders 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.[17] 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.[18] FBI agents were reassigned to what had been a cold case, and dozens of pieces of evidence were then submitted to the FBI Quantico crime lab for DNA and other trace analysis. The FBI told the victims' families that the results of some of the DNA testing should be available initially the latter part of 2010. Testing of additional crime scene evidence and interviews of suspects have continued through 2017, and the Colonial Parkway Murders families have requested new forensic techniques be utilized.

As of September 2018, the killer or killers have not yet been identified, and the investigation continues. FBI and Virginia State Police investigators have speculated that the suspect might be a law enforcement officer, a National Park Service Ranger or someone impersonating one, or perhaps a rogue operative from the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a training facility nearby at Camp Peary in York County. Some investigators believe the Colonial Parkway Murders were committed by more than one perpetrator working as a team.


October 9–17, 2016 Parkway: Three Years Eight Deaths No Answers 8 part series Daily Press, Newport News, VA

  1. ^ Lohr, David (September 6, 2011). "Fred Atwell, Controversial Figure In Colonial Parkway Murders, Arrested In Georgia". Huffington Post. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Colonial Parkway Killer, Steve Altes, John O'Callaghan, Michael C. Pizzuto, 1996, retrieved 2018-01-28 
  3. ^ "Sensing Murder" Parkway Mystery (TV Episode 2007), retrieved 2018-01-28 
  4. ^ "The Colonial Parkway Murders | Dark Minds". Retrieved 2018-01-28. 
  5. ^ "The Parkway". Flat Hat News. 2015-10-23. Retrieved 2018-01-28. 
  6. ^ Galore, Heidi. "Unsolved Podcast". Retrieved 2018-01-28. 
  7. ^ "Parkway". Daily Press. 
  8. ^ Jon Burkett (May 17, 2010). "New Investigator Looking into the Colonial Parkway Murders". Archived from the original on May 20, 2010. 
  9. ^ "The Spingola Group". Retrieved July 16, 2016. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Spingola Files". Retrieved July 16, 2016. 
  12. ^ "New details published in Colonial Parkway murders". August 10, 2010. Archived from the original on October 31, 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2016. 
  13. ^ "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. 
  14. ^ "A SPECIAL KIND OF EVIL Sheds Light On the Horrific Colonial Parkway Serial Killings • WildBlue Press". WildBlue Press. 2017-07-12. Retrieved 2018-01-30. 
  15. ^ Zen4Dummies., The Zen Cart® Team. Webmaster Support by. "23 Miles Renee MacKenzie- by Renee MacKenzie - lesbian ebooks [] - $7.99 : Affinity Rainbow Publications Lesbian Publishers, Our company is committed to produce quality, affordable works of fictional literature". Retrieved 2018-01-30. 
  16. ^ Mackenzie, Renee (2015-02-28). 23 Miles (1st ed.). Affinity Ebook Press NZ LTD. 
  17. ^ Mike Mather (September 22, 2009). "Sensitive FBI photos from Colonial Parkway murders leaked to the public". Retrieved July 16, 2016. 
  18. ^ Mike Mather (September 23, 2009). "FBI takes new approach in hunt for Colonial Parkway killer". Retrieved July 16, 2016. 

Additional sourcesEdit