Evidence in ‘29 Stalker’ to get new look
On the 17th anniversary of Alicia Showalter Reynolds’ disappearance, her mother holds the first bit of encouragement she has received in years.
A Virginia State Police investigator recently took some of the evidence in Reynolds’ slaying to the state crime lab to be re-analyzed, Showalter said.
It’s a step in the direction Showalter has been requesting in the Culpeper County case for the past five years.
Though it falls short of the full, independent review of evidence she sought, she’s hopeful the work—which state police declined to officially confirm—could hold the key to identifying her older daughter’s killer.
“I’m happy that they’re doing that,” Showalter said. “My question is why they didn’t do it earlier. I asked for it two years ago. But at least they’re pursuing it now.”
Reynolds, 25, is believed to be the victim of a man who came to be known as the “29 Stalker.”
On March 2, 1996, the Johns Hopkins University doctoral student was traveling from Baltimore to Charlottesville.
It was a Saturday morning and she planned to meet her mother at a shopping mall to look at dresses to wear at her twin brother’s wedding.
But Reynolds never arrived.
Hours after she should have joined her mother, police found her white 1993 Mercury Tracer parked on the shoulder of southbound U.S. 29, a short distance outside the Culpeper town limits.
A white napkin was beneath a windshield wiper, an apparent signal of car trouble, but mechanics found no problems with the four-door sedan, which still had gas in the tank.
As news of Reynolds’ disappearance spread in print, on radio and TV broadcasts, and on highway billboards, dozens of women started calling police with similar stories.
In the weeks before Reynolds vanished, they said a white man in a pickup truck had flagged them down—or tried to—suggesting they were having car troubles.
Those incidents stretched from Manassas to Albemarle County, primarily along State Route 29, leading to the man’s moniker as the “29 Stalker.”
Two women are believed to have ridden with him without harm.
Reynolds, who was last seen getting into a black pickup with a white man, was found dead nine weeks after she vanished.
Her remains were discovered on May 7, 1996, about 15 miles from where her car was found, on land that had recently been logged in the hamlet of Lignum off State Route 3.
State police agent Richard Hankins has kept in touch with Sadie and Harley Showalter of Harrisonburg since he took over their daughter’s case last year, Sadie Showalter said.
His last call was the first to offer the family something concrete.
He said he had taken items of evidence to the Virginia crime lab for updated analysis.
Corinne Geller, spokeswoman for state police in Richmond, said in a written statement that the department is “still dedicated to solving [the case] and bringing the individual responsible to justice.”
“In fact, within the past year, the investigation into Ms. Reynolds’ murder was the focus of review by State Police violent crimes investigators from around the state.”
She said investigators together reviewed “the entire case file, leads, witness statements, interviews, suspect profiles, evidence, etc., to strategize and pursue any new evidential or technological avenues that could benefit and, ultimately, advance the progress of this ongoing investigation.”
She also said police received 27 new tips over the past year, bringing the total to “approximately 10,040” since Reynolds disappeared.
But Geller declined to comment on whether evidence was recently resubmitted to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to apply updated technology to the materials, citing the fact that it is an open case.
Evidence from Culpeper cases goes to the Northern Lab near Manassas. There, forensic scientists can conduct a full range of tests including DNA analysis and fingerprint work.
A 2007 investigative report by The Free Lance–Star noted that nuclear DNA found with Reynolds’ remains was a candidate for updated analysis.
Paul Ferrara, who was then the director of Virginia’s labs, recommended that testing be done.
In addition, forensic scientists now frequently have success in finding what’s referred to as “touch DNA” in cold cases.
Touch DNA, as the term suggests, is DNA left behind after someone grabs something.
When DNA analysis was in its infancy, scientists needed a large sample of biological material—at least the size of a silver dollar—to produce a DNA profile. Today, a profile can be produced from as little as a few hundred cells—or what would fit on the head of a pin.
It’s even possible to lift it from a fingerprint, experts say.
Detectives obtained fingerprints from evidence in the case, including Reynolds’ car and items from her wallet, located before her body was found.
Touch DNA exams can produce the kind of DNA profile that is fed into the national databank for comparison to known criminals and other unsolved crimes.
The past five years have been a time of frustration for the Showalters.
First they learned that evidence from their daughter’s case had not been compared to local serial killer Richard Marc Evonitz as state police had promised in 2002.
Then they appealed to Gov. Bob McDonnell, who in May 2010 promised to devote whatever resources were necessary to aid the Showalters and other Virginia families whose loved ones had been slain.
But, until now, Sadie Showalter said she had nothing to show for it.
After hearing from Hankins, she felt hopeful but said: “You don’t want to get your hopes up too high.”
Seventeen years after losing a daughter, Showalter said it’s hard not to have answers.
“I still want to know. You just do,” she said. “It’s just one of those things. You want to know the end of that chapter.”
With so much time having elapsed, she realizes her daughter’s killer could be dead. But she said it’s not critical to her that someone be prosecuted.
“I don’t have to go through a trial. I don’t have to have all that drama,” she said.
“I just want to know who it was and what happened.”
Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
HAVE A TIP?
Virginia State Police ask that anyone with information that could aid in solving the killing of Alicia Showalter Reynolds contact the Culpeper Division Headquarters at 540/829-7766.