Staunton suit: Cleared High's murder suspect sues city for $200 mil

Carolyn Perry, 20, and "Connie" Hevener, 19, were murdered at High's Ice Cream on April 11, 1967.

The man who lived under a cloud of suspicion for 41 years as the main suspect in the murders of two young women at an ice cream parlor has sued the City of Staunton and as many as six unnamed individuals for more than $200 million for what he describes as decades of harassment that continued long after evidence cleared him.

A year after the 1967 crime at High's Ice Cream, Bill Thomas was tried and acquitted of first degree murder in the death of 19-year-old Constance Hevener. However, he remained under indictment for another 40 years for the same-night killing of 20-year-old Carolyn Perry. In his suit, Thomas, who now lives in southern Augusta County, makes several shocking allegations.

Among them, he claims that the lead investigator for the Staunton Police, Dave "Davie" Bocock, knew the day after the double-slaying that Thomas was innocent and that Bocock also knew who did it: High's employee Sharron Diane Crawford.

The suit alleges that Detective Bocock engaged in a cover up because he was romantically involved with Crawford and may have fathered more than one child with her. Surviving family members have refused DNA testing, even as relatives of the victims have pleaded for an explanation. Further, the suit states, Crawford, in a 2008 deathbed confession, told investigators that immediately following the murders, Bocock–- who died in 2006–- had helped her bury the murder weapon on his property.

The case rocked Staunton two years ago when the deathbed confession became known. Now, the case stands to further strain this picturesque Shenandoah Valley city because the current mayor, Lacy B. King Jr.–- a 32-year police veteran and former deputy police chief–- is named in the suit.

While acknowledging that Bocock was demoted from investigation to "auxiliary service" on the Staunton Police Department in 1980, at the time that King was appointed deputy chief, the suit claims that King's department persisted with decades of "investigation and harassment" of Thomas. King did not return a reporter's call by posting time.

The suit asserts that even after Staunton police were informed that Crawford was ready to confess–- after a private investigation by several citizens drew her admission–- the police still seemed reluctant to clear Thomas, who presses his claim in a federal case filed in Roanoke.

"The City of Staunton wanted Crawford to die," the complaint reads, "before the charge and arrest could be expedited."

Indeed, soon after her deathbed admission, Crawford did die–- but not before she gave an official statement to law enforcement, got arrested, and in so doing appeared to finally exonerate Thomas.

One of the citizen investigators, Lowell Sheets, says the case haunted him ever since he first heard about it as a college student.

"Bill Thomas never seemed to fit to me at all," says Sheets, a hardware store owner.

Decades after the killing, Sheets partnered with several other citizens in a multi-year investigation before their work brought them to a nursing home bed where Sharron Diane Crawford lay dying.

In a 2009 interview, a Staunton woman told the Hook that just ten days before High's turned into a horror scene, Crawford allegedly showed her a pistol and bragged about a plan to kill "the Hevener girl."

Sheets concedes there had been claims around town that Thomas had been mouthing off about having a role in the murders but that there was no physical evidence connecting him. In fact, says Sheets, who passed his information on to private investigator Ray Hartless, who'd also been researching the crime, the private investigation suggested it wasn't even possible for Thomas to have been at the ice cream parlor because he'd been at a cousin's house.

"I don't see how any real investigative force could have charged him to start with," says Sheets.

Thomas, who was 24 at the time of the slayings, is now in his mid-60s and coping with health problems. Reached on his cell phone as he awaited a doctor's appointment, he declines comment on the suit in which he is representing himself.

"I don't have a very good lawyer," he says wryly.

Investigator Sheets, however, hopes the suit will provide Thomas with some compensation for having to live most of his life as a criminal suspect.

"I hope he gets some redress," says Sheets. "He certainly deserves it."


Too bad its time-barred. Correct me if I'm wrong, but notifying someone of your intent to sue them doesn't toll the statute of limitations, does it (one year for personal injury in this case)?

Ms. Stuart,

Your review of the High's case vis-a-vis my role was fine with the exception of the part about me saying that after the murders Bill Thomas went around town "mouthing off" about being involved in the murders. I never said that, but realize others have. Pleas remove that onerous quote from my account. I realize mistakes are sometimes made as deadlines draw nigh.

Thank you.

Lowell H. Sheets

I am concerned how Roy Hartless keeps popping up in this case when the fact is he was a Detective for the City of Staunton, at one time was assigned to investigate the case and never came close to solving it. In 2003 he was in California to interview the ex-wife of Bill Thomas trying to get her to change her story that gave Thomas a good alibi.
He never solved anything, even when a police officer for the City. BUT he is quick to try making it appear he was involved and did solve it. I hope Bill Thomas names his lying _ _ _ in the suit.
We need more law enforcement dedicated as Mr. Sheets.

"Sheets concedes there had been claims around town that Thomas had been mouthing off ...."

Is this what the article originally said or is it a correction? Regardless, it's now consistent with Sheets's comment.

It would actually be a more interesting story if he was suing for $200.