Brutal crime: Culpeper authorities seek public's assistance

news-sherriwarnerCulpeper Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close and Sheriff James Branch Jr. are asking for help solving the horrific murder of mother-of-three Sheryl Warner, pictured here, on the fifth anniversary of the crime. Due to the Hook's abbreviated holiday publishing schedule and the unusually detailed nature of the press release, we are reprinting it here in its entirety and will report further in the near future:



As we reach the five-year anniversary of a brutal crime that shocked our community, the Culpeper County Commonwealth's Attorney and Sheriff's Offices are again seeking the assistance of the public with our investigation of the murder of Sheryl Warner of the Reva area of Culpeper County. We remain absolutely committed to solving this crime and are continuing to pursue new leads and re-examine existing evidence and information in light of advances in forensic technology and investigative techniques.

On Sunday evening, December 18, 2005, around 6:30 p.m., 37-year old Sheryl Warner was alone in her home located at 8445 James Monroe  Highway, 29 South in Culpeper County, about three (3) miles before the Madison County line. She was on the telephone with her father, John Embrey, discussing the Washington Redskins recent win against the Dallas Cowboys. This phone call was interrupted when a male knocked on her front door, reported that his car had broken down, and asked to use her phone to call for assistance. His conversation suggested he was not alone. Sheryl Warner hung up the phone and was never heard from again.

Alerted by Sherri's family, responding fire and law enforcement personnel discovered her home set on fire and her bound, hanging and lifeless body in the basement. The cause of her death was a gunshot to her head. Her murder robbed her family of a beloved daughter and sister. Most tragic was that Sherri's three children–- aged 13, 8 and 10, lost their mother that night–- a week before Christmas.

Some eyewitnesses have reported a suspicious vehicle in the vicinity of Sherri's home that night. It may be the case that someone encountered the killer around the time of the crime and thought his behavior odd or frightening. Someone may have heard what was considered an unusual conversation about the murder. We are asking anyone with any information about the events of that night, even if you think it has already been reported, to contact us at the numbers or addresses listed below.

The person who murdered Sherri brought a lot of violence to the crime scene and his behavior suggests a degree of criminal versatility. He was able to con his way into her home, spend time there, brutally kill her, and then escape undetected. It is likely that this subject was no stranger to violence and criminality and that would be reflected in his arrest history and behavior with others in his life. Those who know him will note in him an ability to quickly move to explosive violence and then recover. Those close to him in his life, especially females, may have been the victims of his violent outbursts.

If we are to believe the suspect's own words, then he may not have been alone that night as he approached and entered Sherri's home. It is to that other person that we would also like to speak. Relationships and friendships can change or dissolve with time. People may question loyalties they've held. As time goes by, a person's conscience can motivate him or her to try to do the right thing and make up for past mistakes.

So we are offering this second person the chance to come clean and remove this burden and fear from your conscience and mind, remove yourself from harm's way, and help also to end the killer's victimization of others. We understand you may be afraid of the killer; we can protect you. We understand you may fear your involvement that night could expose you to punishment; your coming forward will go a long way in positively determining your future life. No one should live in fear or danger from this killer. No children should ever have to lose their mother at his hands again.

We may be contacted via telephone at 540-727-7523 or 540-727-3441. We can be reached via email at or ; or via mail at James Branch, Jr., 110 W. Cameron Street or Gary L. Close, 118 W. Davis St., Culpeper Virginia 222701, or in person at 110 W. Cameron Street, or 118 W. Davis St. Culpeper, VA 22701.

There is a reward for information leading to the arrest of Sherri's killer.



@ Bubba

Good points, except for the part where you seem to think that the only people rushing around to and fro and not getting to know each other are all "yankees." As if no native southerners or Virginians are doing the same thing. Sorry but I know quite a few native Virginians and southerners who rush about in a frenzy and don't care to take the time to get to know their neighbors. So I'm not sure how the tired old confederate-era holdovers of "yanks vs. southerners" got dragged into this.

I moved to Cville 5 years ago from Las Vegas to get away from the crime and violence. After all, Cville was nationally listed as one of the "Safest Small Cities" in the country. Guess I must have read that wrong, since all the news here is murders, kidnappings, burglaries, robberies, rape, pediphiles, etc., etc., etc. I stopped watching the local news and only get the Sunday paper now. Oh case you are looking for another victim...
I sleep with my 38 Colt Detective Special under my pillow. U'all
come on over...

Reva, Virginia is just 21 miles from Lignum. Lignum of course being where the body of Alicia Showalter Reynolds was found. Would have to wonder if there is some sort of connection between these 2 cases.

First it's not U'all it's y'all. You yankees need to get it right and if you are that withdrawn from life that these things can and do happen anywhere you should all lock your doors and stay inside for the rest of your lives. Quit you whining and go back to the yankee places you left and take your fast paced way of life and complaining with you. We don't want you or your yankee crap! If everyone would slow down, get to know one another, sit for a spell and just have a talk with your neighbor you would get to know the people in your community and be able to recognize the strange happenings and notice a stranger or criminal lurking in the bushes. Everyone is in too much of a hurry running red lights, driving like there is no tomorrow, being late to everything because they have too much to do. There is an old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child" get back to that way of good old southern values and you will take back your communities!

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Tins, I thought Ricky Gray had been charged in this case also....does anyone know if he had been looked at and removed from a suspect list for some reason? And is he the same one that killed the Harvey and Baskerville families in Richmond?

I honestly thought the murder was found? I thought DNA matched a black man that did a similar crime in another state?

From the JOINT PRESS RELEASE: We understand you may be afraid of the killer; we can protect you.

Dirtiest. Deception. Ever. Devised. By. Law. Enforcement.

They don't care who ends up hurt (or worse) during their pursuit of justice.

A victim or witness would have to be a fool to put any part of his or her life in the hands of those who enforce the law.

There are a lot of yankees here now. You can't call yourself a native Virginian unless all your grandparents were born here and they were all first cousins. I don't qualify because only two of my grandparents were first cousins and one was born in Wesvirginny. Paternal grandfather went there to buy some mules, but the journey took a bad turn and he came back with a wife instead.

It was the savages that killed the Harvey and Baskerville families in Richmond. End of story.

One of the great things about this country is that you are free to move wherever you please if you don't like it where you are.

Same here. MY GSD lets nobody enter until I tell him it's OK. But I prefer a shotgun for home protection. :)

Actually Princess, I thought Ricky Gray was charged with this brutal crime. I know there were a lot of similarities in the two cases. What does being black have to do with being guilty or innocent. Someone is a murderer regardless of their skin color. Why the hell does race always have to be a factor?

My Uncle was Police Chief for almost 30 yrs. in Warrenton, Va., Although it was a kinder, gentler time,he was a decorated 30 yr. Marine before he applied for the job...He was known to be fair, but, he would have not slept till this was solved, the old fashioned way, INSTINCT! He knew his town, and it's people, and they patroled.....

Is it me or does there seem to be lots of violence in this area? I moved here just over a year ago from New York and have been shocked with the Harrington case, the shootings on the Blue Ridge, Yeardley Love, and the disappearance of the girl in Orange. Then I hear about the disappearance of a UVA student in the '80's, the Rt. 29 murder and stopping of female drivers by a sicko, the murders in the National Forest a couple of summers ago, and now this. Living in Metro-New York is looking safer to me everyday. I know these awful things happen most everywhere....but geez. I guess at least we know who committed a couple of these but there still seem to be some bad people out there.

Five years later, Warner's murder remains unsolved:

Love C-Ville, I was thinking the SAME thing

It's all about the lack of law enforcement officers out on patrol to deal with a growing crime problem. This of course has been self inflicted by the cop shoopes too I might add. So many cops have been assigned to specialized units that there is nobody left to patrol the streets. And most of these specialized units involved Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., gravy train jobs. Cops are standing in line to get aboard the Gravy Train.

Don't believe me? Next time you see a uniformed cop on patrol, ask him/her if they agree with this.

Believe the crimes are reported more here than the larger cities who experience a murder every other day...

Economy goes south - crime rate goes up. More are released early from prisons and jails - they repeat their offense because they have been conditioned to become even more violent in our systems. They also have shut down many facilities in our area so if someone faces jail time - they may not serve due to the overcrowded facilities.

What baffles me is the fact that for the most part - if you are smart you can get away with murder in this area. Yes, that is true. Quite frankly those who are employed to "solve" these crimes locally are not very bright. I'm just sayin' ...

Tina you just like 90% of the world. It always a black man.

Too much money has been spent on schools while we suffocate our police, fire and rescue departments.

The traffic cameras at Rio will fix everything.

Bureau of Justice stats - murder and nonnegligent homicides per 100,000 population for 2009 - New York 4.0 ... Virginia 4.4 ... Washington DC 24 ... the latter is not a fair comparison perhaps since DC is all urban

to appauled - again, statistically murder is about the easiest crime to get away with anywhere in USA as long as you kill someone you don't know ... bank robbery is about the most difficult ... the cynical person might speculate that one reason the FBI likes to jump into bank robbery investigations is it helps them inflate there arrest andconviction rates ... as long as we're on the subject, when there is a homicide involving domestic partners, 60 percent of the time it's a male who commits the crime ... unless there is a love triangle, then 90 percent of the time it's a female who does the there some kind of lesson in that?

Tina -- you are thinking of the Morgan Harrington case. The DNA found at the scene matches the DNA found at another crime scene, and the sketch of that other person suggests that he is black or at least quite dark-complected.

And to Love C-Ville -- you have, in one sentence, noted crimes that occurred over a 25-year span, in locations ranging from 30 miles west of here (the shootings on the Parkway) to 35 miles east of here (the girl in Orange) to 40 miles north of here (this case, in Culpeper). Lignum is 55 miles from here. I'm not sure what you are talking about when you refer to the murders in the National Forest a couple of years ago, but the nearest National Forest is about 40 miles west of here. Most of the cases that you describe occurred in rural areas; their only connection to Charlottesville is that they get reported in the Charlottesville media.

We in Central Virginia are not perfect, but I don't think that the evidence would support the suggestion that we have as much violent crime as Vegas or New York.

Gasbag, Please forgive my ignorance and help me out? I've lived here my entire life and I've never heard of Lignum. Where is that? I thought Alicia Showalter was found in Crimora. I'm thinking ASR was the victim from JMU. Is that correct?, or no?

Dog and Pony - Lignum is located on Rt 3 about 20 miles east of Culpeper. It is where they found ASR's remains, although she was apparently kidnapped from R29 in the vicinity of the Madison County/Culpeper County line. ASR was from Harrisonburg originally, but was (I think) attending Johns Hopkins at the time of her passing.

Someone here can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe there were some other people killed in the Lignum area around the same time ASR was found.

Actually Princess, Tina was correct in thinking that a black man was at one time charged with the crime. (Ricky Javon Gray) Search for the victims name and you will see the similarities to the brutal crimes that took the lives of another family as well. Read what is written at and then comment.

And yes, sorry to offend your tender sensibilities, but in relation to their percentage of the population I think you will find that black males do commit more than their share of violent crime.

I still think this killing was done by the Gray, Dandridge, and Baskerville trio who were on a killing spree from Pa to Richmond. Almost killed a man in Arlington, too. Sherri Warner's murder and the Harvey family murders in Richmond were very very similar. And the Baskerville woman told a friend details about being at the Warner murder scene that weren't made public.She wouldn't have known this info if she wasn't there.
If I remember correctly when these two lowlifes came to trial in Culpeper the judge ruled that was hearsay and wouldn't allow it.Not long after the Harvey family killing, the two guys killed Baskerville and her parents as well.

Poncho, Thank you. Yes I do remember now. Iwas thinking of another murder case. Her name was Reynolds also I think. Was her murder solved? I remember they were suspecting a truck driver seriel killer at that time. If my memory is correct, there were 3 or 4 young ladies "dumpped" on Rt 29?

I'm sure it's hard to find a lone muderer. But when more than one person is involved and so violently, I would think that would be difficult but easier to solve. But then....I'm not a detective. I just pray they are caught or killed. I prefer the latter.

There was the Route 29 Stalker that is believed to have killed Alicia Showalter Reynolds;

@ LoveCville - Don't forget about Jayne McGowen, resident of St. Clair Avenue, killed in 2007 by a random house robbery turned murder, Justine Abshire, featured on the home page of The Hook, whose husband has been charged with her murder and cover up, the 2007 Wood Grill Buffet robbery turned murder of William Godsey. Then the I-64 shootings back in 2008, where random cars were targeted on I-64. I'm sure there are even more I'm forgetting.

Every area is going to have its issues no doubt, but I'm in agreement with a few others here about the weird and usually unsolved murders by stone cold psychopaths, and the missing people going on in this area. I think it stands out only because of the reputation of Cville, and the way in which the surrounding area is so rural and quiet. You'd think rural and quiet would equal safe, but apparently not. Especially in the case of the Shenandoah Park killings and targeting of at least one female who managed to escape and not get killed from who many suspect was Darrel Rice, which basically made it clear that it's not even safe to camp in an out of the way area of a national park without some psychopath becoming aware of you and killing you. And it's not even safe to sit on a scenic overlook in said park enjoying a sunset with your friend without some random crazy appearing out of nowhere and shooting you up, then trying to push you over the ledge. It's the nature of some of these crimes that makes them stand out, in addition to the areas where they're occurring. The St. Clair Avenue murder.....happened in *broad fricking daylight* in a quiet area off of Locust Avenue. Not exactly the ghetto. Morgan Harrington...disappears, body turns up in the most bizarre location, nobody can figure out how in the heck she got there, bones crushed, nobody can figure out how that would have happened, and to this day it's still unsolved. And in Sheryl Warner's case it was an extremely violent and horrific crime, as well as being totally random apparently. That's what gets me about this one. Killers pick a random house to target and go knocking on the door. It's just the nature of the crimes I think, not matching the area where they're occurring. The problem also is that you have DC and Richmond only 100 and 60 miles away, respectively, which are going to increase your chances of bad elements wandering in from those areas. And I think as time goes on and the economy continues to tank and things go south we're going to see more and more people finding their way here.

@cvillelaw - You're right about how some of the crimes noted did not take place within the city of Charlottesville itself or even the immediate surrounding area, however they all did occur within about a 50 mile radius, as you noted. Meaning, issues with central Virginia in general. And again, maybe it's statistically "normal" in the sense that these sorts of crimes are happening everywhere nowadays, but I think people are shocked for the reason I noted in my previous post, which is that this area used to be a lot safer, apparently, something old timers would remember I would guess, and the nature of the crimes are getting more and more unsettling and bizarre. Personally, I think it's a mix of both "a sign of the times" along with outright conspiracy. We're only 100 miles away from all manner of government and military headquarters and operations, and there's the massive underground facility at Mount Weather in Virginia as well. Wherever the military and government go, mind control experimentation follows. (That would be the case with the Beltway Snipers in my opinion, as well as the Virginia Tech shootings.)

boooo! there used to be fewer people and perhaps a quick and relative study of those convicted of the crimes would make a case for profiling.

I have lived in Charlottesville for six years now. I read the news daily and am grateful for the media coverage of these horrific crimes. I think back to the warnings I received as a teenager growing up in a very small midwestern town. Don't walk the street at night alone, don't open your door to strangers, if you travel in a vehicle alone keep your doors locked....the predators are out there and always have been. If you live in the jungle and you know the cats come out to feed at night are you going to wander about? I don't believe Charlottesville is any more dangerous than any other place, I believe some of these incidents occur because just for a moment someone let their guard down.

I used to live on a busy highway and random people would stop by saying they'd broken down, run out of gas, whatever. I never ever let them in the house and would just tell them to go back to the car and I would call the Police for them. Most of the time they really were stranded, but on one occasion they went back to their broke down car and drove off in it.
That broke down car routine is a typical skank trick and so too is the phony story about wife and kids in the car. This killer may not have had anyone with him.
Unfortunately the perps who do this sort of thing are almost always traveling through the area, have no community ties,and their victims are chosen opportunistically. Makes it very hard to find them once they have moved on.

next time someone knocks on your door when you're alone, just shoot first and ask questions later

If some stranger intending to do my family harm comes knocking at my door anytime of day/night, if they can get past my GSD and Sig 9mm, then it must be their lucky day.

This is a very safe town...

You do realize that news outlets make money by reporting atypical events, right? And in the past 20 years the news media has become hyper competitive so there is nary a statistically uncommon crime that does not get over-sensationalized/reported...

Princess, you seem like a person who over-identifies with people who have the same color of skin as you whether it be good or bad, my point is you most likey get a false sense of pride when you see Obama articulate intelligently at a news conference and a false sense of shame when you hear about yet another black on black murder, and then secondary emotion becomes anger and lashing out at whomever, all the while claiming racism as the cause...quit personalizing everything so you can see things clearly