Fight for justice: Justine Swartz Abshire's family wages war on widower

cover-abshire-imageHook cover image.

Since their daughter's mysterious death on a winding country road, the parents of Justine Swartz Abshire have made no secret about who they believe is responsible. But four years after the lifeless body of the 27-year-old school-teacher was discovered following what was initially reported as a hit-and-run accident, there's been no arrest in the case.

That hasn't stopped the woman's parents from suggesting she was more likely beaten to death than hit by a car–- and filing a $5 million civil suit alleging not only that Justine's husband Eric Abshire is a killer but that he didn't act alone.

While Abshire has long maintained his innocence and vowed to help catch his wife's killer or killers, a bankruptcy filing shows that contrary to previous public statements that he wouldn't attempt to financially benefit from his wife's death, Eric Abshire did, in fact, go after some of the estimated $1.3 million in insurance money.

"His version of events is implausible," says Justine's father Steve Swartz, vowing to avenge his daughter's death through any legal means available.

"The battle lines are drawn," says Swartz.

CASE FILE
Victim:
Justine Swartz Abshire, 27
Found:
Taylorsville Road in Orange County
Date of death:
November 3, 2006
Investigating:
Virginia State Police
Cause of death:
113 blunt trauma injuries
Case summary:
A kindergarten teacher at Culpeper's Emerald Hill Elementary, Justine was reported dead by her husband, Eric Abshire who said he'd discovered her body on the Orange County side of Taylorsville Road, near the Greene County line. At first, she appeared to be the victim of a hit-and-run, and Justine's parents put up a $50,000 reward. Now, however, they've filed a multi-million-dollar wrongful death suit against Eric Abshire, Allison Crawford, Jesse Abshire, and Mark Madison, in addition to six unnamed alleged co-conspirators.
Survivors:
Parents, Steve and Heidi Swartz; sister Lauren Swartz; widower, Eric Abshire.

Multiple conspirators

If Eric Abshire has long been the focus of the police investigation–- and the Swartzes suspicion–-the recent lawsuit offers some further insight into what Steve and Heidi Swartz believe actually happened to their daughter. In the suit, they accuse not only Eric, but also his brother, Jesse Abshire, the mother of two of Eric's children, his cousin, and six unnamed co-conspirators.

The four individuals named "remain at the center" of a criminal investigation, the suit alleges, because they conspired with the unnamed individuals that caused the death of Justine Abshire via "unlawful actions."

What were those unlawful actions? The suit doesn't say, and while Eric Abshire, who appears to be representing himself, has not returned a reporter's repeated calls for comment for this story, he has denied culpability in the past, and the attorney for brother Jesse Abshire calls the suit "without merit."

"There are no allegations whatsoever," says Jesse Abshire's attorney, Lloyd Snook, essentially accusing the Swartzes of a fishing expedition.

"They filed the suit hoping that something might come out that they might be able to base their suit on," says Snook.

But according to legal analyst David Heilberg, such vagueness is typical in the early stages of a civil action. He says plaintiffs typically "hold their cards close" early in the litigation process to avoid giving defendants a chance to craft a defense prior to depositions, in which they give sworn statements.

news-vigil-ericEric Abshire, in white sweater, and his brother Jesse Abshire, to his left, are both targeted in the wrongful death suit.
FILE PHOTO BY JAY KUHLMANN

Indeed, on their lawyer's advice, the Swartzes decline to share all their reasons for targeting as many as nine people in addition to the supposedly grieving widower. With painful clarity, however, they do share recollections of the days surrounding daughter's death.

Devastation
It was the telephone call that every parent dreads. At 3am on the morning of November 3, 2006, the Swartzes were awakened at home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their elder daughter, a kindergarten teacher at Culpeper's Emerald Hill Elementary School who was working toward her master's degree at UVA, was dead, the caller told them, hit by a car sometime after midnight.

cover-justineandsteveJustine dances with her father at her May 2006 wedding to Eric Abshire, less than six months before her mysterious death.
PHOTO COURTESY SWARTZ FAMILY

Even from that first horrifying moment, says Steve Swartz, the story the caller–- Eric Abshire's brother Jesse–- told the parents didn't make sense. How could Justine, a young woman known by friends and family as an early-to-bed homebody who feared the dark, end up alone, in the middle of the night, on a country road?

As the investigation progressed, the questions kept piling up.

According to Eric Abshire, he and Justine had argued over his mother's health on the evening of November 2, and in a fit of rage, Justine took off in her 2002 Ford Mustang. Abshire says he cooled his temper by watching television–- a show he couldn't recall during a 2008 interview–- until he received a terse call from his wife at 1:19am telling him her car had broken down and that she needed him to retrieve her from Taylorsville Road, five miles from home.

"She was trying to prove a point," Abshire said in a 2008 interview with the Hook, explaining why the call was so short.

Phone records first obtained by ABC's Primetime Crime reveal the call lasted just 13 seconds, and Abshire, who did not return the Hook's repeated calls for this article, has maintained in previous interviews that it took him about 10 or 15 minutes to get his shoes and helmet on before he set out on his motorcycle to pick her up. As he drove along Taylorsville Road, he saw something he at first assumed was an animal lying in the road. It was his wife, and he says he didn't know if she was alive or dead as he cradled her body for as long as 18 minutes before running to a nearby house to request a resident there call 911 at 1:57am.

Why did he wait so long to go for help, and why didn't he use the cell phone he admits was in his pocket?

cover-justine-mapwebA black SUV stolen on October 29 from Seminole Auto at the corner of Routes 29 and 33 turned up a couple of weeks later, hidden in a vacant unit at Spotswood Self Storage on Toms Road. That facility is just one mile from where Justine Swartz Abshire was allegedly hit by a car and killed on Taylorsville Road on November 3, 2006, and approximately five miles from Eric and Justine Abshire's home at 5553 Fredericksburg Road.
HOOK GRAPHIC

Abshire has maintained he was in shock and not thinking clearly. If that were the only irregularity in his account of that night, his explanation might satisfy the Swartzes. But they say it's far from the only unusual behavior Abshire displayed–- and that his behavior, combined with emerging facts, fueled the Swartzes' suspicion.

There was an absence of any skid marks or broken glass in the road, and the diamond from her engagement was missing. Residents along Taylorsville Road–- including one who lives in a house less than 100 yards from where Justine was found–- said they'd heard nothing to suggest such an accident had just occurred. Moreover, Justine's car, parked less than a quarter of a mile away, showed no sign of engine trouble when police and two separate mechanics examined it. The trunk of the car, normally shut and cluttered with Justine's belongings, according to her family, was found open and "nearly empty." The driver's side door was also open, and the keys were in the ignition.

More troubling, the scene suggested that the victim had left her coat and her purse back in her car when she supposedly set out on foot down the road even though the temperature was around 35 degrees. Abshire's decision to take his motorcycle instead of his car–- it was in storage, he would later say–- to pick up his wife seems odd, too, the parents say, given the night's near-freezing weather. Another troubling detail is the fact that, according to police, he seems to have brought only one helmet.

But perhaps the most significant threat to Eric Abshire's story is what Justine's body revealed. According to a police description of the autopsy report, she suffered 113 blunt trauma injuries–- including 23 to her head. None of the injuries seemed to correspond to the typical injuries sustained by victims of hit and run: horizontal leg injuries known as "strike points" created when a car or truck bumper strikes flesh and bone.

Her parents believe that Justine was killed or mortally wounded somewhere other than Taylorsville Road, and they say Eric wasn't the only one who acted strangely in the time following her death.

Grief or something else?
Having flown in from their then-home in Chattanooga, the Swartzes arrived at Justine and Eric's house–- a one-story cinderblock dwelling on Fredericksburg Road in Greene County–- on the day of Justine's death. Shock and grief were soon coupled with confusion over their son-in-law's behavior.

Eric, they say, was talking with police officers when they arrived around 2:30pm, and they soon learned he'd spent four or five hours away from home, first trying to see his daughters, then driving into Charlottesville for reasons the Swartzes have never fully understood.

Once back at home, Eric briefly greeted his grieving in-laws and then went directly to the bedroom while his cousin, Greene resident Mark Madison, now one of the targets of the lawsuit, took them to the scene of their daughter's death–- the wrong scene. Although Madison told them he had been one of the first to arrive on Taylorsville Road after Justine was found and had stayed there for hours with his cousin Eric as police investigated the scene, Steve Swartz says Madison pointed them to a spot in the road some distance away from the actual location of Justine's body.

news-vigil-eric2At the 2007 vigil for Justine, Eric Abshire confessed–- in a conversation secretly taped by an ABC Primetime Crime news crew–- that he'd had had sex with another woman just days after Justine's funeral.
FILE PHOTO BY JAY KUHLMANN

"Maybe he was worried we'd see blood," Swartz speculates. Madison did not return a reporter's calls requesting comment.

The Swartzes say that Abshire would remain shut in the bedroom for approximately three hours with friends and family–- Madison included–- while several of Abshire's relatives began thoroughly cleaning the house.

"Someone went to get a vacuum cleaner," says mother Heidi Swartz.

While the impromptu family cleaning crew worked, she says that she, her husband, and their surviving daughter, Lauren, were relegated to eating cold take-out food in the kitchen.

"In hindsight, it's bizarre," says the mother, wondering why Abshire's family excluded them even from conversations. "At the time," she recalls, "we were in such shock, we didn't know what to think."

Now, she thinks she was on the periphery of a conspiracy.

According to Virginia State Police Special Agent Mike Jones, Eric and Justine's house was eventually searched, but not that day. Jones also says Abshire was questioned at the scene before police allowed him to leave. "We were busy trying to verify information he provided us," he says, "with no success."

While the Swartzes say they saw no outward sign of Eric's anguish over the death of his wife that day–- "He was always in control of himself," says Steve Swartz–- they nonetheless tried to comfort him.

"We said, 'Don't blame yourself,'" Swartz recalls. Mark Madison, the Swartzes recall, was inconsolable–- to the point that they felt Madison shouldn't be driving.

"He was showing the kind of emotion you'd expect, given the circumstances," Swartz says. But Madison nonetheless announced plans that afternoon to leave town, saying he needed to be in Pennsylvania for several days to attend an equipment auction.

Eric's brother Jesse, among the first to arrive at the alleged accident site and who made the call to the Swartzes, never once came to his brother's house while the family was there. "We asked about him," says Steve Swartz, "but we never saw him."

Finally, late in the afternoon, the Swartzes were able to speak with their son-in-law again, this time about funeral arrangements. They settled on Preddy Funeral Home in Gordonsville, but within a day or two, they say, Abshire seemed to want no part in planning nor did he express interest in retrieving or keeping any of Justine's personal effects.

"He stopped wearing his wedding ring," says Heidi Swartz.

Over the next several days, Eric also gave interviews to several local media outlets, promising to hunt for Justine's killer. The hunt never happened. Instead, he later admitted–- in a conversation with Steve Swartz (taped without his knowledge by producers for a 2008 ABC Primetime Crime special)–- that he had sex with another woman just days after his wife's funeral and before her parents had even gone back to Tennessee.

Abshire would later tell ABC that his behavior was generated by intoxication and by profound grief, and he asserted that he'd never been unfaithful to the living Justine. He would also tell ABC that while he had a history of brawling with men, he didn't have any history of violence toward women.

But according to several sources, that's not the case.

Anger unleashed
Eric Abshire met Justine Swartz in the spring of 1999 when both were working at the Lowe's home improvement store on U.S. 29. Abshire was already the father of two young girls.

Justine–- then studying to become a teacher–- fell as hard for the little girls as she did for their father. But if Justine talked in glowing terms about her future step-daughters, her younger sister Lauren says there was plenty to be concerned about even early on in the relationship.

While staying with her older sister near James Madison University in summer 2000, Lauren recalls arriving home from work to find her older sister hysterical and Justine's cell phone ringing repeatedly. Justine explained that she and Eric were fighting and expressed fear that he might "just show up."

He did eventually arrive at her Harrisonburg apartment, says Lauren, who hid behind a door in a bedroom when Eric allegedly forced his way into the apartment and pinned Justine against a wall.

"I stepped out and told him to leave," says Lauren, who didn't share the story of the assault with the parents but did tell friends.

This wouldn't be the last time a woman would claim to feel the wrath of Eric Abshire. In 2008, the mother of his children, Allison Crawford, filed for a protective order, accusing Abshire of family abuse. Abshire denied the accusation, claiming Crawford had assaulted him. A Greene County judge, however, issued a two-year order against Eric, which expired just last month.

Crawford–- one of the four people named in the lawsuit–- says she had no reason for requesting an extension and defends Abshire against accusations that he had a long history of violence, claiming his temper became unmanageable only after Justine's death. And as for becoming a lawsuit target, Crawford says she's baffled.

"I know that I had nothing to do with this in any way shape or form–- verbally, emotionally, or physically," says Crawford. "I think that the reason my name is included is that I answered all their questions honestly, and my answers were not what people wanted to hear."

Crawford says she was subpoenaed by an investigative grand jury in Orange County–- which remains empaneled–- and says she was improperly contacted by one of the jurors. She says she brought her concerns to Orange County prosecutors, to no avail.

"If they don't care about the objectivity and neutrality of the people they select for they jury," she says, "how do we ensure fairness when we know someone is not neutral? How do we ensure that the system is going to work?"

Orange County Commonwealth's Attorney Diana Wheeler did not return the Hook's calls for comment.

Despite what she sees as flaws in the investigative process, Crawford insists she would like nothing more than to see whoever is responsible for Justine's death brought to justice.

"I want them away, totally gone, whoever that person is," says Crawford.

Crawford also acknowledges her two-child relationship with Abshire overlapped his budding relationship with Justine, but only until she became aware of the woman who would marry her children's father. And she points out that neither she nor Mark Madison has been directly notified about the lawsuit, which has been pending since April in two-hours-away Nottoway County.

The timing and the location of the filing are signs, says legal analyst Heilberg, that the Swartzes are employing some "clever lawyering."

Legal twists and turns
Anyone familiar with Virginia law knows that there is typically a two-year statute of limitations on filing a civil suit. But with careful planning, says Heilberg, would-be plaintiffs can buy themselves additional time. That's what the Swartzes, represented by high-dollar McGuire Woods partner Brian Jackson, appear to have done.

In fact, the Hook recently learned, the Swartzes first filed their lawsuit in Nottoway County in 2008, just before the second anniversary of Justine's death. (In Virginia, civil suits can be filed in any jurisdiction regardless of the location of the alleged tort.)

Jackson declines comment on the pending case, but Heilberg believes they chose a location far away to minimize the likelihood that anyone would discover it. Snook suggests another reason: Nottoway County is short one judge at the moment, he says, which means there is a case backlog that makes scheduling a hearing difficult.

For the Swartzes, who admit they'd rather see the case prosecuted criminally than proceed civilly, buying time may have a certain appeal. They say they'd have preferred a criminal investigation to take its course before their civil filing.

Virginia law gives plaintiffs one year to notify defendants of a suit and allows them to withdraw the suit one time with the option of refiling within six months. Taking advantage of all these rights, the Swartzes refiled the lawsuit on April 1 of this year. Both Eric and Jesse were served in May, according to court documents the Hook obtained; there are months left during which they may choose to serve Crawford, Madison, and any of the unnamed co-conspirators, although Heilberg suggests the longer the time that goes by, the less likely it is that the remaining defendants will be served.

One benefit of a civil suit, Heilberg points out, is that defendants don't have the same Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as they would in criminal prosecutions. During civil depositions, Heilberg says, a plaintiff's attorney has the opportunity to ask questions that a prosecutor wouldn't be able to ask. In other words, while Eric Abshire can't be compelled to testify in his own prosecution (if one should come), he can be compelled to respond to questioning in a civil suit, even if he chooses to plead the Fifth in some of his responses.

Delaying the lawsuit may also have had some practical purposes relating to Eric Abshire's bankruptcy filing: the law prohibits him from filing for bankruptcy again within eight years, which might allow the Swartzes to collect any possible judgment against him. But even if they prevail in their civil claim, his bankruptcy filing suggests it will be difficult if not impossible to collect anything.

Bankruptcy
In 2008, Eric Abshire bemoaned the toll his wife's death had taken on him, not only emotionally, but also financially. "I've lost everything," he told a reporter. Indeed, his May 2009 bankruptcy filing in federal court indeed reveals a man with nothing left to lose–- other than about $72,000 in debt.

According to the filing, Abshire's annual income had dropped from $12,000 in 2007 to $9,000 in 2008–- the last year for which full records were available. He owed money on a variety of loans as well as back taxes to the IRS, rent money to his grandfather who owns the ill-fated newlywed couple's house, and $9,000 in back child support to Allison Crawford.

With an estimated income of just $1,300 a month and more than $2,400 in monthly expenses, he was operating at a net loss of more than $1,000 each month. And May 2009 was particularly tough for the already beleaguered father.

According to the filing, a motorcycle accident resulted in a $7,200 insurance pay-off that month–- $4,700 of which went to Abshire. But sometime within those two weeks before the May 15 filing, Abshire's home was allegedly burglarized and $3,100 in cash was taken, along with his Playstation video game console, a pistol, and a DVD player.

There's one other puzzling theft that struck Abshire's world. Around the time of his wife's death, there was a stolen black Ford Expedition parked inside an unlocked unrented unit just half a mile from the accident scene where Justine was found. According to an employee of the nearby Seminole Auto Sales dealership, Eric Abshire had examined the Expedition less than a week before the car was stolen on October 29, 2006–- five days before Justine died. The same day Abshire looked at the Expedition, a salesman revealed, a key to the vehicle went missing.

Police conducted forensic tests on the Expedition; the results have never been revealed.

At the time of the bankruptcy filing, Abshire claimed to have just $6 in his checking account and $50 pocket cash. Other than that, he placed the total value of his belongings including furniture, three vehicles, and two cats at approximately $5,500.

Abshire did have one potential large asset he notes in the filing, however: a $150,000 insurance policy Justine held through the National Education Association and for which he was the beneficiary. In fact, the policy was worth $300,000 because Justine had paid an additional $3.75 a month premium for double indemnity in the case of accidental death.

Abshire filed a claim on that policy in December 2008–- six months after giving interviews denying he'd ever profit. Justine's parents point out that he was already past the usual two-year statute of limitations on a civil case, so he may have felt secure that if he received the money, he'd be allowed to keep it.

But the Swartzes–- who took over Justine's estate after Eric failed to meet a variety of deadlines–- had already disputed any insurance claims he might make on any of several insurance policies.

In the end, Justine's family negotiated a settlement with the bankruptcy trustee, according to Steve Swartz. Particularly concerned about Abshire's daughters, whom they know Justine loved, the Swartzes decided to allow Abshire to pay off his debts, including the child support, with a portion of the $300,000. The family kept the remainder, a fact Steve and Heidi say brings them no pleasure.

"We don't care about having the money," says Steve Swartz. "But we are determined to make sure Eric never benefits from Justine's death."

And there may well be much more money at stake. As detailed in previous Hook articles, Abshire could stand to collect as much as $1 million more from uninsured motorist insurance–- most of it from a dump truck that was purchased in Justine's name. But with the civil suit now pending, and the criminal investigation still "very active" according to State Police special agent Jones, it appears unlikely other policies will be paid out in the near future.

cover-justine4years-memorialJustine' memorial on Taylorsville Road bears signs of recent visits.
PHOTO BY COURTENEY STUART

A family broken
Four years after Justine's death, Taylorsville Road has undergone significant changes. The shrine that marks the spot where Justine lay is still there, sheltered by trees whose autumn leaves now blanket the ground. Unknown visitors have recently placed tributes to the young blonde teacher: new angel figurines, poems, and flowers. But where once heavy woods lined both sides of the road creating a canopy under which Justine may once have walked in the middle of a dark November night, the north side of the road has been clear-cut sometime in the past two years, leaving dozens of acres barren and desolate even as it opens up a view of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains.

Visiting this site in the past has brought the Swartzes comfort. This year, however, solace eludes them, and even to an outsider the tension between them is palpable in the stony silence, the physical distance they maintain. The marriage of Steve and Heidi Swartz has unraveled in recent months, a painful twist that they say was in no small part due to the unbearable stress of their daughter's death.

Divorce is an all-too-common outcome from the ripping trauma of losing a child, says Cindy Testerman, founder of the Central Virginia chapter of the nonprofit support group Parents of Murdered Children.

Testerman, whose brother, Bobby Ellis, was shot to death by his wife in 2005, says even now, nearly six years later, the pain can be shockingly sharp and can hit unexpectedly.

"What sets murder apart is that someone willfully and deliberately did this," she says. "They made the choice to take your loved one away, and it's not their choice to make."

In an unsolved murder like Justine's, Testerman says, the stress and anguish can be even greater than in cases with quick legal resolution.

"A lot of people get stuck on anger and bitterness and don't move past that," says Testerman, recalling one couple she knows whose daughter was murdered more than 10 years ago and whose killer has never been brought to justice.

"They've lost hope that anybody is going to care what happened to their daughter," she says, adding that even the notion of justice is "bittersweet" for the families of murder victims.

"On the one hand, you want to see the person involved punished," she says. "But the only justice would be to have the loved one back, and that can never happen."

Steve and Heidi Swartz understand that truth all too well as they navigate a new life they would have done anything to avoid. In spite of his grief, Steve Swartz says there is value in legal retribution, and he believes those responsible should know he won't rest until they're punished.

"They have had opportunities to set things straight and haven't done so," he says. "Now justice is going to come, and there's not a damn thing they can do about it."
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53 comments

@meanwhile

Okay, saw your second post once again after posting mine. :D

"That article ALSO does not claim that he invented the hit and run theory.

Please show me where he came up with this theory and/or how this theory being wrong incriminates him in any way."
_____

From the article here: http://justiceforjustine.com/latest_developments.html I'll quote a particular section of the article. And do note the phrase "According to Eric Abshire." What that means is that all of the events which followed, including the timeline of those events, are what he relayed to investigators.

____

"As the investigation progressed, the questions kept piling up.

According to Eric Abshire, he and Justine had argued over his mother’s health on the evening of November 2, and in a fit of rage, Justine took off in her 2002 Ford Mustang. Abshire says he cooled his temper by watching televisionââ?¬â? a show he couldn’t recall during a 2008 interviewââ?¬â? until he received a terse call from his wife at 1:19am telling him her car had broken down and that she needed him to retrieve her from Taylorsville Road, five miles from home.

ââ?¬Å?She was trying to prove a point,” Abshire said in a 2008 interview with the Hook, explaining why the call was so short.

Phone records first obtained by ABC’s Primetime Crime reveal the call lasted just 13 seconds, and Abshire, who did not return the Hook’s repeated calls for this article, has maintained in previous interviews that it took him about 10 or 15 minutes to get his shoes and helmet on before he set out on his motorcycle to pick her up. As he drove along Taylorsville Road, he saw something he at first assumed was an animal lying in the road. It was his wife, and he says he didn’t know if she was alive or dead as he cradled her body for as long as 18 minutes before running to a nearby house to request a resident there call 911 at 1:57am.

Why did he wait so long to go for help, and why didn’t he use the cell phone he admits was in his pocket?"
_____

So, he's claiming to have found the body of Justine in the middle of the road, at that time of the night, under those particular circumstances, of which seem to indicate being hit by a car. But you're right in that there is no actual quote from him saying "Justine was hit by a car." It was implied. And that's a difference, so, you're right about that. And that's probably why they haven't been able to charge him with anything. Even though nothing about the events of that night makes sense, they can't definitively prove his involvement, no matter how strange his behavior was.

There was something interesting in that article that I had forgotten about, which was the discovery of a stolen SUV hidden away in storage, one mile from the site of the inferred accident. How that fits into the story is anybody's guess. At first glance it seems like, Oh, maybe that was the vehicle that hit her after she left her broken down vehicle and set off on foot in the dark, which could possibly validate the husband's version of events. Except there were no brake marks, broken glass, etc. on the road indicating an actual car accident, or any evidence left behind that matches up to that SUV. Mechanics later checked her car and said it worked fine, and was not broken down as the husband claims she had claimed. And finally, why would she have set out on foot in 35 degree weather in the dark leaving her coat and purse behind in her car? Nothing makes sense.

I'm not trying to be a court of law, I'm just looking at this case and shaking my head like everybody else.

(and on a sidenote, what is it with this area and these bizarre, unsolveable murders of young females where none of the evidence seems to line up???)

EVERYONE yells why haven't the police solved this case. I suggest you take a good look at the Commonwealth Attorney who is a elected official to prosecute all criminal cases in his jurisdiction. It is his he/she that determines when enough evidence is available to charge someone for a crime. Eric Abshire meets most of the points used to decide. Motive, opportunity, means. He wanted her dead for the insurance money, he was there at the scene, making a big deal of holding her body, so any blood or trace evidence found on his person is explained away. He is the last person to see or be with her before her death. Weapon most likely his fists and feet.

It's amazing what a well known family can cover up in a small town!!!!!!!!!

The real tragedy is why it has been 4years and still no resolution to Justine's murder. The evidence sure seems to point to murder--if not her husband than WHO? There are just to many UNSOLVED cases -----What is wrong with Law Enforcement in Virginia.

Hi Noreen Renier
I would like to know more about you & your talents. It would be great to see the person/persons responsible for Justine death have to answer for their cowardly crime.
Virginia have a long list of unsolved homicides & it seems the list continues to grow. I feel confident the police work hard to solve the cases but criminal are more educated today & harder to capture. Please feel free to contact me.

S Jones are you taking criminal justice classes? that's great!

It's nice to know that someone is following up on this murder. I agree with OldTimer... why should this young woman get the same attention as Morgan Harrington???? Not enough family money to pay for the TV time??? Maybe CBS can donate some billboard space for this family as well.

Sorry Equalizer,

Did not know the VSP had enough evidence for a case.

Would the Commonwealth's Attorney be Diana Wheeler, for Orange County?? If so, we can reach her at dwheeler@orangecountyva.gov.

Also good to know it is not always VSP. Perhaps that is the problem in the Morgan Harrington case.

I did not intend to imply the VSP has enough evidence for a criminal case against anyone. I was making a point by suggesting its not always the VSP decision to file charges. I think Eric built a good case against himself with his childish lies.

So poor Justine suffered 113 blunt trauma injuries (including 23 to her head). I'm not saying her husband did it, but obviously the woman was NOT killed in a hit-and-run. Somebody deliberately beat her to death. Sad to say but the husband is the likely culprit, statistically speaking. Domestic violence is common and deadly, even here in Charlottesville (see Yeardley Love)

Deleted by moderator.

Well done Courteney.

seems like your mom did a good job with you, michael 2...good grief.

Michael 2's comment is just plain stupid. Saying the victim deserved what she got shows the mind of a sociopath; for her sake, let's hope that Micahel 2 doesn't have a wife or girlfriend!

Everybody who keeps commenting on the deleted comment (even going as far as to reference what was said....hello, kind of defeats the purpose of it being deleted now, doesn't it?) is only serving to bring more attention to it and thus play into the person who posted it. They get off on your outrage and indignation, **THAT'S WHY THEY POSTED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.* It's called a troll, trying to provoke, and they do it because they know it'll work everytime, guaranteed. People just respond with kneejerk emotionalism. In a situation like that you **ignore it,** step over it, and let the moderators do their job, which they will. Anybody who regularly posts at the Hook knows that all comments are heavily monitored. They don't need you pointing things out that are plain as day.

With that said I've been following this story since first reading about it a few years ago. It seems obvious that the official story is a lie and couldn't have happened. I'd be very interested to see a break in this case and for justice to finally be served.

Implying that a victim of murder is to blame for their own death is not only offensive, it is down right ignorant. I hope that the moderators of this site will remove the comment made by "Michael 2."

I agree with VA POMC! "Michael 2"'s comment is beyond comprehension. As a public service and an honorable thing to do, would the moderators of this site please remove "Michael 2's" comment. The parents of Justine are going through an unbelievable grief without seeing the rude and ignorant comment made about their murdered daughter.

Old-Timer, I agree with you.

@Courteney, this is another well-reported story. Thanks.

I didn't see Michael2's comment, but from what I've read here from others, it deserved deletion. It's sad to think someone would write such a trashy comment either out of belief (which would be truly sickening), or out of desire to draw attention.

There are far too many contradictions in Abshire's explanation for it to be true. There are far too many coincidences too (like the missing SUV key). But the most compelling evidence comes from "the autopsy report, [showing that] she suffered 113 blunt trauma injuries� including 23 to her head." So it's clear that Justine was beaten, badly.

Hopefully the person or persons who did it are caught, and prosecuted accordingly.

I would like to see the comment by Michael 2 removed. As a survivor of a murdered infant grandson and also a POMC member of our Albany, New York chapter, this comment is rude and insulting to the surviving family of Justine. And having had my own daughters with men who were capable of domestic violence, this is REALLY very rude. Most women (and men)do not know what these "charmers" are capable of until after the relationship is "sealed" by marriage or other commitment. To blame her is absurd! What a cold hearted comment, I may say!

Boo,

Didn't he just call the police? Didn't the police show up and investigate?

Where does it say that the husband invented the hit and run theory? It doesn't as far as I can see. If he did say it was a hit and run, it's possible that he was simply wrong. I mean, that's just his theory in the moments before he called 911, right?

I agree that an alternate explanation is that he's involved with her death. However, not showing the proper amount of grief publicly is not a crime. Not having better food for his inlaws is not a crime. Calling in a hit and run when you find your wife dead on the road before the police are able to determine it was a robbery is not a crime.

This comment board is not a court of law, thank God.....

Justine was my neighbor and killed less than a mile from my house. I miss her and will attend any and all civil hearings. Her parents are doing the right and smart thing. One of the 9 accused will confess or turn on the other ones. It will be fun to watch them squirm. Justice for Justine

@meanwhile

Just saw your second post, after I posted mine. "How is the fact that her injuries are inconsistent with a hit and run in any way incriminating of Mr. Abshire?"

Who else would have/could have done this then, at that late hour of the night, way out in the county? He was the only person around her at that time.

The fact that her injuries are inconsistent with a hit and run, yet, that's what her husband is claiming happened, is a HUGE red flag. Why *should* there be that inconsistency? Injuries either match up or they don't. And if they don't then it means somebody's lying. And if somebody's lying then it means something fishy is going on, so therefore Justine's family and investigators would have every right to be suspicious.

Factor in his alleged prior abusive behavior and it REALLY doesn't look good for him.

Also I believe it was Mr. Abshire who invented the hit and run theory. Read the previous coverage on this story. Investigators didn't come up with that idea. That's what he reported to them.

"But all the evidence is speculative and circumstantial at best, at least as it is presented in this article."

**Then read the previous coverage on the story if you want a better picture of the evidence.**

Also meanwhile, you may be thankful that the comments section isn't a court of law, but it's worse to be arguing against something when you haven't even read the full story, of which includes previous articles, and when you're missing crucial information and details about the story.

But yes, I do agree that the comments section shouldn't be a "court of law." I'm just in agreement with others that things don't look promising for Mr. Abshire's version of events.

boo, re:"that’s what her husband is claiming happened, is a HUGE red flag."

why can't he simply be WRONG? Let's assume for discussion's sake that his version is the truth. He would have no way of knowing how his wife died, so the fact that he opined that it was a hit and run is completely irrelevant. Saying that him being wrong is evidence of culpability is a pretty huge logical fallacy.

boo, here is a direct quote from Mr. Abshire in the article linked at the tob of the page:

"I can tell you what happened up until the point she left the house," Abshire said in the recorded audio-only interview. "After that, you know, it's... I have no knowledge of anything once she left the house."

That article ALSO does not claim that he invented the hit and run theory.

Please show me where he came up with this theory and/or how this theory being wrong incriminates him in any way.

re:"it only works if you’re considering ALL the facts"

Which is why I'm saying that I hope that the facts presented in the article aren't ALL the facts, because they don't add up to guilt.

The police haven't arrested or charged him. THAT'S a huge red flag. A court will view evidence most favorably towards a defendant. Done here, everything seems explainable, even if it seems strange.

Of course, finding your wife's dead body in the road in the middle of the night is the strangest fact of all, so in light of that, his odd behavior becomes downright normal.

Thanks for deleting Michael2's comment! I hope there is Justice for Justine soon! It has been too long :(

why is my comment from 10:32 "awaiting moderation" while the one from 10:52 is not?

Your comment is awaiting moderation.
meanwhile.... November 12th, 2010 | 10:32 am

I spoke about this case on Coy Barefoot's Charlottesville Right Now radio show yesterday. Here's the link for anyone interested in hearing the discussion: http://bit.ly/aJFqBC. --Courteney Stuart

The theory is that this group of conspirators committed premeditated murder and this story by Abshire is what they came up with as the alibi?

This story certainly doesn't sound to me like it was constructed by people scheming to get away with murder. Instead it sounds like the story of a man acting like he's above suspicion and that he found the dead body of a loved one and was in shock.

People are asking why he went to one house and not another as if that's evidence of something. I don't know if the guy did it or not, but to take these minor details, like the vacuuming of the rug, and to spin it into a murderous conspiracy suggests the overactive imaginations of the feeble minded.

Why would these people, capable of getting away with murder, wait until her parents were there to vacuum the rug? Why would they construct such a flimsy alibi?

Usually when people conspire to commit murder, the construct a sturdy alibi. This has clearly not happened.

The people assuming this man is guilty are not using rigorous, critical or logical thinking and applying it to the known facts of this case. Instead they appear to be making assumptions based on speculation and circumstantial evidence.

I'm sorry I'm not running with the herd on this one. But just because more people believe one theory over another doesn't mean that theory is more correct.

@meanwhile

It's not so much the behavior of her husband that made him suspect it was the forensics analysis of the scene itself that showed that whatever he said happened couldn't have happened. That most likely she was injured/killed prior to when the "accident" happened (this was due to analyzing the injuries, which were not consistent with being hit by an actual car) then placed in the road. That's what Justine's father meant when he said "His version of events is implausible." You'd have to read the original story if you haven't already to get all the details....

@ meanwhile

...but you have to factor everything else into the picture. Each element taken individually can be explained away. **But when you put it all together, then it becomes harder to accept his version of the story.** That's what you don't seem to be understanding here.

I get what you're doing - Playing devil's advocate. And that's fine, but it only works if you're considering ALL the facts (which it doesn't see like you have, based on your comments).

No where does the article claim that Mr. Abshire invented the hit and run theory. How is the fact that her injuries are inconsistent with a hit and run in any way incriminating of Mr. Abshire?

People can opine all they want about how they would act in his circumstance. But all the evidence is speculative and circumstantial at best, at least as it is presented in this article.

I'm assuming that there's some evidence other than what's presented in this article?

Yes there's some screwy stuff and behavior but unless there's some actual evidence, physical or otherwise, I would hope that this wouldn't add up to either a murder conviction nor a finding of civil wrongful death.

Acting unusually in an unusual situation (like finding your wife dead in the road) is NORMAL.

I'm not saying one way or another whether the guy did it, but I HOPE it takes more than what's presented here for a court to find against him.

Sadly, I think the murders of young females happen everywhere in this country.

After your prompting I went and read the interview conducted by the hook of Mr. Abshire. He says the whole conversation was "I'm on 618, come get me." and then she hung up. I could see that happening, couldn't you?

Maybe the car didn't start for a moment and she got frustrated. Hell, maybe she stopped the car and felt like making him come and get her? Maybe he didn't bring a helmet for her because he was also angry?

It's weird, yeah, but only in the context of her dead body in the road does it all become sinister sounding.

As for her walking away from the car, maybe she got tired of waiting for her husband who was passive-aggressively taking his time to come get her. Remember, they just had a big argument.

The SUV thing seems to me to potentially be a complete red herring. It seems obvious that she was NOT hit and run. His admiring the SUV and then the key going missing and then the SUV turning up 5 miles from his house is just as significant as him admiring the kit kats at the sheetz in ruckersville a few moments before a teenager shoplifts one. None of it points to his guilt.

But who rented the storage unit? Wouldn't that info be available? I mean, a stolen car winds up in a storage unit. That doesn't sound like a crime that's too hard to investigate.

Yes, it's difficult to wrap your head around someone showing up in the 20 minutes between her phone call and his arriving and beating her to death. I'll grant that. It may well be that he did it. All I'm saying is that unless there's some actual evidence connecting him to the crime, I dearly hope he's never convicted of murder.

I am very glad to see that something is finally being done. From the moment we heard about it, her friends and coworkers knew there was no random hit and run. Justine was very unhappy during the time leading up to her murder. Something serious was going on at home. Personally, I think she was going to leave him. However, she told her friends that he said Nobody leaves me. I'm the one who does the leaving.
Here's what I believe happened. I think he beat her to death right there in the house. Took the diamond out of her ring. He and his accomplice(s) took her body to Taylorsville Rd and dropped it in the road. He then took her cell and made the call to his house himself. The whole thing was staged.Perhaps planned ahead of time.If state police had searched the house right away and tested for blood and signs of struggle, I believe they would have recovered evidence. Instead he and his pals had plenty of time to clean up and even remove furniture. They may have even done this before dumping her in the road. Did coroner establish a time of death? Does it go along with his story?
Of course all this is my opinion. I have no knowledge of what happened for sure. I was not there.
I dont think he really ever wanted to get married. Justine gave him an ultimatum and they got officially engaged. All of a sudden he is pushing for a wedding. Didn't even want to wait for the school year to end. I've always thought it was strange.Could he have planned this all along? For the money? Is he that evil?
I know she was miserable and not at all acting like a happy newlywed. I think if it weren't for those girls, she would have left or maybe changed her mind about marrying him.Look at their wedding photos. Neither one of them looks truly happy.

I agree with AFRIEND. He will get what is coming to him. He has hurt so many people and justice will come. Even at the funeral service he sat there chomping on his gum with no once of sorrow. He doesn't have to look for Justine's killer...he sees him every time he looks in a mirror! The truth one way or another will come out.

democracy seems to assume everything the husband says is a lie and pretends that assumption is evidence of something.

So the theory is that this act was premeditated and a conspiracy. But the conspirators did not think to create an alibi for the perpetrator? Right there is a huge hole in the theory. Somehow these perpetrators have remained free for four years without constructing an alibi? Really? THAT'S your theory?

Simply assuming someone is guilty because you want it to be true does not make it so. You have to actually have evidence of guilt. If there was sufficient evidence of guilt, the man would have been charged at some point in the last 4 years.

Yes, I'm reading Mr. Abshire's words and instead of assuming all of them are lies, I take them at face value. Maybe Abshire assumed there wasn't anything wrong with the car (which, by the way, there wasn't) and that's why he only brought one helmet?

Even if Mr. Abshire came up with the theory of the hit and run, the fact that this theory is wrong is not evidence of his guilt. It's weird and mentally lazy for everyone to assume that because she was beaten to death that it therefore must have been the husband because he originally thought it was a hit and run.

I'm sorry, but I read the articles with a critical eye and I simply don't see any presentation of evidence of guilt. And the absence of evidence is also not evidence! Simply saying, "well of course his story COULD fit the facts and that just makes it more creepy" doesn't fly.

Maybe there's something I don't know about the case and maybe the guy really is guilty. I'm perfectly willing to concede that possibility. All I'm saying is that what's been presented in the media is a pretty weak case.

meanwhile creates a whole raft of what-ifs to try and make Abshire's version of events seem plausible.

meanwhile writes that the short (13 second) phone call on Justine's phone might be because the conversation was very brief ("I'm on 618, come get me"), as Abshire says. But WHERE on 618? Would someone whose car "broke down" give those kind of directions to the person they call to get them? If, indeed, Justine's car broke down, wouldn't she go to a nearby house?

meanwhile writes that Abshire went out to get Justine on his motorcycle and only brought one helmet, maybe because he was "angry" at her. Maybe, but we don't know that (and it IS a stretch...and he took 10-15 minutes to get his shoes on??)

Then, he says, "Remember, they just had a big argument." Isn't that Abshire's version of events, and isn't meanwhile assuming this version to be accurate? We don't know that to be the case...and given the entirety of what's known, it seems doubtful.

meanwhile says that Abshire's story is "weird, yeah, but only in the context of her dead body..."

A dead body that had ..."113 blunt trauma injuriesââ?¬â? including 23 to her head.” None were consistent with being struck by a vehicle (she was found lying in the road....no neighbor heard anything that sounded like an accident...no evidence at the scene of her being struck by a vehicle).

The investigation continues. Hopefully the investigators turn up some hard evidence ââ?¬â?? beyond the circumstantial evidence in existence ââ?¬â?? that clearly delineates guilt. And if they do, it won't be a surprise to many if that hard evidence points to Mr. Abshire.

I live right down the road from where this all took place and I have a question and an observation. Right near where the "hit and run" supposedly took place there are two houses very close by...why then did he choose to go down the street and around the curve to a place that was much further away to knock on the door and wake someone up?? Not to mention the fact that he had a cell phone with him?? I drive by there everyday and still it haunts me...

Everyone knows how the legal system works. Innocent until proven guilty. Right now, Eric is in this position - innocent. Until charges are filed and evidence is brought out in court, and the jury comes back with the verdict, he will remain innocent, then he'll be guilty if the jury says so. I think that this is a matter of when, not if, this takes place.
If you look at all the facts in this case, it is mostly circumstantial but also extremely coincidental, and it does not favor Eric. Someone pointed out how conspirators plan out murders carefully. But, no matter how well-planned it is, especially in this day of age with forensics, they are hard to get away with, unless you're serial or a lone conspirator.
You just need to see the forest from the trees in this case. It is completely and utterly out of character for Justine to even be up at that hour, much less roaming a dark country road on an almost freezing night without a coat.
It's hard to look past circumstantial evidence and say he's not guilty, but I'll take that position for now. Eventually, though, I know the hammer will come down on him when 1) someone turns against him, or 2) this goes to trial and the jury makes what I think the right decision is - guilty.
The biggest questions I have haven't been detailed in any article with this case, which I believe is strategic in the case against Eric. Those questions are 1) what were the forensic results of the SUV, 2) who was the storage spot rented by, and when was it rented, 3) have police forensically searched the home (luminol, looking for matches to bodily injuries etc.), and 4) have they determined what kind of weapon(s) caused bodily trauma?

Usually the police go after the husband in these cases and the fact they haven't suggests maybe there's not much to go on. This story is pretty yellow when you get down to it in that it lays out the original known facts of the case and then spins the case from the family's perspective which is they want someone to hang, preferably the husband whose guilt they're convinced of. So now they're agitating, saying the husband was a bad person and they want things massaged so he can be put on trial for murder and, they hope, convicted for being a bad person.

To Justine's family and/or SP. Please contact the lady in this article. Maybe she could give the police some details that would help in his arrest and prosecution. Cant hurt to try, can it?

wtvr.com/news/wtvr-metalist-connects-to-virginia,0,2738010.story

wtvr
Central Virginia Mentalist Connects to Crimes
Catie Beck

Staff reporter

November 18, 2010

Advertisement

The tiny town of Free Union sleeps in the mountains outside of Charlottesville. It got it's name when it finally got it's post office. Just a mile off free union road in a simple log cabin lives perhaps the town's most free spirit, Noreen Renier. She's a woman who has made a career around her intuition.

"I use it for working on homicides and finding missing bodies," said Renier.

For forty years she's made a living mostly by connecting to the dead as a psychic detective. From antique theater seats in her living room, through a voice raspy of cigarettes, she explains how she sees images from terrible crimes. She claims she needs a piece of the crime to psychically tune in.

"An object that was on the body..it can be as simple as a wristwatch or a ring or bloody glasses," said Renier.

Police departments across the country have used her to find clues. Many times when an investigation has hit a dead end. Renier says she starts with police by proving she's for real holding the item from a victim and with no background describing him or her.

"Once we know that I've described Mary..and yes her throat was slit..then we can move in to who the bad guy was," said Renier.

In 2003 Renier became a regular on a Court TV show called Psychic Detectives. She could be seen entering a trance and then telling police about the fragmented images she sees in her head. She says many times even experiencing the victim's murder herself. Renier herself doesn't claim to solve crimes, just to provide clues. Detectives she's worked with confirm the same.

"The good detectives can put the pieces together-the ones that are lazy or really aren't interested they don't," said Renier.

But every psychic has it's skeptics. Renier has encountered many along the way. One even took her to court, calling her work a hoax. Former law enforcers who have worked with her tell us some of her tips were useful in solving crimes. Reneier admits she's not always accurate. It depends on the case she says.

"It's sort of like being a singer- you can always sing but sometimes you can really sing. You have a really good night or your voice is just perfect," she said.

But regardless people from a far are mailing away for her help and believing in her ability.

"This was a little girl that was missing..a young girl," she said as she held a small pink t-shirt from a mailed envelope in her hand.

They're wondering if she can literally get in touch with their loved one's likely unfortunate fate.

"This is a wallet I guess he used...a man..again missing person," she said going through another mailed parcel.

Renier says sometimes even she's missing. Missing her car keys or a turn on the way to the YMCA where she swims almost daily. She says being a psychic doesn't mean you know everything. In fact she never went to college, but she knows this life is who she is.

"I just know it's a part of my mind and I'm not the only one who has it...everyone has it to some degree," said Renier.

A conspiracy theory? This was planned, on the night he and the his family was called to the hospital beacause the doctors thought it was the end, not knowing how soon everyone would be called back to the hospital? His mother was dying.
The next morning a tragic phone call asking if I had seen the news. Hard to imagine sweet Justine was dead. Yes, we need answers. But putting untruths in the papers is uncalled for.

The "family" was not at his house throughly cleaning. We were merely folding blankets off the couch, and and moving pillows. To give people room to sit down. Justine's family had been at the house for a very long time before any of us showed up. As I watched her mom and dad, I wondered how they could be so calm and not show any emotion, not one tear! As we were tiding up Justine's mother commented "she was never a housekeeper".
Walking in to the bedroom He was staring out the window with tears rolling down his face, he was very emotional. Her mother was busy gathering Justine's clothes to take with her.If it were my child what I had to eat would be the last thing on my mind.
The truth needs to come out, follow up on all your leads, but the evidence is probably long gone.

p.s. I did talk to and introduced my self to Justine's father, mother, and sister.

This case is sad because Eric Abshire will get a lot more compassion then he ever gave Justine.

Mr. Eric Abshire has two major thing working against him...TRUTH and DEDICATION. The Virginia State Police will never stop until they arrest him. You cannot dodge the TRUTH............
Eric has been blessed with many good friends but he has turned on most of them, claiming they want to set him up. Someone said he is now friendless except for a few women he is still able to play. He will be a very lonely man once he enters prison where he will die of old age or by his own hands. Only the strong survive prison and he won't be treated too good once its known how he beat that little lady to death.
Eric...do the right thing...go to the State Police and tell them what made you kill your wife. Maybe they will go easy on you.

Thanks for giving some time to another unsolved brutal murder in the area than Morgan. The more aware we are, the more we as a society can do to be our brother's keepers, or sister's keeper in this case.

Incredibly sad but an interesting read. I agree with Old Timer, I had not even heard about this.

THIS GUY SHOULD HANG

JJ, he hasn't been charged or gone to trial yet. Just because the family thinks he did it doesn't mean he did.

If he's guilty, and proven so, he should then hang. :)