After Rice: New questions in Park murders
When Tom Williams arrived at the place where his daughter had been murdered, he could not have known that eight years later he would still not know who had gagged her mouth, bound her hands, and slit her throat.
Now that all charges against Darrell David Rice have been dismissed, the identity of the man who killed Julianne "Julie" Williams and her hiking companion, Laura "Lollie" Winans, is as much a mystery as it was that June day in 1996, when Tom and his brother Mark– who had rushed to Virginia from their home in Minnesota– were escorted to a deserted campsite in the Shenandoah National Park.
Mark later told investigators that they took several pictures of the site, that Tom gathered flowers, rocks, and tree sprigs and drank from a nearby creek. And then, Mark said, his brother sat down and cried.
Although investigators may never find the man who killed Lollie and Julie, recently unsealed court records raise tantalizing questions– not only about the gruesome Park killings, but about another murder as well: that of Alicia Showalter Reynolds.
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The bodies of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans were discovered on the evening of Saturday, June 1, at a campsite roughly one-tenth of a mile from the Skyline Drive and about half a mile from Skyland Lodge, which draws hikers and tourists to its bar, restaurant, and cabins.
Lollie was found inside the tent. Like Julie, she had been gagged, her hands had been bound with duct tape– duct tape that, oddly, had first been used to tape Julie's mouth– and her throat had been slit. Unlike Julie, her ankles were also bound. Both were partially undressed, yet neither woman had been sexually assaulted– or, at least no semen was found.
According to grand jury testimony by National Park Service lead investigator Tim Alley, Julie's body, along with her sleeping bag and sleeping pad, was "approximately 30-40 feet away, down a little embankment" and toward the creek her father would later drink from.
Almost as soon as the murders were announced, it emerged that Lollie and Julie had not only been hiking companions, but also lovers– something they hadn't yet shared with their families. Media coverage of the relationship threatened, at times, to overshadow the murder of two strong, healthy women less than half a mile from a busy lodge on a holiday weekend. No one, seemingly, had seen, heard– or even suspected– that anything was amiss.
In a move that was harshly criticized, the Park Service waited 36 hours after the discovery to announce the murders– even though the Park was full of visitors who, at least hypothetically, had been at risk. And when the announcement was finally made, acting Park Superintendent Greg Stiles called it an "isolated" incident– without providing any basis for such a statement. The FBI announced shortly afterward that the murders appeared to be "random."
Flyers with Julie and Lollie's pictures went up around the park, reporters descended on the area and the families, and leads flowed in. U.S. Attorney Thomas Bondurant claims that the government investigated "more than 15,000 leads and more than 75 suspects." But on Memorial Day weekend 1997, when Patsy Williams came from Minnesota to lead a "Take Back the Trails" walk, the first anniversary of the murders passed with no sign of a suspect.
Then, one month later, everything changed.
Rice in the Park
Yvonne Malbasha had become separated from her friend, but there appeared to be no reason for concern as she cycled south along the Skyline Drive on July 9, 1997. The Park seemed like an ideal spot for a bicycling vacation for the two Canadians, and besides, they'd never heard of Julie Williams or Lollie Winans.
It was around milepost 57.5 that pickup truck-driving Darrell Rice came upon Malbasha and forced her off the road and off her bike. "The vehicle came so close," she testified, "I could actually feel the heat of the engine." She claimed that Rice threw a soda can at her, grabbed at her chest, and screamed, "Show me your titties." She also testified that Rice got out and tried to wrestle her into his truck– but she threw her water bottle at him and used her bike as a blocking device.
Enraged, Rice got into the truck and tried, four or five times, to run her over. Even though Malbasha was wearing bicycle cleats– which made running almost impossible– she managed to elude Rice by blockading herself behind a fallen tree. At that point, Rice gave up and sped away.
The first motorist to appear was a ranger with a mobile phone, who quickly sent out a description. When Rice was caught trying to leave the park, he had changed his clothes and reattached the license plates he'd removed while stalking Malbasha. It was a close call: Rice was stopped within sight of the Swift Run Gap exit, which offered anonymity and escape. Malbasha, however, identified Rice, who was arrested and taken into custody. He later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison.
Profile of a criminal
In an interview for this story, Dwight Colley, a forensic clinical psychologist in Charlottesville, describes the personality type usually involved in crimes such as the attack on Malbasha. While stressing that he had no personal knowledge of Rice, Colley describes common characteristics of men who prey on women.
First, this type of criminal usually suffers from a sense of inadequacy: He's a loner with "high social anxiety" who feels incompetent and fears rejection; he also has "very low impulse control." Second, he "probably has a substance-abuse problem," which serves "to keep the anxiety under control." Most commonly, such men abuse alcohol or marijuana. Under the influence, inhibitions– especially social inhibitions– "go by the wayside," says Colley.
And third, "More than likely, he's got a very infantile fantasy life" that offers seemingly easy solutions to complicated problems. "I'm sure," Colley adds, that the man would have "deviant sexual fantasies" and is "probably a user of pornography– which gets boring, so he moves to progressively more deviant pornography."
Newly unsealed documents provide information about Rice's history and attitudes. For instance, in 1999, the FBI placed an undercover agent with Rice at the Federal Corrections Center in Petersburg and taped their conversations. In one, Rice "admitted... that he has only engaged in two sexual relationships with women– the last occurring in 1991." He was 31 at the time. Rice also allegedly stated on tape "that he was inadequate sexually, that he couldn't find a girlfriend, and that he substituted pornography for sexual relationships."
Gary Barnett, a fellow inmate, claimed that Rice was "crazy into porn" and that his magazines were "kinky shit." One, he said, featured a woman tied to a chair with "a ball in her mouth with tape over the ball." Rice was treated for substance abuse at Health Management Systems Inc., in Annapolis, Maryland, in February 1996.
Rice's problems with women
In a statement issued the day charges against him for Julie and Lollie's murders were formally dismissed, Rice claimed, "I don't hate gays or lesbians or women." Although Rice's attitude toward homosexuals can't be determined from the court files, the files point to problems with women.
In June 1997, Rice was fired from his job at MCI Systemhouse in Maryland, where he made computer training materials. At his sentencing hearing, his mother, Lenna Mays, said that he had felt harassed at work: "They were talking behind his back and treating him badly. He said it made him feel very, very small and very hurt."
Rice's co-workers, however– judging by what they told investigators– had reason to complain. In one incident, according to court records, Jill Romanoski claimed that "in the spring of 1997, she was walking back from the mall when she heard a voice behind her saying 'filthy slut.' She turned, saw Rice looking at the ground, and then he called her another profanity."
Another co-worker, Melody Sies, stated that once Rice "followed her closely into a parking lot and yelled at her... Rice also did other bizarre things at work, she said, including punching a hole in the wall of the men's room, stealing people's lunches and hiding them, taking down one girl's picture and putting it in the trash can, and bumping into a girl to make her spill coffee."
Rice's lawyers tried to downplay his hostility toward women by pointing to things he'd done to male workers. Rice once threw away a male worker's DayTimer, call co-workers of both genders "slackheads," and dubbed a male co-worker a "lard-ass" and "repeatedly coughed in his face," documents show.
In a covertly taped conversation with a fellow inmate, Rice said, "...all I wanted was to get married [but] it seems like bitches are so independent... I know I used, I used to catch myself looking at tits and shit. But, after a while it was like, fuck, look... I ain't getting none. So, why not look at it... It's gotta be [a woman's] nature to manipulate. They're just looking for bigger dicks."
In another covert taping, Rice told a fellow inmate that women are "twisted...[because of] some fuckin', some chemical in them."
It wasn't necessary to secretly tape Rice, however, in order to discern his feelings; he has spoken explicitly to several of law-enforcement agents about his hostility toward females.
On the evening of July 9, for instance, during an interview by FBI agents about his attack that day on Malbasha, Rice volunteered that a week earlier he had thrown a rock through the windshield of a car in the Stony Man Nature Trail parking lot. Another time, he said, he had encountered a female jogger in Annapolis while riding his mountain bike. Although he admitted she had done nothing to provoke him, Rice yelled, "Go home and eat your children's shit!"
According to prosecution motion, Rice volunteered that he enjoyed "aggravating" women and violating their privacy due to their "vulnerability." The prosecution claims Rice once shared a fantasy with a co-worker to "beat and fuck a woman.'"
The day after his attack on Malbasha, he told Deputy U.S. Marshall Larry Carter "how he had a rage against women and how he was upset with his female boss and another woman at work. He said this rage carries over when he is out on the highway and that he likes to run women off the road." After forcing them off, "he would just keep going." When Carter asked where he did this, Rice replied, "on Route 29."
When questioned about Alicia Showalter Reynolds, however, Rice said he didn't know who that was.
Carter also claims that Rice's father came to the courthouse later that day and "said his son didn't like women and that a previous girl had broken up with him because he was mean to her." After interviewing Rice and his father, Carter told a Charlottesville FBI agent that Rice should be investigated for another crime: the 1996 murder of Alicia Showalter Reynolds.
Alicia Showalter Reynolds
After Alicia Showalter Reynolds disappeared, 15 women reported that they had been stopped by a man in a pickup truck while driving along Route 29. The man told each woman that something was wrong with her car and then offered to give her a ride. Of the 15 women making reports, only one got into the truck, and she managed to escape.
Alicia Showalter Reynolds didn't. The Valley native, then living in Baltimore, had been driving south on 29 to Charlottesville on March 2, 1996. She was last seen two miles south of Culpeper standing on the shoulder with a man who was peering under the hood of her car, after which she got into his dark pickup.
Reynolds never arrived in Charlottesville to meet her mother, who was waiting at Fashion Square; the two had planned to shop for wedding gifts for Alicia's twin brother. Several months later, her body was found in a field near Lignum. The attacks stopped.
Among the unsealed records in the Park murders case against Rice are several documents concerning the Route 29 stalkings, because the prosecution argued that evidence tied Rice to those crimes. One prosecution claim, for instance, was that "when 13 of the 15 women were accosted, including Reynolds, Rice was either on annual, personal, or sick leave from his job in Maryland and had no known alibis." In addition, according to the prosecution, Rice had access to his father's home in Culpeperand his father was absent from the home "on most of the dates."
The most serious evidence concerns the abduction of Carmelita Shomo, which is described in a July 2003 ruling issued by Federal District Court Judge Norman Moon.
On February 23, 1996, eight days before Reynolds disappeared, a man driving a pickup pulled Shomo over in Prince William County "by telling her that sparks were coming from beneath her vehicle." When she got in his truck, he tried to force her head into his lap while threatening her with a screwdriver. Shomo leapt out– breaking her ankle in the process– and escaped. According to prosecution claims, "Shomo and seven of the women pulled over have identified Rice as the man who stopped them, according to the government."
Rice has not been indicted in the Shomo, Reynolds, or other "stalker" cases, and defense investigators claim that when they showed Shomo a photograph of probable rapist-murderer Richard Marc Evonitz, "Ms. Shomo's eyes filled with tears, and she said, 'Yes. That's him, that is exactly him.'"
Forensic and circumstantial evidence points to Evonitz as the murderer of three teenaged girls in the Fredericksburg area– Sophia Silva in September 1996, and Kati and Kristin Lisk in May 1997. In Florida in 2002, while being pursued by police for kidnapping and raping a girl in South Carolina, Evonitz shot himself to death.
When Moon ruled in the Park case against Rice, he branded the notion that Shomo had recanted her identification of Rice "not credible." In particular, Moon castigated the Winchester agency hired by the defense, Apple Valley Investigations, saying that one of its investigators, Michelle Cross, "gave misleading testimony."
Moon ruled that Shomo testified "that she did not identify anyone else as her attacker, that she identified Rice conclusively, and that she still believes Rice was her attacker."
Rice was not indicted in the Shomo case, and The Hook's calls to Prince William Commonwealth's Attorney to learn more were not returned by press time.
Rice in the Park
Eager as federal prosecutors were to link Rice to the Route 29 incidents– and, by extension, to Reynolds' murder– their main objective was to prove that Rice had murdered Julie and Lollie. On the surface, at least, Rice was a solid candidate.
"Rice became a possible suspect," reads one prosecution document, "for a variety of reasons, including the obvious parallels in geographic location, the predatory behavior exhibited, and the exclusive selection of female victims."
One piece of evidence, in particular, demanded attention: Rice's presence. He was videotaped entering the Park at Front Royal at 8:05pm on May 25, and again at Rockfish Gap at 4:57pm on May 26. He returned with his friends Caryl and Robert Ruckert on June 1.
Prosecutors claim that Rice vehemently denied he'd been in the Park on May 25 and 26 (which was uncomfortably close to the time the women may have been killed), but readily agreed that he'd been there on June 1 (which had been safely determined to be after the time of death).
Glaringly absent, however, was any mention of forensic evidence that implicated Rice– because, as the government conceded in October 2003, there wasn't any.
In the end, DNA evidence fatally crippled the government's case. In October 2003, in the words of U.S. Attorney Thomas Bondurant, there were "new revelations" from an FBI lab about hairs recovered from the crime scene.
Before October 2003, he explains, the only DNA prosecutors had was mitochondrial DNA from the cloth ligatures. Mitochondrial DNA can determine the person's sex– in this case, male– but cannot produce a specific profile. In October, however, prosecutors learned that an additional hair had been discovered on the duct tape used to bind Lollie's wrists, which was then subjected to a new type of DNA test called Y-STR.
Although the defense has stated that test results exclude Rice, Bondurant claims that "that's not a true statement." And while those same results led the government to move that charges be dismissed against Rice, Bondurant stresses that they did that "not because we thought he was innocent, but based on ethical duty"– because they no longer believed a jury could convict Rice beyond a reasonable doubt.
Bondurant also stresses that the government took the initiative regarding the DNA. "The defense didn't do squat in this case," he says, explaining that the government paid $11,000 "out of its own pocket, while the defense sat there and twiddled their thumbs."
The only evidence left was circumstantial, and the defense was prepared to vigorously dispute each aspect of the government's case. In their February 19 motion, Rice's attorneys charged prosecutorial misconduct and argued that in addition to the DNA results, there were four major problems with the government's case:
* statements allegedly made by a couple camping in the Park the night the women were murdered,
* a call Rice made to a gay-rights center in California on May 28,
* an audiotape submitted by the government to support its claim that Rice hated gays, and
* alleged attempts by government investigators to manipulate or pressure witnesses who saw the women in the park.
The couple's account
The account supposedly provided by the campers is undeniably colorful. According to an earlier defense motion, camper Anthony Coyle told government investigators that "on the morning of May 25... while he was urinating, [he] saw a man in a clearing staring at him from 60-70 yards away. The man stared at him for three to four minutes." (The motion notes dryly that "Mr. Coyle's testimony is ambiguous as to how many of those minutes he was urinating.")
While Coyle chose Rice's picture from an array of eight, the government failed to raise the fact, the motion continues, "that he had been only 65-70% 'certain' of his identification." The motion also claims that Coyle gave his description "more than eight months" after the murders, and was shown the picture array five years after that. Finally, the motion asserts that after Coyle had tentatively identified Rice, "the agent told him 'that's the guy,' that they 'have him,' and that they were 'not depending solely' on Coyle's identification testimony."
Then there's Coyle's "unusual girlfriend," who was widely reported to hear women "screaming" during the night. Although the government never called her to testify before the grand jury, her claim has appeared in several press accounts, including this one last month in The Washington Post: "[Coyle's] girlfriend said she had been awakened by screams."
In fact, the defense charges, the girlfriend– "a professional animal communicator and horse whisperer"– only dreamt she heard screams.
"According to her statements to authorities," the defense asserts, "she then left her body and astrally projected above the mountains and saw the murder scene. In the following months she went into dream states to 'collect data' about the murders. She referred the investigators to a fellow animal communicator and suggested that Taj, [Lollie's] dog, be interviewed."
When asked about the woman, Bondurant laughs and says, "We weren't going to call her; we never even acted like we were going to use her." Then how did her account end up in the press? He couldn't say. As to Coyle, however, Bondurant is emphatic: "The fellow did see Rice."
The private phone call
In their motion to dismiss the charges, Rice's attorneys, federal public defenders Gerald Zerkin and Fred Heblich, alleged prosecutorial misconduct in connection with a phone call Rice made to the Spectrum Center, a gay rights organization in San Anselmo, California, on May 28. The government claimed, in its presentation to the grand jury, that Julie had had the number in a journal, and that Rice's later use of it therefore placed him at the scene.
The defense argued that Julie's journal, which didn't contain the number, was found at the crime scene and that Rice's call to the Spectrum Center was nothing more than a wrong number composed of pieces of numbers he commonly called.
The area code (415) and extension (457) were the first seven digits of the Grateful Dead ticket hotline, and no one disputes that Rice is an avid Dead fan. The last four digits (8644) were the same as his work number, which he called an hour later. Furthermore, the defense claims, "the government knew that the number [at the Spectrum Center] was to a private line that was never given out." Julie, they argued, couldn't have known the number– much less recorded it in a journal.
The court ruled that there was no evidence that Julie had obtained the number, and, further, that it was "improbable" that she had. At the same time, the court rejected defense claims that the prosecution had misled the grand jury in regard to the phone call, "because the evidence does not unequivocally foreclose the possibility that Julie Williams had the phone number that Rice dialed."
The edited audiotape
As for Rice's supposed statements that he hates gays and killed the two women "because they were lesbian whores," the defense claimed the latter allegation was fabricated by a jailhouse snitch in exchange for a reduction in sentence.
The defense further alleged that claims that Rice hates gays were the result of creative editing of a taped conversation between Rice and a second jailhouse informant.
The taped evidence "has been discredited," the defense motion says, "as the government itself has conceded. Whereas the government's transcription of the tape is '[unintelligible] I hate gay people,' Rice actually said, 'They [government investigators] were trying to get me to say I hate gay people.'"
Bondurant says the tape wasn't intentionally mistranscribed, but rather, that the defense "super-enhanced" it.
The defense motion also alleges that government investigators pressured witnesses to change their testimony, especially if their testimony made it harder to match time of death with one of the days Rice was videotaped entering or leaving the park– i.e., May 25 or 26.
Two of them, the motion states, were Park Service volunteers who allegedly talked with the victims on the morning of May 27 while hiking the Stony Man nature trail. The third, interviewed less than a week after the discovery of the bodies, was a waitress at Skyland Lodge who said she had served breakfast to the victims on the morning of May 26.
However, one of the volunteers allegedly claimed government investigators tried to "shake her story" and "push her around"– and suggested that she could not have possibly seen the victims on May 27 because the coroner said they had been killed before that date. The [waitress] reported a similar experience with the agent."
Bondurant says that investigators were correct to question the waitress's timing; the order ticket she produced to substantiate her account included sausage and coffee. Julie and Lollie "were avid vegetarians," he says; "they probably didn't even like the idea of anyone eating sausage."
It may be a moot point. An FBI document puts the approximate time of death at 10pm May 28, plus or minus 30 hours– based on a state medical examiner's test of the women's eye fluid.
In any event, the waitress, according to the February 2004 defense motion, remembered a number of details about the women she served. One possible explanation for the discrepancy (if one exists) is that two women who were strikingly similar to Lollie and Julie were not only in the Park at the same time, but in the same Skyland area.
The two women, Emilie Carpenter and Andrea Iverson, were– like Lollie– students at tiny Unity College in Maine. Two day-hikers from Northern Virginia, Mickey Marche and Wayne Giles, met them along and around the White Oak Trail three times on May 23 and stopped to chat each time. When the two men heard about the murders the next week, they assumed that Carpenter and Iverson had been the victims. Only after they'd been thoroughly debriefed by an investigator did they learn that the women they'd met were still alive.
Bondurant spent a week at Unity in 1997, during which he spoke to everyone he could find who had known Lollie. He interviewed Carpenter and Iverson twice, and has no reason to read anything into their presence in the park. Unity's main focus is environmental science and outdoor recreation, he points out, and a high percentage of its graduates go on to work or volunteer in national parks.
On February 25, Judge Moon dismissed the charges against Rice but stopped short of dismissing them "with prejudice"– which would ban the government from ever reinstating them.
"He's still a suspect," says Bondurant of Rice. "We felt we had a good case." As for Evonitz, when asked whether there was any reason to think he might have been the killer, Bondurant is emphatic: "None– absolutely none."
"We're not going to give up," he stresses. "I feel an allegiance to Julie and Lollie's families. Maybe we'll have new people take a look at it– a fresh set of eyes."
Since Rice, in light of current DNA evidence, seems to be outside the range of plausible suspects, perhaps it's time to revisit another double murder in a national park. In 1986, along the Colonial Parkway near Williamsburg, the bodies of Cathleen Thomas and Rebecca Dowski were found in Thomas's car. Like Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, they were in their 20s and athletic, their wrists were bound, their throats were slit, they had not been sexually assaulted, and there was no sign of a struggle.
One of Thomas's friends, Ruth Deussen, believes so strongly that the cases could be linked that when she heard the news of Rice's arrest in 2002, "I said, 'This isn't the right guy, because he's too young to have done the Colonial Parkway killings.'"
When Bondurant was asked whether there could be a connection to the Shenandoah Park murders, he replied, "I don't know– obviously, that was something we checked out."
Which presents one more puzzling aspect of the case. Rice's attorneys claim that during the investigation, one of the Park rangers said that he and two other rangers "might have been involved."
Bondurant explains this by saying that the ranger was "very active" in the investigation, and "it got to him to the point that it ate him alive and he had an emotional breakdown." It was "just shameful of the defense to use that," he says, adding, "Apparently they don't have any shame."
Still, with so many dead ends in one national Park murder, looking hard at another park– and at exactly which rangers were stationed there in 1986– may be as good a lead to follow as any.
At press time Rice was serving his sentence at the Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City. He is scheduled to be released July 17, 2007.
Patsy Williams led a "Take Back the Trails" walk in honor of her daughter.
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO
The killings occurred by Bridle Trail.
Darrell David Rice
COURTESY SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK
COURTESY SHENANDOAH NATIONAL PARK