Then an afternoon newspaper, the Progress covered the incident from day one. Alvin Akins, who took out reward ads for information about his brother's death, went to his grave without ever learning who was responsible.
Former state trooper Jim Brightwell and photographer Dave Lyster offer differing views of the the mystery.
One of the town's biggest boys lay dead underneath one of the town's smallest cars. Initially, cops claimed that 19-year-old James Patrick Akins had been dragged from Greenwood to Charlottesville under a Triumph TR3.
"Hit-Run Car Drags Former Rock Hill Star 12 Miles," roared the headline in the Daily Progress on March 19, 1963. The explanation was greeted with immediate incredulity by friends of the muscular athlete and fans of the low-slung British roadster. Disbelief intensified when word spread that the body was found largely intact and devoid of broken bones. The local coroner declared that Akins couldn't have been dragged more than 100 yards.
While another medical examiner would enter the case and embrace the theory of the dozen-mile-dragging, public opinion never did; the rumor mill went into overdrive.
"Charlottesville was certainly buzzing," says longtime resident Bob Lyons, who knew both Akins and his father. "Nobody believed the story that a small car dragged him all those miles."
Fifty years later, last month's reunion for Akins' former Rock Hill Academy schoolmates is still buzzing with questions about his death. The teenagers who lost a friend 50 years ago are now in their in their late 60s, some with teenaged grandchildren of their own. They fear that with each passing year, the chances of resolution— and justice for Akins— diminish.
"I think all of us want to know what happened to him," says one, Helen Hatzenbeler.
Now, a woman with connections to the case has come forward to suggest an explanation— one she says she kept secret for most of her life.
Oxford Road Scatback
Pat Akins was the gridiron hero of the Rock Hill Academy class of 1962.
"Akins broke loose," reads one contemporary sports report. "He shook off two tacklers behind the line of scrimmage and tied the score 6-6 on a 57-yard run."
The write-up was from 1960, when Akins was a junior. By the time he graduated, friends say Akins stood six feet tall and weighed well over 200 pounds, a striking figure the yearbook named "most athletic." His talents caught the attention of recruiters from an Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse, Clemson College, which offered a full scholarship.
"Pat lived right down the street from me on Oxford Road," says schoolmate Hatzenbeler, recalling his large physique, deep voice, and mischievous spirit.
"One time, when my parents were out of town, we had a party," says Hatzenbeler. "And there was a call claiming to be from the sheriff. Then there's a loud rapping at the front door— it was Pat pretending to be the sheriff.
"He was a lot of fun," she says.
'On the edge of trouble'
A senior year profile in the student newspaper hails Akins for "innumerable" football awards and for going "90 miles per hour on Rio Road." He entered Clemson in the fall of 1962 and suited up for the fall's freshman games, but returned home without finishing the academic year for reasons unknown to his friends. With former classmates scattered to other colleges, Akins reconnected with his friends still in high school and found a party buddy in former teammate Barry Garland Mawyer, then president of the Rock Hill senior class and the quarterback for the football team.
"They went out and did things together," says Kathryn Sours Street, Akins' then girlfriend. "They stayed on the edge of trouble."
On Monday, March 18, Mawyer and Akins were together, and though it may have been a school night for Mawyer, who was a senior at Rock Hill, the two friends went out on the town.
Eighty-three-year-old Charlottesville barber Ed Shifflett remembers that evening. After visiting a friend at the University of Virginia Hospital, he decided to play some pool across the street at the University Billiard Parlor when Akins and Mawyer came in together. Shifflett says the pair shot a round.
"Barry said to Pat, 'Let's go drink some beer,'" Shifflett recalls. "That was the last time I saw Pat."
A place called Tidbit
Like the setting of American Grafitti, the slice-of-life movie about the Class of 1962, Charlottesville at the time was a place where drag-racing was popular, and anyone who looked 18 could buy 3.2 percent alcohol beer. On March 18, 1963, the #1 song in America was "Walk Like a Man" by the Four Seasons, and Akins had turned 19 a day earlier.
Interstate 64 was under construction in 1963, so a drive west meant taking U.S. Route 250 past a mosaic of roadside Americana. After the busy commercial strip at the city limits, there were scattered restaurants and motels on the way to the two teens' destination: a complex in Greenwood named the Tidbit.
The Tidbit consisted of a restaurant, a motel, and a gas station— all open 24 hours and popular with the long-haul truckers who plied Route 250. For local teenagers, however, the Tidbit was a place for burgers and beer far from the watchful eyes of parents.
On this night, however, something went terribly wrong.
Mawyer told authorities they were heading to the Tidbit in the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 19, 1963, when disaster struck. As he told authorities in the days that followed, the two were riding in a borrowed 1962 Chevrolet convertible and had just passed the Greenwood Motel— which is practically within sight of the Tidbit— when Akins lost control of the car.
"It hit an embankment on the left side of the highway, spun around, and hit the bank again," read the Progress, citing officials. "It had just begun to rain."
The news account paraphrases a deputy who asserts that the spin-out ejected Akins onto the pavement in the presence of an eyewitness.
"A passing motorist, Merlin Durham, a proprietor of the Tidbit Restaurant, saw the accident and stopped to help," the Progress reported. "But as Durham started to walk across the highway to aid Akins, the Triumph bore down from the west, struck [Akins], and never slowed down."
Durham reportedly declined to speak with newsmen that first day, but the deputy relayed that Durham had leapt into his vehicle, pulled a U-turn, and— by cranking his Cadillac up to 90 miles per hour— pursued the Triumph all the way back to Charlottesville. Eventually, the deputy said Durham claimed, he not only caught but actually passed the alleged hit-and-run vehicle. He stopped his Cadillac at a gas station, and— to ensure he was tracking the right vehicle— shone his headlights as the Triumph passed to see two people inside. Allegedly, Durham also saw something else— something he was quoted by the Progress a year later saying "that looked like a coat hanging underneath the car." No account that the Hook reviewed explains why Durham apparently lost the chase.
A stolen car?
About an hour after Durham lost the Triumph at Alderman Road, Charlottesville police were notified and quickly located it. Around 4:30am, they found the sports car in front of an office building at the corner of Alderman and McCormick roads.
It was a 1960 cherry red TR3 with a pair of bold after-market racing stripes on its hood. The front grille was crumpled and the keys were missing. And Pat Akins' body was underneath— "still suspended," said a deputy, "by his belt and clothing."
In less than an hour, the car's registration led police to a UVA graduate student, 23-year-old William C. Wolkenhauer of Escanaba, Michigan. According to a Progress article, after getting awakened in his dormitory room around 5:30am, Wolkenhauer was subjected to a 12-hour interrogation that included him getting sent to Richmond for an afternoon polygraph. The keys were in his possession, and he said his car must have been stolen.
Back in Charlottesville, the Triumph was being dusted for fingerprints by Assistant Police Chief Connie O. Durham— Merlin Durham's uncle.
'Damn, that's Pat Akins'
One of the first civilians on the scene was photographer David Lyster, who, in the era's typical practice, would shoot for both the Progress and the police. Then 23 years old, he says he was awakened by a phone call about a dead man under a car.
"It was raining like the dickens, and there were a lot of cops there," recalls now 73-year-old Lyster. "I remember getting down on my knees. I looked under the car and said, 'Damn, that's Pat Akins.'"
The football star was chest-down on McCormick Road with his feet behind the front axle and his head just ahead of the rear axle, says Lyster.
"I knew him from taking photographs at the Rock Hill Academy football games," says Lyster. "His face was unmarked."
The veteran photojournalist adds that one foot stuck out from behind a front tire; its big toe— unmangled— was protruding from a sock. Lyster says he snapped six to eight images, including one of Akins' face.
"I'd seen a lot of stuff," shrugs Lyster, who also took some pictures more appropriate for a family newspaper.
One of them spanned four columns atop the front page, though Lyster says the newspaper's layout team had to carefully crop the bottom— to keep the toe out of the frame.
If word hadn't instantly spread about Akins' unscathed appearance, the funeral at First Methodist Church two days later let friends and family see for themselves.
"He had an open casket," says his girlfriend, "and his face was immaculate."
Eight days after the incident, Albemarle County Coroner E.D. Davis Jr. bolstered a rising tide of skepticism by telling newsmen that Akins' body could not have been dragged more than 100 yards. At that point, Albemarle County Sheriff W.S. Cook revealed for the first time in the Progress that he never believed that Akins had been dragged 12 miles by a TR3.
"It's a low car; it's as low as you can go," says Marty Rutkowitz, a Triumph owner interviewed for this article. "It seems like it would push a body before it would run over it."
But what about the assertion that Akins was "still suspended by his belt and clothing"?
Photographer Lyster figures that the claim must have been based on something he witnessed: When the tow truck began lifting the car off the body, some of Akins' clothes were caught on the undercarriage and an officer had to cut the fabric to free it. That, Lyster says, doesn't mean the body was actually dangling above the pavement, as there wouldn't have been room.
"Think how heavy a body is," says veteran investigator Deke Bowen. "Some parts have to be hanging down."
"Suppose you ran over a dog and his collar got hooked," continues Bowen, a former New York City cop and Charlottesville Police Chief. "Any part rubbing against the road would be gone."
A seatbelt hanging from the TR3's right doorframe suggested to one deputy that a passenger made a hasty exit, and yet the dusting by Assistant Chief Durham yielded just a single partial fingerprint. Apparently, there was nothing conclusive. However, the Albemarle County Police Department would not release even an incident report to the Hook, saying that this is an open investigation.
The photographer remembers something else: The officers seemed to be in a hurry to get both the car and the body away from the scene.
"I didn't think much of it at the time," Lyster says. "But the way they rushed— it just sort of nagged at me."
Rumors swirled. Had Akins been murdered? Was the scene staged? Could law enforcement have played a role?
"The rumor going really strong was that he'd been stabbed due to some sort of gambling debt," says James K. Brightwell Sr., a now-retired Virginia State Police officer brought in a few weeks later to assist the case. "The rumors were hampering the investigation."
Fueling the speculation was the fact that coroner Davis had only briefly examined the body; it had not been autopsied prior to burial. Seven weeks later, Brightwell and the City's Commonwealth's Attorney won a court order to exhume Akins and send his body to Richmond.
Akins died of "massive bruises, abrasions, and lacerations all over his body," according to the Progress' account of the May 15 report by the state's chief medical examiner, Dr. G.T. Mann, who ruled the cause of death was 'depression of the lungs.' He said that Akins would almost certainly be alive today if he had not been dragged." While conceding that there were no broken bones, Mann concluded, "There's no question that he had been dragged a considerable distance on his chest and abdomen. He could have dragged 12 miles."
To explain why the body wasn't destroyed, Mann relied on a two-part answer: the relatively light weight of the sports car and the wet pavement. A report intended to provide answers had just intensified the outrage.
"There are probably seven ways this case could have happened," says Albemarle's current police chief, Steve Sellers. "Somebody's lying."
The Triumph was found in front of what was then called the Water Resources Building, part of a brick and limestone complex at the base of Mount Jefferson, which got its more familiar name, "O-Hill," from the astronomical observatory that has crowned it since 1884. There were other facilities on O-Hill in 1963: an abandoned Jefferson-era quarry, a water treatment plant, and a nuclear reactor that had opened three years earlier.
The car's owner, who was a graduate student in nuclear physics, would have been familiar with the corner of Alderman and McCormick road as the route to the reactor. However, Wolkenhauer reportedly passed a polygraph test and was adamant that he hadn't driven since midnight. Also, it didn't take a nuclear scientist to know that O-Hill was remote, heavily wooded, and very dark at night— an ideal spot for discarding a body and a stolen car.
The discovery of some ripped and burned wires under the hood bolstered Wolkenhauer's claim that the vehicle had been stolen, and the sheriff noted that a car thief— not an owner— would be more likely to flee an accident. Authorities said that they had questioned an AWOL sailor who surfaced in Waynesboro, but both the county sheriff and the city police chief opined that the site of the abandoned car— just a half mile from its usual parking spot by Memorial Gym— suggested that the perpetrator was a UVA student. Living in Washington state, the now retired nuclear physicist Wolkenhauer hangs up on a journalist when contacted for this story.
A loud thump
In an early Progress article, Akins' friend Mawyer confined his remarks to setting the time of the initial spin-out in Greenwood at 2:45am. He reportedly told authorities that the spun-out Chevrolet's passenger door had jammed and that while exiting via the driver's door he had heard a loud "thump" in the darkness. He allegedly didn't connect the noise with Akins and said he'd proceeded to search in vain for his friend until Merlin Durham returned approximately 45 minutes later, presumably bearing bad news about his friend.
For all his heroics in launching a 90mph pursuit of a hit-and-run vehicle, Durham took a less-hurried approach to reporting what had happened. The Progress cites Deputy M.W. Sandridge in asserting that, after losing sight of the Triumph, Durham first drove back to the crash site in Greenwood, picked up Mawyer, and then attempted to reach police from a pay phone "near the Tidbit"— but found it out of order. Sandridge, who declined to be interviewed for this story, told the Progress at the time that Durham made his incident report at the Charlottesville Police Department in person— after dropping Mawyer off at home on Old Ballard Road.
Why didn't Durham— the Tidbit's co-owner— simply call from the Tidbit, which was reportedly just a quarter mile from the crash site and then advertising itself as open 24 hours every day? For that matter, why not report at the Greenwood Motel or at a gas station's pay phone, since the devices were then ubiquitous? Were there any witness accounts of two vehicles hurtling toward Charlottesville around 3 o'clock on a Tuesday morning? The Progress stories don't say, and Durham— now an 84-year-old florist— declined to be interviewed for this story.
Almost off the ground
Sheriff's Deputy Randolph Davis was one of the rain-coated investigators in Dave Lyster's photograph of the smash-fronted Triumph. Now a farmer living in Ivy, he says he always doubted the low-slung two-seater could push anyone as large as Akins for 12 miles— or any miles.
With a body under it, "that car couldn't have done 90 miles an hour and probably couldn't have done 25 miles an hour," says Davis, who remembers hearing the coroner say that such a long drag would have "torn up a hog."
Davis says that while Akins did exhibit burns along his back from the exhaust system, he felt convinced the young man hadn't been under the car for long. He mentions a lack of blood at the scene— and something else that caught his eye.
"When I got there," says Davis, "the front end was raised up a good three inches— like it was sitting on a rock. The car was almost off the ground."
Davis contends that the car's low clearance— six inches according to specification sheets— made it undriveable immediately after running over Akins.
"It was up too high," says Davis. "The wheels wouldn't have gotten traction."
'Like being on a belt sander'
Each year, about one in every 100,000 Virginians will get hit by a car and die. The pedestrian toll was 73 in 2011, the most recent year with statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, neither the NHTSA, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, nor the Virginia State Police keep a tally of the number of dragging deaths.
It's rare, but there was a fatal case in James City County four months ago. And there was one in Albemarle 16 years ago.
In 1997, 60-year-old Delbert C. Capps was charged after dragging motorcyclist Kenneth Stewart Jr. across the Fifth Street Extended overpass. Capps' trial featured horrific images indicating that the incident stripped "most of the skin and muscle" from the victim's arms and face; authorities simply followed a trail of blood and helmet fragments to find the perpetrator. The total dragging distance was about 550 feet. Capps was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and hit-and-run and sentenced to six years.
One assertion by the state medical examiner back in 1963 was that there were many medical journal articles about victims getting dragged beneath sports cars "because of the peculiar construction and light weight of the small cars." A reporter was unable to find such articles. In contrast, the four articles we found about dragging deaths since 1990 reveal in gory detail how victims first get partially stripped of their clothes— and then of their flesh.
One article about three victims dragged for less than two kilometers noted that all suffered "exposure of the internal organs." Another journal found "muscles and bones exposed" when a woman was dragged 718 meters, and an article about a man dragged 600 meters noted the loss of "major parts of the left side of his skull and the brain."
Asked about former state medical examiner Mann's hypothesis about sports cars and wet pavement, UVA surgeon James Calland— who has treated about 20 dragging victims— rejects the 12-mile dragging theory.
"It's absurd," he says.
"It would be like being on a belt sander. You would see abrasions down to the bones. I am fairly certain that there would be body parts missing— even if it were wet pavement."
A reckless driver
If Akins wasn't dragged, as experts seem to agree, then what killed Akins? If witness Durham won't talk, what about Akins' friend Mawyer?
No stranger to life-altering accidents, Mawyer got his first brush with vehicular death less than three years earlier.
In 1960, he was charged with involuntary manslaughter for the death of 32-year-old Hal Coolidge Jones, according to a Progress account. The incident occurred around midnight on October 14, when Jones was driving west on East High Street, just three blocks from home. According to the Progress— which noted an absence of skid marks at the scene— Mawyer was driving north on East Second Street at a high rate of speed when he slammed into Jones' vehicle.
A jury convicted Mawyer of reckless driving and recommended a 12-month sentence with all jail time suspended, a $100 fine, and a five-year ban on driving. The punishments, however, wouldn't stop Mawyer from driving on at least one other occasion.
On the morning of October 10, 1964— less than 19 months after Akins died— Mawyer was involved in another accident along the same stretch of U.S. 250 where Akins was allegedly struck. This time, there were four young men inside a car traveling at high rate of speed, according to the Progress.
"None of the car's occupants would identify the driver," the Progress noted.
However, investigators determined that it was Mawyer. In December, 1964, according to the Progress, a judge reinstated his jail sentence from the previous reckless driving conviction.
Terry Hawkins, a classmate of Mawyer's who would later get elected to three terms as Albemarle County sheriff, was one of the car's occupants, along with Michael Bishop and David P. Robinson.
"As we were passing by the Tidbit," recounts Hawkins, Mawyer "cranked it up to 100 miles per hour and began driving toward an 18-wheeler. It was like he was in a trance."
"He did have a glazed look on his face," recalls Robinson. "When I hollered at him, he turned the car to the right."
"The car rolled," Hawkins recalls. "I had 486 stitches, lost four teeth, and almost lost my eye."
In a recent telephone interview, Mawyer ascribes the 1964 wreck to alcohol.
A friend investigates
Terry Hawkins, whose face still bears the scars from that 1964 incident, was a Rock Hill senior when Akins died. After a stint with the Richmond Police Department, Hawkins returned to Charlottesville in 1970 as a deputy working the late-night shift for the Albemarle Sheriff's office, where his deceased friend Pat Akins was never far from his mind.
"If I had some downtime," says Hawkins. "I'd go through the files. I looked at the [Akins] file and looked at all the photographs."
Hawkins says he was disturbed by a lack of major tissue damage— and by what appeared to him to be a hole or deep dent on the back of Akins' head. The apparent wound convinced him that Akins had been slain with a blow from something like a ball-peen hammer.
"In my opinion," says Hawkins, "he was murdered, and the whole thing was staged to make it look like an accident."
He's not the only one to think so.
'It felt like a kidnapping'
Witness Merlin Durham had a brother, George, who took the lead in the restaurant business after their parents founded Jak 'n Jil, the High Street hot-dog haven, in 1945. Three years later, George Durham followed in their footsteps by launching the original Tidbit at a gas station he was operating near Free Bridge. The place was so successful that he opened a similar restaurant nearby named, appropriately, the Overflow.
By the early 1960s, George Durham had moved the Tidbit out to Greenwood. The western version of the Tidbit was "open 24 hours everyday," according to a contemporary yellow pages ad. This Tidbit offered not only fuel and food but also a 16-room motel and a massive asphalt parking area for trucks. In the center of it all stood a brick house, home to a family that would later endure some dramatic splintering including allegations of the worst kinds of violence.
"My father was a real-life Tony Soprano fifty years before David Chase ever thought up the character," says Cheri Durham Elliott, 64, who claims that her teenage life at the Tidbit was a nightmarish combination of restaurant work and beatings at the hands of her father.
Elliott also alleges sexual abuse by another relative and has filed suit against the person, who now lives out of state. In allegations filed in Albemarle Circuit Court, Elliott asserts that her father was involved in an unsolved murder. She has told the Hook that the unsolved murder victim was Pat Akins.
Elliott says that for decades she remained silent out of fear of her father. However, she says she began losing her fear after the 2004 murder— at a public park in Florida— of her only child, Marcia, under circumstances not related to this story. After her father died in 2006, Elliott became convinced it was safe to tell everything she knows about the death of Akins, and she began speaking to this reporter about five years ago.
A vintage postcard shows a sparkling blue lake behind the Tidbit complex, but Elliott says there were darker attractions to the place: prostitution, drugs, and gambling.
"Go rent the movie Porky's," says Albemarle Chief Sellers. "You'll see how I envision the Tidbit back in the day."
In 1963, Elliott was living at the Tidbit house and attending Lane High School as a freshman. In the days after Akins' death, she says that a pair of plainclothes police officers pulled her out of class and drove her to a tiny brick structure behind a car dealership on Pantops Mountain for interrogation. There, in what was then the Charlottesville office of the State Police, she says the men told her that her father, George Durham, was a suspect in the death of Pat Akins.
"It felt like a kidnapping," says Elliott, who says the interrogations terrified her. She contends that the State Police, who had by then assumed much of the legwork— if not outright control— of the Akins investigation, didn't want her father to know that he was a suspect. Somehow, she says, George Durham found out.
"Daddy lifted me up by my shirt, stuck a gun to my head, and said, 'I know you've been talking to the state troopers.'"
Elliott concedes that she never reported any such incident to authorities, and her only corroborator is a sister, a woman with a history of petty offenses, according to court records. The sisters maintain that years of abuse by their father have taken a toll on them.
Among Elliott's boldest claims from the Tidbit era is that one day she entered her father's bedroom looking for pocket change; but then, upon hearing his footsteps, quickly ducked under the bed. She says George Durham proceeded to brag about killing Akins to one of his lovers. She provides the woman's name, phone number, and West Virginia address which matches online records for that name. A woman who answered the phone asked who was calling, then hung up. A woman answering subsequent calls to the same number told a reporter they had the wrong number.
Elliott expresses frustration that she can't prove her claim about her father.
"I don't have to worry about him sticking a gun up in my face anymore, so now I'm willing to talk," says Elliott, "so the authorities need to start taking me seriously."
If corroboration is lacking, passion is not.
"Pat has haunted me my whole life," says Elliott. "I would get teased by kids on the school bus: 'Your dad killed Pat Akins.' It was almost like common knowledge."
Body on the car?
An early Progress report has investigators finding red paint chips at the alleged impact scene which the FBI reportedly found consistent with the TR3's paint. But if the dragging theory finds little modern day traction, how could a body get all the way from Greenwood to the outskirts of UVA?
One hypothesis is that Akins got embedded in the grille of the car. UVA physics professor Lou Bloomfield, creator of a popular textbook and a class entitled "How Things Work," explains that if the TR3 had sufficient structure to support the person in question— "like the pocket of a baseball mitt''— then it's possible.
Bloomfield notes that an impact victim can remain with a car instead of getting tossed up and over it— as typically happens to a deer or a standing person. After all, the state medical examiner suggested that Akins had been struggling to his feet when hit.
"If the person was physically low," says Bloomfield, "then it's possible."
If the grille damage seems too shallow and Akins too large, Bloomfield says there remains another way for a TR3 to support a body: right on its hood. A physical possibility, however, doesn't mean Bloomfield supports it.
"That would not be a pretty sight," says Bloomfield. "And obviously the driver would notice."
So might the witness. A contemporary report in the Progress asserts that Merlin Durham, stopped in the gas station lot and shining his headlights toward the road, saw front-end damage to the TR3— "but didn't see a body on the hood or bumper."
'You're not welcome'
Previous efforts to interview Merlin Durham have been declined. A Progress reporter was rebuffed for an article in 1991, and a Hook reporter tried in 2008. So this reporter decided to visit his place of business, Agape Florist, located along Ridge-McIntire Road, on March 19, 2013, exactly 50 years after the incident. A brief introduction at the shop results in Durham throwing up his hands.
"I've got nothing to say," Durham shouts. "I've got nothing to say. That's over with."
Even though no customers are visible, an employee motions the journalist to depart.
"But you're the only witness," implores this reporter.
"That's right," Durham replies. "You're not welcome, friend. Leave."
A follow-up phone call reaches Durham's wife and flower shop co-owner, Elaine Durham, who asserts that her husband has felt harassed by authorities for making him take two lie-detector tests, which, according to retired Trooper Brightwell, he passed "with flying colors." His wife says he has suffered a heart attack and now feels harassed by journalists. She requests no further contact.
James City redux?
The fatal dragging incident in James City County in May presents an intriguing set of facts. According to media accounts, 22-year-old Michael Robinson of Providence Forge and 30-year-old LeTroy Prince Wallace were drag-racing on U.S. Route 60 when Wallace's car hydroplaned on wet pavement, spun several times, and ejected him into the path of Robinson's vehicle, which struck and dragged him four miles.
Could both Mawyer and Akins have been drag racing that night? Akins had made his love for high speed known in his high school newspaper. Mawyer has long held that Akins was behind the wheel, and it would have been a violation of his parole had he been driving.
When a reporter first contacts Mawyer by phone five years ago, his first assertion about the mystery of his friend's death was this: "That has been solved. The culprit's no longer living." Asked for the name of the culprit, Mawyer declines to offer it.
Earlier this year, Mawyer left a reporter a voice-mail message saying, "You can quote-unquote what I tell you— like go screw yourself."
Yet in a subsequent interview he chats about his life in Divide, Montana, where he bases a guide service offering "hunting and fishing from Southern Chile to Alaska to Russia."
On the telephone, Mawyer repeats a wide array of assertions— including the one about a dead perpetrator. And he says that he knows people who know who was driving the Triumph, but he declines to name such people.
"There was some coverup somewhere, but I don't know what it was," says Mawyer. "They write it off as unsolved, but they know."
He stands by his story.
So does former State Trooper Brightwell, who says he was present for the Richmond autopsy— "the most thorough autopsy you can imagine."
"How in the heck would you stage an accident like that?" asks Brightwell,
"Everything that [Merlin] Durham told us checked out, and he passed the polygraph. My thinking, talking to Durham and just putting everything together is that [Akins] was on the car most of the way, and that he was under it after the last turn."
The oldest and coldest
The same senior year profile in the Rock Hill student newspaper that described Akins doing 90 on Rio Road had him thinking about marrying his high school sweetheart, Kathie Sours.
John Lloyd, a member of the class of 1962, says, "I don't have any memory of Pat without Kathie."
Kathie Sours is now Kathryn Street, and she lives in Portland, Maine. Street recalls growing up with a handsome schoolmate at Venable Elementary, the kind of boy who would ring-and-run her front door and put a rotten apple under her seat on the school bus. But by time the two got to Rock Hill, the red-haired cheerleader and the buzz-cutted football star were inseparable. She says he would talk about following in his older brother's footsteps of becoming a military pilot.
"We were together for four years. That was a long time," says Street. "Losing him was a very traumatic time in my life."
Street recalls how her parents woke her up on that dismally rainy Tuesday morning to tell her that her boyfriend was dead, how she rode to the funeral in the limousine with Mrs. Akins, and how recent discussions have reopened the wounds.
"I was 17 at the time, and I had to go on," says Street. "But since this has come up, it's like he's a ghost— a tender ghost— who haunts me."
In a way, it also haunts today's Albemarle Police Department, which took over all County criminal investigations in 1984. Some of the files are missing— including the autopsy photographs.
"There are diagrams of the autopsy," says Chief Sellers, "but I haven't seen any actual photographs."
The chief says that missing materials, faded memories, conflicting medical reports, and recalcitrant witnesses would make a successful prosecution difficult. Nonetheless, he brought in a volunteer investigator from New York two years ago to sift through the records, and he remains hopeful that someone will come forward with new information.
"This case will always be active," says Sellers, "until we get to the truth."
In 1968, Connie Durham was promoted to chief of the Charlottesville Police, a position he held until his retirement three years later. He died in 1977.
Dave Lyster says he went looking for the rest of his crime scene photographs at the Daily Progress but couldn't find them.
The old Tidbit's truck stop became the site of Blue Ridge Builders Supply. Later, the restaurant burned down, and the last structures— the house and motel— became the Mountview Apartments before getting demolished in the 1990s. The site lay fallow until 2009 when new owner Preston Stallings partnered with Great Eastern Management to open the Blue Ridge Shopping Center, anchored by a Harris-Teeter grocery.
The only person bearing the Akins name who got to meet the young football star is Myrna Akins of McHenry, Illinois. It was her husband, Alvin, Pat's brother, 10 years older than Pat, who took emergency leave from the Air Force to comfort his parents and run newspaper ads promising a $1,000 reward for information.
Myrna Akins says that Pat's parents, Mary Grace Williams Akins and Walter R. Akins, the latter a retired Air Force major, would make daily visits to their son's grave at Monticello Memorial Gardens, where they are now buried by his side. Alvin Akins died in 1987, soon after his parents' deaths. None lived to see the case solved.
Cheri Elliott now lives in Orange, where she writes letters to authorities urging them to find justice for Pat. "I will never give up," says Elliott. "He has no one left to fight for him."