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July 24, 1996: FBI looks for link in hiker deaths
Noting a "striking" number of similarities, FBI agents in Norfolk are probing whether the recent slayings of two female hikers in Shenandoah National Park are possibly connected to the murders of two women on the Colonial Parkway 10 years ago.
The October 1986 murders of Rebecca A. Dowski and Cathleen M. Thomas became the first of four incidents FBI and state police investigators believe may involve a serial killer and that have been dubbed by the media as the Parkway Murders.
On June 1 of this year, veteran hikers Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans were found dead in a back-country campsite in the Shenandoah park. ``We are looking into it to see if they are" connected, said Supervisory Agent Bo McFarland with the FBI's Norfolk office Tuesday.
Special Agent John Donahue, with the FBI office in Richmond, which is handling the Shenandoah investigation, said he knew of no specific investigation on his office's part, except that investigators have gone through the FBI database of murders to see if other similarities exist.
Other than what has already been released, Donahue would not elaborate on the specifics about the most recent murders, and McFarland declined to discuss the similarities in detail to protect the on-going probe.
However, from what investigators have released about both double slayings, similarities include:
* Thomas, a 21-year-old former college softball star and student at the College of William and Mary, and Dowski, a 27-year-old Virginia Beach stockbroker and Naval Academy graduate, were found strangled and with their throats slit.
Likewise, Julianne Williams, 24, of Burlington, Vt., and Lollie Winans, 26, of Unity, Maine, were found with their throats slashed.
* In each case, the victims had been bound at the wrists. While the ties had been removed from Thomas and Dowski, Williams and Winans were found still bound.
* All four women were avid athletes, but there were few or no signs of a struggle in either case. That has led investigators in both cases to speculate that more than one person could have been involved.
``It would be hard to imagine one person being able to control that situation,'' without evidence of a struggle, Donahue said of the Williams-Winans case.
* The motive for the killings is unclear in each case. Robbery did not appear to be a motive because purses and wallets were still with the victims or their belongings.
Investigators say Dowski and Thomas were found fully clothed and had not been sexually assaulted. Donahue refused to say whether Williams or Winans had been assaulted, pending further investigation.
* Winans and Williams were good friends who planned to move in together, according to the Washington Blade, a gay newspaper in Washington which has called upon federal investigators to probe whether the killings were a hate-related crime.
News reports at the time of the Dowski-Thomas murders said the two had a ``budding relationship,'' and had known each other for only a short time.
Donahue said investigators have already gone through more than 500 leads since Williams and Winans were found June 1. Suspects were identified and then discounted, he said.
On Saturday, the Williams-Winans murders were spotlighted on Fox network's "America's Most Wanted," generating another 50 phone calls, most of which were solid tips, Donahue said.
While not pursuing the Williams-Winans case specifically as a possible hate crime, Donahue said that if that possibility becomes evident ``we will follow it."
In the three other Parkway cases, David Knobling, 20, and Robin Edwards, 14, were found dead in Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge in Isle of Wight County in September 1987. Both had been shot in the head.
In April 1988, Cassandra Hailey and Keith Call disappeared while on their first date. Call's car was found at a Parkway stop west of Yorktown, but no bodies were ever discovered. Officially, they are missing persons.
Daniel Lauer and Annamaria Phelps, of Amelia County, were found dead a few weeks after their empty car was found at a New Kent County rest stop in September 1989. The decomposed remains found by a hunter offered few clues, except that Phelps apparently died from knife wounds.