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Shenandoah Tragedy: Another Case?

     Lollie Winans & Julie Williams

   On May 19, 1996, two young women entered the Shenandoah National Forest to spend their vacation in the scenic and historic forest in western Virginia. Lollie Winans was 26, exuberant, energetic and quite a thrill to be around. Her friend, Julie Williams, 24, was a long time outdoorswoman. Together both had a passion for hiking and enjoying the wilderness. Lollie brought with them her pooch Taj, a golden retriever. They climbed the heights and gazed over the breathtaking lookouts of the other mountains along the range. They renewed their camping permit and decided to stay longer. A camp ranger dropped them off at Stony Man parking lot at 5:30 p.m. May 24. They trundled off to their new campsite down Bridle Trail. This was the last time they were seen alive.  

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     Their new campsite was about 400 yards along the trail from Skyline Drive. It is off the trail on the left, a small clearing at the end of a short game trail. Off an embankment on its left there is a trickling creek. Idyllic location, actually. In late May, with the View from Skyline Drive-VO-icongreen umbrella of the trees overhead it gave off a rustic, sleepy aura. Yet with Bridle Trail in sight, the girls could hear the horsemen trotting along. It was for this reason that the trail was nicknamed Bridle Trail. And, of course, from the trail someone could see their campsite.

     Someone visited their camp. How many times? We don’t know. It is subject to interpretation based on two major theories. We will have to explore both here. Some Stony Man Face-VO-iconsequence can be put back together here because a suspect was later tried and the charges dropped, so that details came out in court— publicly accessible.

     Lollie had promised to be back to a friend’s wedding by June 1. Julie had to be back a couple of days sooner. When she didn’t arrive, her father initiated a search on May 31. The next day, Saturday, in the evening, rangers found the encampment down Bridle Trail. It was silent. The tent was pitched. No one was about. Lollie’s golden retriever did not lope out at them nor dart through the woods, each lope marked by that distinctive sound on the crunchy carpet of twigs and dried remnants of last autumn.    


           First Victims
       Dowski & Thomas

         Second Victims
     Knobling & Edwards

           Third Victims
   Keith Call/Sandra Hailey

         Fourth Victims
         Lauer & Phelps

             Fifth Victims
       Winans & Williams


Donna Hall & Mike Margaret

David Metzler & Heidi Childs

   Approaching the tent brought into vision the embankment of the giggling brook. There was one of the girls in a sleeping bag down the embankment, close to the creek’s edge, about 30 to 40 feet from the tent. This didn’t look good. Peaking inside the tent revealed the other girl. It was the vivacious Lollie. She was in her night clothes. Her mouth was gagged and her wrists were bound with duct tape. Her ankles were also bound. She was quite dead. Her Skyline -- another angle-VO-iconthroat was slit.

       Not surprisingly, Julie Williams did not answer. Approaching her down the embankment it was evident that her mouth was covered in the same duct tape. Examining her closer revealed her wrists were bound with cloth, but her ankles were not bound. Her throat too had been slit.

     The dog was missing. Sometime later Taj was found wandering around Whiteoak Canyon, “apparently” unharmed.

     It was a double murder in perplexing circumstances. The girls had been dead for at least a couple of days, the coroner ruled. May 28 give or take 30 hours. The coroner also determined that neither girl had been sexually molested. Basically, they had been murder, that’s it. Stony Man view-VO-icon No robbery. No motive. Other than a sicko was on the loose.

     There isn’t much else to say that is reliable. Much later DNA was lifted off “cloth bindings,” so that we know Julie Williams was bound with cloth but gagged with duct tape whereas we know that Lollie Winans was bound at her wrists and maybe angles with duct tape but apparently gagged with cloth.

     Unfortunately, a sad media frenzy, irresponsible and frivolous, ensued in which it promoted the two girls as being lesbian lovers and therewith that this was a “hate crime.” They became martyrs to some gay communities, and the killer was promoted as a Simon Pure motivated by gay hatred.

     This article is not a journalistic attempt to record the times and seasons of the crime but rather it is an exploration of the crime scene in an attempt to shed light on the perpetrator. For such a motive as “gay hatred” to be relevant it must be established that the killer knew they were lesbians, if so be they were. The facts that greeted the rangers, at least those that have become public, do not reveal a state of mind on the part of the perpetrator, other than he was careful and quiet. The other clues tell us that one victim was in the tent and the other in her sleeping back about 40 feet away by the slumberous sounds of the burbling creek. We can deduce their murders happened at night. In these circumstances, how could the killer have even identified them as lesbians? Indeed, at night how could the killer determine their genders? One was in a sleeping bag and the other in a tent. Why was one victim’s ankles bound but not the other victim’s ankles? Why was one gagged with duct tape and the other with cloth?

     These clues allow us some tentative backworking of the sequence of events that tragic night. Before we do so we must consider the crime scene in the picture essay below.

Winans-large--1996-icon I-64-Virginia-icon I-64-Virginia2-icon Williams-large-icon
Hawksbill Gap sign-VO-icon Ranger-pick up spot-Hawksbill parking lot-VO-icon
Stony Man Nature Trail Parking-VO-icon Stony Man Nature Trail Parking2-VO-icon
Ascending trail-VO-icon
Bridle-Trial-VO-icon Creek-parallel-to-Bridle-Trail-VO-icon
Ano-angle-from-clearing-VO-icon Creek-from-clearing-VO-icon Perhaps-on-top-attack-site-VO-icon
Clearing-awayfromcreek-VO-icon Heading-back-to-Parking-lot-VO-icon

     One thing is self evident from the above photo essay: it would not be easy to approach the clearing and tent therein except on the trodden area from Bridle Trail. No stranger could tippy-toe it through the woods and come upon a person in a sleeping bag quietly. There is too much wooded debris. There was also a large dog, perhaps even wandering freely from the tent to the outside when it desired.

     Coupled with the clues that tell us it was nighttime, we can safely venture that the killer came along the trail from its entrance at Skyline Drive and entered the camp quietly. He first came to the tent. Inside he took Lollie Winans by surprise, waking her perhaps in a startle by putting his hand over her mouth. He gagged her with cloth and then wrapped her wrists together with the duct tape. Then he tied her ankles. The reason for tying the ankles perhaps was because he knew another person was down by the creek. He either saw Williams or demanded that Lollie tell him if she was alone. He intends to leave Lollie alone now so that he can go bind Williams. This required he bind her ankles so she couldn’t walk away. 

     The killer crept out of the tent and quietly down the embankment. There must have been a fairly well used path since this was a camping location. The reason why he gagged Julie Williams mouth with tape could be that this is how he woke her. Basically, he had a piece ready and then he plastered it over her mouth as she slept, waking her with a jolt. The usual hissing and growling threats no doubt followed. He bound her wrists. The killer had no intention of leaving her nor leaving her alive. Binding her ankles was therefore not necessary.

     I do not know what all the preliminaries were, but he eventually cut Julie Williams’ throat. He went back up and, again, whatever the prelims were we do not know, he then cut Lollie Winans’ throat. large-Taj

     What does not fit? The dog. The dog was apparently uninjured. I cannot figure how the dog did not signal some kind of alert. Even if the killer had ingratiated himself in some charming way with the girls earlier on the fatal day or day before, and Taj got used to him, a dog hearing sounds will start and bark until he recognizes the maker of the sounds is not a stranger. Only someone staying with them in the camp would not be of great interest to the dog if he moved about.

     Now as to the “lesbian” theory: The position of the bodies does not reveal any personal persuasion on the part of the victims. For the killer to have been motivated by the “lurid lesbian love angle” he would have to have visited the camp earlier in the day or the day before and in doing so came across the couple. He chatted them up or saw them in some such environment that might indicate they were homosexual. Or he came upon them on the trails, and as hikers do they broke trial together for a while and chatted. He knew they were going to be around for a couple of days. He therefore returned, fully prepared to do his sinister and Simon Pure thing.

     I don’t think there should be any doubt that the killer knew they were there. I can’t imagine someone walking a dark wilderness trail at night with duct tape and strips of cloth on the odd chance he is going to come across a lesbian couple so he can be prepared to bind and kill them.

     Frankly, this applies whether the killer was motivated by his belief they were lesbians or not. Clearly, the killer was prepared to come across somebody on this area of Bridle Trail. He wasn’t just strolling around Bob’s Your Uncle. He knew where he was going and that two women and a dog awaited him. In this circumstance he might have known they were gay, having reconnoitered the area before and come across them.

   Remember, they were dropped off by a ranger on May 24. Their car was possibly not in Stony Man Parking lot, though it could have been by now. There was nothing to alert any stranger that potential victims were within reach 400 yards down the trail. 

     Darrell Rice was heavily suspected and even put on trial years later for these murders, but the case was dropped. He went into rages about women and even tried to run a brace of them off the road. He was a woman hater. He was also seen entering the park on two separate occasions, May 25 and 26, which rather fits someone having made contact first and then returning to do the crime. But DNA was obtained from hairs stuck onto the duct tape and then touch DNA on the cloth bindings. He was ruled out. Also, his check-in times at the park were in the evening, the first on the 25th at 8:05 p.m., which really didn’t give him time to make contact with anybody along the trails. The next day, May 26, it was at 4:57 p.m.

       A man did it. That’s about it for the DNA so far.

       Taj, the dog remains a very curious part of the case. He was found in Whiteoak Canyon. This means he cut across the thickest part of the woods (see Shenandoah map above) and didn’t stay with his master. Was he leashed during the crime and did he get loose and trail the killer? This would mean that the killer may have camped at Whiteoak and headed back through the woods rather than along quiet Bridle Trail.

     The case of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams is often linked with the Colonial Parkway Murders. The girls were bound, gagged and their throats cut. They had not been sexually molested. The same can be said of the first two victims on colonial Parkway— Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski. They had not been gagged because they had been strangled to insensibility. Other than that, their wrists had rope burns indicating they had been bound, and their throats were cut. They had not been molested and they were fully clothed. Winans and Williams were found in their nightwear, which is expected given the circumstances.

     The other connecting strand— other than no motive— is that both locations were National Park property— the historic Colonial Parkway and the Shenandoah.

     There is another— all locations are connected by I-64.

     Things were such, that as I understand it, the Feds checked to see if a ranger had been transferred from the Yorktown area to Shenandoah. There had always been the worry that a cop or ranger had gone bad and was the culprit in the Colonial Parkway murders.

     Was the Phantom of Colonial Parkway responsible? Some think so; principally because there are other elements in common here, though not necessarily unique to the CPM. This double murder seemed to be a drawn-out affair, just like all of those attributed to the Colonial Parkway Killer. He struck far afield along the I-64, 22 miles south of the parkway at Ragged Island and about 30 miles north along I-64 in New Kent County. The Shenandoah is 180 miles from the parkway and a 150 from the New Kent rest stop.

     It is possible it was him, of course, and some have strongly asserted the connection.

     There is another double murder we must look at in hopes of finding connecting clues. It occurred much closer to the Shenandoah than the parkway. It also happened before the parkway murders by 2 years. A young man, Mike Margaret, and his girlfriend, Donna Hall, were brutally murdered in a wooded area and their throats slit. Locals suspected it was some kind of pay back because the youths trafficked to some extent in drugs. The brutality was condemned as overkill. Perhaps the case is not related, but it was a drawn-out affair, a double murder just west of Richmond.


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