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   Into the Woods: The Fourth Victims

Daniel Lauer & Annamaria Phelps

   By Labor Day (September 5) 1989 the Phantom of Colonial Parkway had faded. The murders combined had been so at odds, on the surface anyway, that it had been hard to promote a serial killer was on the prowl. The last incident was just that— an incident. It was a disappearance— so technically not even a murder. The mother of Sandra Hailey insisted her daughter sill had to be alive. The shootings at Ragged Island were twisted, confusing, and hard to understand. They didn’t fit the mold of the Dowski-Thomas murders in any way. Four people were dead, two were missing. This was the sum total of a series of crimes that only seemed vaguely linked. The dual disappearance was 18 months old; the last double murder almost 2 years old. The victims had been murdered in autumn, the couple had vanished in spring.

True Crime Index

     Now on September 5, 1989, Daniel Lauer, 21 years old, was en route to Virginia Beach, Virginia. With him in his tan Chevy Nova, along with his possessions, was his brother’s girlfriend, 18 year old Annamaria Phelps. He was moving from his home in Amelia County, southwest of Richmond, to live with them at their place. The two had been in transit since 11 p.m. on the 4th. They were driving the I-64, the main highway to the coast. They stopped at a large rest area on the highway in New Kent County, just one exit shy of the Route 155, a wooded two lane road that went to some of the small townships of the area.

     The reason the couple stopped at this rest stop varies depending on who you listen to. It was a few hours into their drive. They still had a long way to go. Maybe a bathroom break. Maybe something else. It must have been between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. when they stopped. What happened? Nobody knows. Like Keith Call and Sandra Hailey they had vanished. But a few things could be deduced. They were headed eastbound from Richmond to Virginia Beach. However, Lauer’s tan Chevy Nova was found on the westbound side of the rest area. Not only was it found on the westbound side of the stop, it had not been parked in the stalls in front of the rest area buildings and bathrooms where cars were supposed to park. Behind the rest stop there was a parking area designed for the big rigs and a long road or ramp back onto the westbound lanes of the highway for them. It was on this ramp, halfway on the shoulder and halfway in the road that the Nova had been parked.

     In its way, this was a quick ditch for the car . . . just like York River Overlook on Colonial Parkway was for Keith Call’s car. Looking underneath the car revealed it had been driven over weeds in a field or along a dirt forest road. Bill Littreal, the chief detective for the State in this area, didn’t want to believe that this was related to the Colonial Parkway Murders. With time, however, he became the staunchest supporter of the connection.  


           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

     It would take 6 rainy, warm weeks to finally prove this was a double murder and reveal the undeniable similarities to the CPM cases. In a deeply wooded hunting area just off Route 155 about a mile from the rest area, two deer hunters came across a blanket. Underneath were two skeletons. Daniel and Annamaria had been found.

     The State troopers and Feds swarmed over the site. The weeds along the dirt road matched those found under the Nova. The killer had driven them out here, probably to the dirt crossroads and then marched them further into the forest along a logging road. Here he killed them.

     Only one thing had been missing from all the stuff Daniel had in his car. This was a blanket from the trunk.  It was this blanket that covered their bodies. Supposedly most of his clothes had also been found in the car. I do not know if that is true. Nothing is said about Annamaria’s clothes, but her purse was there and yet the wallet inside was missing. One of her possessions was most definitely found in the car. It was her roach clip with feathers. It was dangling in the driver’s side window, almost as if it was left there as a boastful taunt on the killer’s part.

     Until the bodies were found, Littreal was on good ground to insist there was no connection here with the CPM cases. This was about 30 miles away from the I-64 cutoff to Colonial Parkway. Lauer and Phelps weren’t dating. They weren’t at a lovers’ lane or skinny-dipping. When the bodies were found, however, the similarities became obvious. It is not openly stated— few things are in these CPM cases— but we can deduce that since there is no mention of tattered clothes, the bodies were nude at the time they were killed. The manner in which Lauer died could not be determined, but it was felt that Phelps had been stabbed. If they were clothed, there would have been stabbed wounds in the clothes and dried blood. Apparently one of Phelps’ bones had been scored in such a way it indicated a knife had plunged in.

     All facts coupled together, this seemed to be the Keith Call and Sandra Hailey case, only in this instance the bodies were found.

     Since Daniel and Annamaria had to have been at the rest stop when first approached, the fear this was a cop or someone playing cop came to the fore. It was the only link the location had with the others. But in this case there was no doubt that the car had been driven to the forest where the murders occurred and then driven back westbound to the rest area a mile away. How could a cop on duty do this? It seems unlikely. This was another drawn-out murder like the other CPM killings. If he had an accomplice, why take the car back to the rest area at all? The accomplice could have followed the killer to the crime scene in their car and then both could have driven away.

     Like in the Call-Hailey disappearance the killer here did not want the bodies found or found quickly. The dirty road could have revealed footprints, stride, etc. Yet why not take the car and dump it elsewhere, especially if he had an accomplice?

     From the sequence of events the clues point to a single perp who at gunpoint made Lauer drive from the rest stop to the next exit, hang a left on Route 155 and then soon a right into the wooded area’s access road. After killing them he then drove the car back onto Route 155, entered the onramp westbound and returned to the rest area just a mile down the road, though on the westbound side. He parked the car in back past where the rigs parked. In the dark early morning hours no one would have seen him park on the truck ramp. Then, somehow, he crossed the highway to the eastbound side or had already parked on the westbound side, got his car, and drove off.    

Lauer-icon Colonial-Phantom-strikes-icon Phelps-icon
Amelia-New Kent-icon Overhead-Kent-Co-Rest-icon Angle-Kent-Co-Sequence-icon
Rest-Stop-overhead-icon Westbound-angle-icon
Entrance 1-64-VO-cropped-icon
Eastbound rest2-VO-icon
Approaching Rest Area-VO-icon Getting Closer-VO-icon
LOVE-VO-icon Eastbound rest-VO-icon
Departing Eastbound area-icon Death Exit-1 mile eastbound-VO-icon Into Death Zone-VO-icon
Phantom Lane-VO-icon Looking back from roped-off-VO-icon Another angle-VO-icon
Posted warning-VO-icon Terrain-other-entrance-VO-icon
Beyond roped off-VO-icon The other entrance-VO-icon
Post-attack-direction-by-killer-VO-icon Westbound Car Parking-VO-icon Westbound Rest Area-VO-icon
Westbound Rest Area2-VO-icon Why-Looking back-tractor park-VO-icon Why-Westbound Rest-VO-icon
Drop off location-VO-icon Why-Car Drop off-VO-icon

   There is no question that Daniel Lauer’s car was staged. There is no question the roach clip was left hanging there as a taunt. The same killer— the Phantom of Colonial Parkway or some sophisticated Jason Voorhees— wanted the police to know he was in action but that he also had successfully covered his trail. This was confidence. He had gotten away with it in April 1988. Here he failed, to an extent. Fortunately, 6 weeks later the bodies were found.

     The horrifying discovery throws a kink into the theory of how much staging the killer engaged in. He hadn’t struck at a swimming hole nor had he taken the couple off guard while they were necking at a petting spot. This was the staging in the earlier crimes.

     We must now ask, how about these other, earlier victims? Were the cars staged in all those cases? Call and Hailey have never been found. Their car had been dropped off at York Overlook on Colonial Parkway. Had Dowski and Thomas been taken by surprise at Cheatham Annex on Colonial Parkway? Or had they been dumped there in Thomas’ car? How about David Knobling and Robin Edwards at the confusing Ragged Island scene?

     An analysis has to consider all the similarities, dissimilarities, and especially the logistics of the known circumstances.

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