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           Too Close For Comfort

   Mike Margaret & Donna Hall

     I remember the 1980s, all too well. Fast times, hard bodies, loose morals. If you remember the 1980s, like I do, you were pretty clean cut. A bud of mine admits he doesn’t remember the ’80s at all. After work he remembers he was in a bar at night. That’s about the amount of his total recall. Drugs had become social for the high end crowd in the “Swingin’ Seventies,” but in the 1980s it was being democratized. It was around the schools. Peer pressure is terrible in your teens. Nancy Reagan pioneered the slogan “Just Say No,” but I’m not sure if that helped. In 1984 we were on the brink of “High Yuppism.” The definitive look of the ’80s was about to take form— mullets, long dangling earrings for men— “left is right, right is wrong”— fast cars, superficiality, greed is good. Things are so tame by comparison today.

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     I speak as a Californian, but it seems this rang true over the country. In Richmond, Virginia, they called the developing western section of the old state capitol the “West End.” It was the newer section, of course. The teens and youth were a little more upbeat with the times here I guess. Drugs were everywhere. They were easy to get. Nothing heavy at first. But one thing leads to another. It was social. There was petty dealing amidst a tight clique. It was the ’80s, after all. This was a quick way to have a good time and make some money, the god of the age of excess and Reaganonimics.

     Mike Margaret and Donna Hall were part of the old way and the new. He was 21 CSI-MM-Hall-iconand she was 18, a new graduate from high school. They had been together for years. They were steady with each other and it seemed natural they would soon marry. But they were also a part of the social West End and its drug culture. Again, nothing heavy.

     It shouldn’t be surprising, however. Mike was particularly popular. He was an outdoorsman. He loved to hunt and fish. He was adept at camping. Donna was popular too. They were a very popular couple. They had a true romance at an age where all the inexperienced youth wonder if true love is possible. They were loved and envied.

     On Friday both Mike and Donna told their respective families they were going camping together. There are conflicting reports, so I am told, about where. However, they turned up at an intimate get-together of friends for the evening. They left here about 11:45 p.m. Everybody assumed they were going camping now.     


           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  

     However, they vanished.

     When they didn’t return by Sunday night, the families informed the police and filed a missing persons report.

  Hall-MM-icon   Questioning friends and families brought to light the couple’s movements on Friday between 4:45 p.m and when they left their friends’ get-together around 11:45 p.m., but after that it was a void. Conflicting stories had surfaced about where they were going. The upshot was that Mike’s family suspected that the couple had eloped.

     Nothing much crystalized until Tuesday, August 21, 1984. A retired dentist was walking his dog in the woods behind King’s Crossing Apartments, a relatively new development off Gaskins Road and Patterson. Gaskins was the main road from I-64 and Patterson was the main road from the developing West End. Just south of the cross streets was King’s Crossing Apartments, and south of the apartment area were virgin woods and plowed fields. In fact, the apartments and other housing in the area checkerboard with plowed fields and big squares of woods. Old barns and buildings still existed next to modern apartments on the other side of thick swaths of woods.

     It was in the thick woods of trees behind Castille Drive and a square of apartments that the dentist was strolling. He was probably the first in the area since Friday. A “torrential” downpour had happened over the weekend. It was hot and muggy. Although 4-wheelers and dirt bikers came out and zoomed through these Virginia woods and a field behind them the ground would have been too unmanageable in the wake of the storm. Thus, again, the dentist seemed to be the first one to stroll through the paths of the woods. Google-1994-icon

     In doing so he came up a rise in the rugged dirt road and there saw a Jeep backed into a depression off the trail. It had been backed under the umbrella of the trees and sat snug in the underwood. The passenger side door was open. The keys were in the ignition. One of the little compartments— the ashtray— was open. A bandana hung from the rear view mirror. A typical western red bandana was loosely tied around the clutch. He walked around to the back. The canvas top on the Jeep was rolled up and pinned in place in back. There were 2 suitcases in back and a paper bag filled with clothes. From the looks of it, the Jeep had been CSI-Gaskins-Field-iconrained on. It had to have been parked here before the downpour when it was normal to have the back rolled up. However, now he saw on the back of the passenger side seat drops of what looked like dried blood. He walked behind the Jeep a ways and came across a checkered red and blue blanket. There was a strange smell. Just further back from the blanket he saw 2 bodies lying close to each other. He yanked his dog and got back home and dialed 9-1-1.

     Mike Margaret and Donna Hall had been found. They had been drugged, stabbed and then their throats cut. Donna Hall had not defended herself. Mike Margaret had put up a hell of a fight.

       Henrico County, in which lies the crime scene, has done a superb job of preserving and making public much needed data to try and contextualize this strange double murder. Unfortunately, the circumstances are such that it doesn’t make it easier to understand. The detectives saw the “overkill” the murderer had used on the couple. When they discovered  Mike and Donna were in a small time drug culture and were possibly wanting to do a little dealing they assumed the murder was drug related. They even heard rumors that the couple had a stash of cash with them and were going to transact the deal before going camping.

     This wasn’t enough to make the detectives buy into the theory that a drug dealer crossed them or a friend killed them desperate for the money. The location of the Jeep and the circumstances around it were hard to figure in light of a drug pass-off. A drug transaction could have been done anywhere; and if here they could easily have parked on the dirt road and awaited their contact. Instead the position of the Jeep, pulled in out of the way of morning joggers and bikers, indicated Mike and Donna were going to stay the night.

     Further clues confused everything. Donna had an “extreme” amount of demerol in her. This is a morphine type pain killer and sedative. Mike too had it in his system, but not in the same quantity. Donna’s shoes were gone. They weren’t anywhere to be found. The coroner said they both had died between 1 and 2 a.m. that early Saturday morning August 18, so within a couple of hours after being at the party. Detectives were sure that the couple had been somewhere before they came to this remote location. This is where they got the demerol (presumably) in their system and where Donna had left her shoes.

     Who knew they were coming here and why did they come here?

     Drugs in their system, lack of Donna’s shoes, and the fact this didn’t seem like a real camping site, were powerful motives to believe someone they knew had killed them. This was a remote location. Who could possibly have known they’d be here unless they had told them? But it’s not that simple, and the detectives knew it.

     These woods certainly weren’t their weekend camping location. The woods were, in fact, close to Donna’s own home across Castille on the other side of Kings Crossing Apartments. So if they had made contact somewhere else, bought drugs and got high on demerol, where were the drugs? None were to be found. Why did they come here afterward? More and more this sounded like a prearranged meeting location . . . but for what? It was truly hard to figure considering Donna’s missing shoes. If they had a prolonged meeting with their attacker here, took demerol first, why would he kill them and then take Donna’s shoes? No, it seems they had been somewhere before coming here. Who were they to meet here, if anybody, and where were Donna’s shoes?

     Once again though, we must come back top the staging. The staging was not that of a quick meeting. Why did Mike back into the veil of darkness under the woods? Why was the canvas back of the top rolled up? There was no “traditional” camping equipment in back. There were two suitcases, a grocery bag full of clothes. Three cigarettes had been smoked. A bottle of beer had been drunk. They were scattered in a line on the ground. They had spent some time here by the time their attacker assailed them.

     The blanket had apparently been removed from the back of the Jeep and when detectives found it and videotaped picking it up, it unleashed a “strong odor.” A pack of Marlboros fell out. It had been opened. The detective can be heard on the video saying: “Someone was murdered on this blanket.” Why did the killer then move the body off the blanket or pull the blanket out from CSI-aerial-iconunderneath the body and leave it in a heap? At another location (unfortunately, not marked on the video) the 3 smoked cigarettes butts and a bottle of beer attested to why the Marlboros had been opened.

     If the couple had already had their meeting with a drug contact, why did they park here, remove the blanket from the back of the Jeep, sit on it and smoke a few Marlboros (it is not mentioned that either smoked) and drink a bottle of beer. If they weren’t waiting for someone, they came here for a reason.  It just doesn’t sound like a normal drug pass-off meeting. Why would the killer take her shoes but not her purse?

     It can’t really be figured, and it isn’t surprising that Mike and Donna’s clique of friends weren’t able to lead the detectives to a substantial person of interest. The theory was, naturally, that since the rumor was circulating that Mike and Donna had a wad of money, the motive was that someone who knew about this needed the money and killed them for it. But in such a brutal way? It doesn’t seem to add up. It would also seem the person would be fairly easy to trace if he stayed around Richmond’s West End. Someone within the clique should have suspected who the culprit was. And if he was a dealer that the others didn’t know, he must have been desperate to get money, which sounds like he was taking it on the lam and would be far away at sunrise. Still, why kill 2 popular kids like that?

     Who dealt or stole or used demerol? The police wanted to know. This was higher end stuff than the couple had played with. It was stuff hospitals used for pain. Where did they get it? If at the campsite while jawing with their contact socially, where’s Donna’s shoes? It did seem they went somewhere first, but why did they come here, spread a blanket, smoke, drink a beer, and wait . . . without Donna’s shoes? It doesn’t look like they were forcibly brought here. The clues don’t add up.

     Mike Margaret certainly didn’t have the amount of demerol in him as Donna. She might have been in a stupor during the attack. Mike fought back and had defensive wounds aside from the many stab wounds in him. He got a piece of the attacker as well. The forensic guys found 3 blood types— Mike’s, Donna’s, and a John Doe who had blood Type A. John Doe’s was found in the Jeep, thanks to the fact the back canvas top had been rolled up. The rain hadn’t touched it. There was a drop on the blue suitcase, drops on the back of the passenger seat, one on the side of the driver’s seat cushion (so it had probably come from the back and missed the back of the seat and went between the seats and landed on the side of the driver’s seat cushion). However, 4 more drops were found on the side of the transmission housing under the driver’s seat.

     None of the drops seem to show the sunburst or splatter effect, and only a couple within the Jeep are particularly like a slanted exclamation point. Meaning? Meaning it is hard to imagine they were splattered there during the heat of battle. If they are all from the John Doe attacker it would more or less seem that he was looking for something in there after-the-fact; and, having been injured, drops of blood popped about. The blood under the driver’s is especially curious. It’s as though he saw what he was looking for through the open passenger side door, went around, pulled out from under the seat what he wanted— a few drops of blood from his fingers splattering on the housing. He instinctively closed the driver’s door.

     But so many drops on the back of the right seat and only one on a suitcase in back? You would think with that much blood there would be more drops on the luggage in back as he reached in and rifled about. You’d also think that there would be streaks of blood from his bloody hands. It doesn’t really figure.

     If Mike fought the attacker by the Jeep, thus accounting for the blood, then he was dragged quite a distance behind it and thrown between two small trees before his throat was cut. How did Donna get out of the Jeep, and why was the blanket used at all? Since Mike had fought back, we can say that he wasn’t killed on the blanket. Unless, that is, the killer drug him back to the blanket and cut his throat ritualistically on that. Someone died on the blanket. It would seem it was Donna. She was placed upon it and there attacked. Her left hand reached out and grabbed a tuft of hay and pine needles. Due to this material in her clutched, dead hand there seems no reason to deny she was killed on the spot. Where’s her shoes?

     The staging is indeed strange. The detectives said the bodies were posed near each other, but the overall staging is what is ponderous. How did the attacker’s blood get inside the Jeep unless he attacked them there? Why was the blanket then used? Did he go pull the blanket out of the back and this is what scattered some of his blood in the back? Why would he get a blanket out just to kill someone on it? The blanket wasn’t found flat. It was crumpled up when the police found it and when the detective picked it up the pack of Marlboros fell out. It seems someone had been sitting on it there at one point and casually smoking. The blanket was about 20 feet behind the jeep. But there’s the other clues. Without shoes on, Donna must have remained in the Jeep. Who had been smoking on that blanket? Why did Mike get out and pin up the back if they weren’t going to stay a while?

     The reader can appreciate the problems in reconstructing the events of that night. It wasn’t the place for a quick drug transaction. The couple didn’t have “traditional” camping equipment with them and this wasn’t a camping spot. They seemed to have spent some time there waiting, canvas back rolled up. Where, when and how did they ingest demerol?

     Anyone who follows the major cases of unsolved murder is familiar with the Dee Ferrin and Mike Mageau attack  by the ‘Zodiac’ Killer at remote Blue Rock Springs parking lot in Vallejo on July 4, 1969. The vivacious Dee Ferrin lived such an exuberant lifestyle and even dealt, in petty ways, in marijuana that Vallejo Police were sure there was a connection between her lifestyle and her killer and eventually between her and the ZODIAC when it became Apart-sign-VO-iconobvious he had killed her. Moreover, her family had received hang-up phone calls within hours of her death. No one but the killer could have known by this time. This strengthened their theory that Dee Ferrin had known ZODIAC. But she hadn’t. It was all coincidence. Decades later it came out that her brother was calling the family residences to see if she’d pick up. She was supposed to get him some MJ that day.

     Is this the case here? Are the rumors of a drug transaction irrelevant? One of the detectives said that they have “nothing in stone” that the couple had money. But the rumor may have been enough even if they hadn’t money. After they left the get-together, then after they left whomever they were going to visit after the get-together, if anybody, why would Mike and Donna innocently go to these woods to camp? They didn’t have the right equipment and this was not a place that Mike would take her; some friends stressed the latter.

       I have been repetitious in stressing this point here.

     Since it was a place known by dirt bikers and 4 wheelers, did others come along for some other transaction and the two were in the way? Locals feared it could have been bikers. Or as a possible petting spot— the area was accessible down a long road in the field— was a killer looking for targets? As a random killing, the rest of the rumors are worthless, just like they were for decades in the Ferrin murder. If so, where’s Donna’s shoes?

     In any scenario, where are Donna’s shoes? Why would the couple come out here to begin with without her shoes? Why if they were going to meet someone here did her shoes disappear? Why if they went somewhere before this to make some drug contact, were they led out here afterward without her shoes? Why would a serial killer take her shoes?

     If not for Donna’s shoes, it would seem they parked here and waited, canvas top rolled up. Were they too buzzed to go on their trip tonight and did Donna say ‘Let’s just go to that place behind my apartment’ because they were also too buzzed to be seen by her parents? Then a random killer came and got them? If so, where did the demerol come from and where did Donna’s shoes finally end up?

     Nothing adds up, not with the information available today. Some things suggest a random killer. Some things suggest they came here for to stay the night, some things say they may have followed or been followed here after meeting someone elsewhere. But altogether the clues and evidence don’t overwhelmingly pick any scenarios.

     The photo essay below will help explain the scene and underscore why the questions lead to no one single answer. We will then proceed with considering a connection with the other double murders in Virginia.   

Google-overhead1994-MM-DH-icon Google-overhead1-MM-DH-icon
CSI-Jeep context-icon Body-Context-icon
CSI-Jeep-interior-icon CSI-Jeep-interior-3-icon
CSI-Jeep-compartment open-icon
CSI-bloody-blanket-strong odor-icon
CSI-bloody-blanket-strong odor-cigs-icon
CSI-Hall Hand-icon
CSI-suitcases2-icon CSI-Bloodbackseat-icon
CSI-Jeep-day-insitu-driversseat-blood-icon CSI-Blood-transmissionhousing-icon
CSI-Blood underdriver's seat-icon
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CSI--4-5-blanket-day-icon CSI-Body-location-icon
Apartments-VO-icon Apartments2-VO-icon Trees-murder site-VO-icon
Road in middle-complex-VO-icon
Jeep spot-VO-icon

     Let’s face it, the police have been frank about repeating that they aren’t after the drugs— they’re after the killers. This has been their mantra, a verbalized last ditch hope to get one of Mike’s and Donna’s friends to come forward and give information. We can infer from this that the detectives believe the Demerol came from the little party clique or another friend thereafter. It may have nothing to do with the crime. But this fact has to be sorted out.

     No one came forward for a reason back then. This drug was a heavy duty offense. This meant a hospital or hospital supply had been robbed and one of these kids was along a chain that led to some heavies. Not one of them would have admitted to being on such a chain. Demerol was like morphine This was heavy duty stuff. Certainly the clique feared high end creeps and their toadies. Mike and Donna’s group, and a few other ephemeral to them from the schools, were reported to travel only in several pairs. Not only didn’t they not go just in pairs, they went in groups wherever they went. They must have feared potential payback from some drug dealers that wanted to silence any potential stoolies in the grapevine. This isn’t over marijuana. Weed is not going to inspire this kind of fear and precaution. Demerol would.

     Still, despite 30 years and the police not being interested in a long ago drug chain for hot Demerol, no leads have come forward. It might have been just as significant to ask where were Donna’s shoes. But this might be just as touchy as asking who was serving Demerol that night.

     It is in this light we may wonder if the drugs and rumors are totally irrelevant to the fate of Mike Margaret and Donna Hall. They may have been really buzzed when they left one set of their friends. There perhaps Donna’s shoesGoogle-overhead-I64-icon remained. They would get them in the morning. They didn’t go to Donna’s for the obvious reason that they were a little too mellow. They camped out close by, and maybe somebody was there in the darkness . . . or soon came along?

     Donna was without shoes. Mike took the blanket out of the back and laid it out. He picked up and carried her to it and set her on it. He smoked a few (if he smoked at all), drank a beer. She dozed. Enter the wacko.

     If this is the case, why is there blood in the Jeep? Was it a friend after all? Was he looking for the drugs he had sold them so he could double collect on the same shipment? Was it under the driver’s seat?

     The police could not uncover anybody within the popular, young crowd with which Mike and Donna were connected who had cuts or bruises on him, which the killer most certainly had. None of them secretly turned in any pusher who had the wounds.

     The double murder of Donna Hall and Mike Margaret seems to be a drawn-out affair and a confusing one where all the clues just don’t easily add up. It occurred at a sort of petting spot, one certainly known by dirt bikers and 4-wheelers. It doesn’t add up. But then Virginia’s other double murders don’t either. And this is what they all have in common.

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