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York River Lookout Clue: Third Strike

     Keith Call & Sandra Hailey

   It was spring 1988. The mullet was still the fashion for guys. Gals had exuberant  hairdos. Dep had replaced the hairspray fashion of the 1970s. Gels gave both men and women some outrageous and outrageously stiff hairdos. It was the age of excess. The decadent 80s. Reaganomics. The Cold War. Fascination with all things British royalty. Morally is was a fat and fast time, but AIDS was beginning to worry society. For 2 college students it was an innocent first date, this day April 9, 1988. Keith Call was from Gloucester across the York, and his date was Sandra Hailey from Grafton. Both were students at Christopher Newport College in Newport News. This is where they hooked up. Keith was 20. Sandra was 18. It was, once again, only a first date. 

True Crime Index

   This is about it except for some of the basics of the preliminaries. Keith had picked  up Sandra in his red Toyota Celica. They went to a party at the University Square Apartments. They eventually left. They were never seen again.

     They are presumed to be the victims of a serial killer, the “Phantom” menace of Colonial Parkway, the subject of this web section of the Q-Files. And indeed it was with their disappearance that local authorities began to believe that a serial was probably afoot. If this is true, a comparison of this case with the first two would indicate a very clever serial killer.

     On the face of it, there was very little to link the double disappearance with the double murder of David Knobling and Robin Edwards or with the double murder of Cathy Thomas and Becky Dowksi. Digging a little deeper, however, and a lot of subtle strands were uncovered. The most obvious strand connecting the disappearance with the Dowski and Thomas murders was that Keith’s car was found abandoned on York Overlook along Colonial Parkway. This was about a mile from where Dowski and Thomas had been found murdered at Chetham Annex, a much larger overlook with its own parking lot.

     York Overlook or Turnout is basically the second turnout on Colonial Parkway when coming from the main entrance off Highway 17. It wasn’t a parking lot, but merely a half circle turnout. In other words, it was a place to quickly ditch a car and go. And after the Feds examined the scene, this is what struck them. The car had not been driven there by Keith Call. It had been parked there by the killer— an intriguing gesture. Inside the car there were a few clues which connected the disappearance with Knobling and Edwards’ murders 20 miles away at Ragged Island. But before we go there it is best to get the sequence of events out of the way.  


           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

   The next morning, 7 a.m. Sunday April 10, Keith’s father is driving to work along the scenic parkway. He sees his son’s car parked in the turnout. He stops, looks inside, calls, and waits. Nothing. He drives off. What he thought, well, we don’t exactly know. But his son had had a date and maybe they were strolling along the parkway or had fallen asleep on the river bank somewhere down from the turnout.

   A park ranger must have called a little louder around 9 a.m.. He waited and got no reply as well. He listed the car as abandoned and it was towed.

     The ranger may have been a little more disturbed when he had first looked inside the car. In the back seat there was the clothes of a young man, cast aside by some clothes of a young woman. There was also a woman’s purse on the back seat floor. On the driver’s side dash there was a man’s watch and a pair of glasses. The car keys were just laying there on the driver’s seat cushion. Skinny dippers, he thought.

     It didn’t make sense that they would be skinny-dipping in such cold water and off such a steep overlook like the York Turnout, but who knows. The ranger assumed they could have drowned. It wasn’t long before boats were out and divers thrashing about, but no bodies were found and soon the Feds— their territory— got involved and wondered about the connection with Dowski and Thomas. It would take 3 days for bodies to surface in the river, they were told. So until then the Feds considered what they had. They had Calls-car-50%-iconnothing but the car, the contents, and its location.

   An examination of the articles left in the car made for curious clues. Keith’s wallet was in back with 12 dollars in it. Whether it was in his pants’ pocket or loose we do not know. Even more curious, the woman’s wallet wasn’t in her purse. How much did the Feds have on the Ragged Island double murders of last autumn? I don’t know. They may not have had a lot. That was Virginia State Police territory. But if they had any information or requested it and got the full scoop, they would have uncovered that Robin Edwards’ wallet was gone, but that Knobling’s wallet was present and on the dash of his pickup.

     Those 2 had been found nude about a mile from their car, and it certainly seems that Keith Call and Sandra Hailey had been nude or practically when taken by fate, for lack of a better word. They hadn’t been skinny-dipping here. The bodies never surfaced. They had to have been swimming somewhere, somewhere where they could park relatively close to the water and leave their clothes in the car. More and more it was looking like the “killer” had taken Keith’s car to the York Overlook and parked it there. The keys on the front seat was a very suspicious gesture. Unless he brought a bicycle with him, it sounded like the killer had an accomplice that followed in his own car. Irv Wells, head of the Norfolk field office of the FBI, had thought there was an accomplice in the Dowski and Thomas murders.

     Putting these 3 cases together and it sounded like a serial was afoot. He killed couples by the rivers at petting spots— Dowski  & Thomas here or somewhere off the York; Knobling & Edwards at Ragged Island off the James; . . . and Call and Hailey— where?

     Each was a remarkably different case. The first was a slashing; the second a shooting; the third a disappearance. But they were tied together by the inference that Colonial Parkway was the dumping site and not the murder site. Nevertheless, the clues indicated that all three couples were taken by surprise at a petting spot, with the Ragged Island male-female couple found nude and this male-female couple presumed to have been surprised while nude. The female-female couple were found clothed and unmolested.

     If the 3 cases were connected they presented quite a problem. They were 3 very distinctive types of murder, but each murder was connected by the fact it was a drawn-out affair— binding/strangling/choking/slashing all takes time; Ragged Island was a very drawn-out shooting in which the couple was marched out over a mile in pitch darkness into a wildlife refuge; and now a total disappearance in which it seems the bodies had been neatly hidden and the car driven who knows how far.

     Something else united these cases— the jurisdictions. Colonial Parkway belonged to the Fed, who aren’t used to street investigating murder, and a scenic parkway isn’t exactly the “street” with pushers, pimps, dopers, hookers, and other potential witnesses that can be grilled for information. The other was State Police jurisdiction. They also aren’t used to street investigating murder. Not like big city police departments and county sheriffs anyway. And Ragged Island was a marshy wildlife refuge.

     The killer sounded like some Jason Voorhees. He struck along rural areas, by a river, emerging from the woods. Yet it seemed he had to have a car or an accomplice.

     Several questions need to be asked in the Call and Hailey disappearance. Why try and hide the actual location of the attack? It must have been by a swimming hole. If not that then he must have forced them to strip where they had been parking. Thus he planted the clothes inside as false clues. The killer of Knobling and Edwards apparently made them strip though it seems he also took them by surprise in Knobling’s pickup before he marched them out to the beach. Did he do that here or did he carry most of Keith Call’s clothes back to the car but only a few of Hailey’s clothes. Why?

     Personally, for me there is reason to suspect that the killer at Ragged Island arranged the circumstances in Knobling’s pickup. Door open, window down, wipers on, wallet out on dash. Some of their clothes was therein. The scene made it look as if they had been stopped by a cop. But neither a real cop nor an imitator could risk leaving a pickup in those circumstances while he marched out his victims over a mile. If a real cop had come along and found a pickup in this condition and another empty car next to it, he would have certainly looked around and taken down the licenses. How could the killer have risked that? But what if the killer arranged Knobling’s pickup before he left the scene?

     If the clothes inside was not planted, then Keith and Sandra had parked somewhere close to where they could skinny-dip. Somewhere along a river bank or a lake, like something out of Friday the 13th, the killer approached them and . . . well, who knows how long the ordeal was? At Ragged Island it must have been quite extended.

     Cathy Thomas’ wallet found loose— OK, maybe a cop or nut playing copper. Knobling’s wallet on the dash. Given the circumstances, possibly also a nut feigning cop. But a car driven to a location and abandoned, with the wallet and clothes in the back seat? That doesn’t sound like a cop. If the wallet was loose in back, then it would indicate a guy playing cop. He made Call, nude, go back up to the car and show him his I.D. Yet driving the car and dropping it at another location. Who would believe that a cop on duty could do this? Keith Call’s Toyota Celica seems to contradict the clues that suggest a cop or someone playing cop was the culprit. Could the killer have been that stupid to think the Feds wouldn’t check on the tides and the length of time it would take for a body to bloat and come to the surface? Standard procedure. Until this mistake the killer had been clever. Now he merely seemed very confident he couldn’t be traced.

     No, whatever happened to Call and Hailey happened somewhere else and the killer didn’t want the car left with the bodies. An abandoned car would be found, far more quickly than bodies in a wood somewhere. There was incriminating evidence in this case, and the killer couldn’t afford for it to be found.

     The young couple remain missing to this day.     

Keith Call-icon Overhead1-Hailey-Call-icon Sandra Hailey-icon
Sun setting--York River Lookout-icon Relation-to-Parkway-VO-icon York River Lookout-angle-VO-icon
Warning sign-VO-icon
Yet another angle-VO-icon
York Overlook-river-VO-icon York River Lookout-VO-icon York River Lookout--context-VO-icon
Across-York River Lookout-VO-icon York-River Lookout--departing-VO-icon

     I am trying to go as chronologically as possible with these cases, recreating or reenacting where there are enough clues, so that the crime spree is presented as it originally occurred and not glossed with later theory or clues from subsequent cases. It is important that we see the evolution of the killer’s MO, as this evolution too is a clue. If these 3 cases are linked, then one thing is underscored already. The killer took some time with each set of victims. There was reason to doubt that Thomas and Dowski were killed at Cheatham Annex, and head Fed Irv Wells later expressed that doubt. The disappearance of Keith Call and Sandra Hailey certainly supports the idea the killer used the Colonial Parkway as a dump. But it seems hard to imagine that David Knobling and Robin Edwards weren’t approached in the parking lot at Ragged Island.

     As for the killer taking the trouble to move Call’s Celica, I could venture that the evidence he feared being uncovered at the actual crime scene would be his own footprints. Is he attacked and killed them in a rustic location where youths skinny-dipped, then he could have left footprints. These could tell his height (by the measured stride), his weight and, of course, if he had an accomplice. This was certainly possible at Ragged Island. The killer had been saved by rain there. But there was no rain the night of April 9/10, 1988, and perhaps he also had an ear in the law enforcement grapevine. From this he would have realized what a mistake it was to lead a couple over ground and sand where the clues could reveal much about him. If this is the case, he corrected that mistake here. I do not know if the gas and brake pedals were tested for the type of dirt on them, which would be a valuable clue supporting that the killer drove the car after he killed his victims.

     As we have seen from the picture essay above, again courtesy of the Virginia operative, York River Overlook wasAnother angle-VO-icon not the place to stop, strip and stumble down the sheer bluff to the nonexistent beach. The river was also 40 degrees. Yet from future cases we will have to ask ourselves if ditching the car here was not intentional as a gesture of baiting the police. Everything inside said the couple were out skinny-dipping, but the location of where the car was found underscores that the car was driven here by the killer after-the-fact. In essence I am asking you to consider that the killer was intentionally saying “Nyeah, nyeah” by leaving a car laced with clues declaring skinny-dipping at a location where it could not possibly have ever happened. The alternative is to speculate that the other, more appropriate overlooks for parking and enjoying the river had some couple in them and the killer had no choice by to divert and park in a turnout; in this instance in one that conclusively proved the car was planted here. Thus if the latter it was an unavoidable mistake. But I tend to think it was intentionally done as an obvious ruse.

     In any case, those clues that are in public domain, when woven together, indicate a killer who took much time in killing his victims, possibly had an accomplice, and perhaps only used Colonial Parkway as a dump. This is a very clever killer who took chances he believed he could take. He stole the woman’s wallet but not the man’s. I suspect he spent much more time with the woman after he eliminated the man. He also took his time between strikes. So far the two previous attacks had happened in autumn 1986 and 1987. This was the only spring attack. He would wait until autumn again, this time 1989, a year and a half away.


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