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Friday, May 24, 2024

DNA IDs Suspect in Three 1980s Homicides, Including a ‘Colonial Parkway Murders’ Cold Case

FBI Norfolk Special Agent in Charge Brian Dugan addresses the media in this screen grab from the Virginia State Police Facebook page.

SUFFOLK — Police officials have announced a “significant breakthrough” in identifying the suspect responsible in three cold case homicides that occurred in the late 1980s, including two connected to the Colonial Parkway Murders.

The City of Hampton Police Division, City of Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorney, Isle of Wight County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Virginia State Police and FBI Norfolk Field Office announced on Jan. 8 that DNA evidence confirmed that now deceased Northern Neck resident Alan W. Wilmer Sr. was the suspect responsible for the 1987 Isle of Wight County murders of David L. Knobling, 20, and Robin M. Edwards, 14.

It also confirmed the same suspect was responsible for the 1989 murder of Teresa Lynn Spaw Howell, 29, in the City of Hampton, officials said.

The murders of Knobling and Edwards, who were found shot to death on Sept. 23, 1987 along the shoreline of the Ragged Island Wildlife Management and Refuge Area on the south bank of the James River in Isle of Wight County, over time became known as part of the four separate double homicides spanning 1986 through 1989 known as the “Colonial Parkway Murders.”

Edwards had been sexually assaulted. The two were last seen alive together on the night of Sept. 19, 1987. The next day, Knobling’s pickup truck was found abandoned in the Ragged Island parking lot.

Howell was last seen alive on July 1, 1989, at approximately 2:30 a.m. in the City of Hampton outside of the Zodiac Club at 207 E. Mercury Blvd. Later that day, a construction crew working in the 500 block of Butler Farm Road discovered women’s clothing near the work site. An unidentified woman was found dead shortly afterward in a nearby wood line.

A missing person report filed in York County on July 4, 1989, led to the identification of the victim as Howell, 29, of Hampton. Howell had been sexually assaulted and died as a result of strangulation.

Wilmer died in December 2017 in Lancaster County, Virginia, at the age of 63. Both the Isle of Wight County and City of Hampton Commonwealth’s Attorneys said charges would have been filed against him in connection with the three homicides were he still alive.

Wilmer had no felonies on his criminal record, so his DNA had never been obtained until it was necessary for identification purposes following his death, officials said. That ultimately led to the Virginia Department of Forensic Science issuing a “Certificate of Analysis” in 2023 confirming a genetic match to Wilmer based on evidence collected from the Isle of Wight County and City of Hampton homicide victims.

“I want to thank the Edwards, Knobling and Howell families for their patience and understanding over the years,” said Lt. Col. Tim Lyon, Director of the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation. “Only those who have suffered the loss of a child in this way can truly understand the depth of their sorrow; and the frustration over not knowing who was responsible for taking their loved one’s life in such a violent and cruel way. I do hope the identification of the killer brings some sense of closure and peace for them. Moving forward, we continue our work to ensure other families have their day, too, and a chance at closure and justice.”

FBI Norfolk Special Agent in Charge Brian Dugan said while investigators continue to look into other crimes Wilmer may have committed, officials were asking the public to come forward and share any information they may have.

Wilmer was described as 5 feet, 5 inches tall, muscular, and approximately 165 pounds with sandy-brown hair, blue eyes, and typically a close-cropped beard. Wilmer drove what officials called a distinctive, blue 1966 Dodge Fargo pickup truck with the Virginia license plate “EM-RAW.” It was one of several pickup trucks he was known to drive in the 1980s and early 1990s, they added.

He also had a small commercial fishing boat, named the Denni Wade, a 1976 custom-built, wooden boat that he would dock at marinas in the counties of Gloucester and Middlesex, and around the Northern Neck. Officials noted his trade during the 1980s was as a fisherman, farming mainly for clams and oysters. He also ran a business called Better Tree Service, was an avid hunter, and belonged to at least one hunt club located in the Middle Peninsula region.

Anyone who may have known Wilmer is encouraged to contact the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or submitting a tip online at tips.fbi.gov. Those with information can also reach out to the Virginia State Police by email at questions@vsp.virginia.gov or the Peninsula Crime Line. Anonymous tips are welcome.

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