NORFOLK — Police detectives here received an FBI Headquarters level award Thursday for their work in solving and bringing to justice a murder in a 1981 cold case.
FBI officials from the Criminal Justice Information Services Division presented the FBI’s annual Biometric Identification Award to Norfolk Police Detectives Victor Powell, Neal Baldwin, Melvin Grove, Investigator Jerry Edwards, and Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Phil Evans II.
Powell has been with the Norfolk Police Department for about 30 years and counting — he retired in April but came back to work as a part-time investigator at the Cold Case Unit.
Powell acted as a lead investigator when the case of Donna Walker, a woman who was stabbed more than 40 times, came back up in 2013.
Walker, then 20 years old, was found in her Norfolk apartment — where she lived alone. There, investigators noticed her toilet seat was left up and collected fingerprint evidence from it.
“Over the years they sent it to different agencies and states to try to get the fingerprint identified but had no luck,” Powell said. “Eventually, the Next Generation Identification system came out and we were working through our backlog and was able to get the fingerprint submitted.”
Powell and his team had a hit within 30 minutes in the identification system linking Daniel Johnston, who is currently incarcerated in New York for another murder.
Johnston was convicted in October 2018 and sentenced to life in a Virginia prison for Walker’s murder.
He will serve out his time in New York before being transferred to Virginia to serve his time.
“The more we started looking at him we found out he was living here at the time of Donna’s murder and saw no reason his fingerprint should’ve been inside of her house,” Powell said. “As we started putting things together and were able to establish all of the facts we secured an indictment for him.”
The team submitted the prints to the identification system in 2015, but Powell said closing the case couldn’t have been possible without the work of the original investigators who meticulously collected fingerprints from more than 160 suspects.
“It’s more of an award for the department because it’s a total effort from the entire team starting from the original investigators in 1981 — to me, it’s an award for those guys who aren’t here anymore because without them this case wouldn’t be where it needed to be,” Powell said.
Ralph Mears and his partner John Ackert were the original investigators on the case in 1981, but died before they could see it finished.
This is the second Biometric Identification Award presented to the Norfolk Police Department within the last five years — an achievement William McKinsey, section chief of the FBI Biometric Services Section, said was “a big deal.”
In 2015, Norfolk Police Detective Melvin Grover received the award for his work to solve a 2008 sexual assault case involving a Navy member and her daughter.
“In my tenure, it’s the only time it’s ever happened and to win two of them within a five-year period says an enormous about the team here, it really does,” McKinsey said.