FBI's help sought in linking hikers' deaths, other cases

Va. officials investigating 4 killings

Columbia man charged in '96 homicides

Move considered long shot

April 17, 2002|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Virginia law enforcement officials have asked the FBI for help in assessing whether there might be evidence linking Darrell David Rice, the Columbia resident charged last week in the killings of two young women near the Appalachian Trail in Virginia in May 1996, with a handful of unsolved killings committed about the same time in that state.

The cases under review include the deaths of three girls who disappeared from their homes in Spotsylvania County, Va., in 1996 and 1997, and the killing of Johns Hopkins University graduate student Alicia Showalter Reynolds in 1996.

"We've asked the FBI to take the evidence in their case [against Rice] and cross it to ours to see if they might be linked in any way," said Maj. Howard D. Smith of the Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office, which is investigating the deaths of the girls. The deaths of the three girls have been linked to each other through forensic evidence.

Virginia state police said yesterday that they have not ruled out Rice as a suspect in Reynolds' death, and an FBI spokesman indicated yesterday that there would be an evidence check in that case.

Virginia authorities and others knowledgeable about the unsolved killings view the evidence comparisons as investigative long shots.

"On the surface, it doesn't appear he'd be connected to what we're working here," Smith said. "Obviously, there are things we know that we haven't released that ... make us think he was not involved."

Sadie Showalter, Reynolds' mother, said in a telephone interview yesterday that a few discrepancies "give us pause."

Rice is younger than the man described as the one who gave Reynolds, 25, a ride after convincing her that something was wrong with her car on U.S. 29 near Culpeper, Showalter said. Reynolds' body was found in Lignum, Va., on May 7, 1996, nine weeks after she disappeared.

"You find yourself getting your hopes up so high, and then they're dashed," Showalter said yesterday from her Harrisonburg, Va., home. "They don't want to give us false hopes this time."

Still, Rice bears a resemblance to a sketch of the suspect, she said. And when he was arrested in the attempted kidnapping of a Canadian cyclist in Shenandoah National Park in 1997, Rice listed a Culpeper address, where his father lived, according to court documents.

Investigators think the man who killed Reynolds also stopped about 20 other female motorists along the same stretch, telling them they had problems with their cars.

"Anyone who's brought to our attention, certainly, the state police have a responsibility to take a close look at," said Lucy Caldwell, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, who are investigating Reynolds' death.

Despite skepticism about the possibility of Rice's involvement in the deaths of sisters Kristin Lisk, 15, and Kati Lisk, 12, and 16-year-old Sofia Silva in Spotsylvania County, Smith said the request for FBI help in seeking a possible link to the Appalachian Trail killings was prudent.

"I think any agency that has a case where you had women attacked or young girls attacked would have to stop and at least take a look at him," Smith said.

Rice has been looked at by federal authorities since the attempted kidnapping in 1997, for which he is serving a federal prison sentence of 11 years and three months.

During an interview with National Park Service police in 1998, Rice was repeatedly asked about the deaths of Shenandoah hikers Julianne Marie Williams and Laura "Lollie" S. Winans, whose bodies were found June 1, 1996. They had been bound and gagged, and their throats had been cut, federal authorities said.

In that interview, Rice denied involvement in the killings, saying, "All I heard was that they were lesbians, uh, some kind of relationship, relationship between girls," according to a transcript of an interview filed in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Va.

According to court papers filed with last week's indictment in the Shenandoah killings, Rice said he "hates gays" and that the women "deserved to die because they were lesbian whores."

Federal prosecutors have said they plan to prosecute the case as a hate crime.

It was unclear yesterday when Virginia authorities began looking at whether Rice was connected to the unsolved killings.

Sadie Showalter said her husband, Harley, spoke with investigators in their daughter's case and was told that the investigators had looked at Rice before and were looking again.

Sun staff writers Laura Barnhardt and Greg Garland contributed to this article.

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