NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — 30 long years, and nothing but frustration for families of eight people who fell victim in what are known as the Colonial Parkway Murders.
Whether it was the work of a serial killer or killers is up for discussion, what is indisputable is the pain and torment and deep sadness left behind for decades.
A lot is said about closure, but we at WAVY-TV have learned in 32 years covering these killings, which began in 1986, that there is no closure for any of the families — especially for the families of Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey, who are still waiting for the bodies of their beloveds.
“The park rangers handled these crime scenes terribly,” says author Blaine Pardoe.
Pardoe investigated and wrote “A Special Kind of Evil – The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings.”
It is the most thorough reporting of the eight murders considered part of the Colonial Parkway killings.
No one is more critical of how the National Park Service investigated the Keith Call-Cassandra Hailey disappearance than Pardoe, who said, “This is something that points to the ineptitude of the National Park Service.”
In the exhaustive investigation, Pardoe explains how the park rangers discovered Keith’s red Toyota Celica at 7 a.m. on the morning of April 10, 1988, thinking it was abandoned.
He then explains how they contaminated the crime scene: “The park rangers had come by the car first. They entered the car, took out all the clothing, took it to the park ranger station, and tried to figure out who owned it.”
In the process, the rangers discover Hailey’s check book, call her house, find out she’s missing, then realize their mistake.
This is not an abandoned vehicle, but the crime scene of abduction.
They then add insult to injury by re-contaminating the crime scene by putting the belongings back in the car, staging them as they remembered finding them.
10 On Your Side obtained FBI crime scene photos that show how they staged the belongings inside the car.
A lot of belongings piled in behind the driver’s side seat.
Pardoe thinks by doing this the rangers botched the investigation, and Keith’s brother Chris thought that too back in May 2001, when Keith was 13 years missing.
Now Keith is 30 years missing,.
“I still think to this day, they should have left it alone, and let other people who have a little more experience handling it. They fudged up the crime scene a lot, and that bothers me a lot,” Chris said.
Cassandra’s mother, Joanne, agreed in an interview back in 2001: “When the park ranger went into the car. It destroyed things. Their fingerprints were all over the car.”
10 On Your Side asked then Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office, Irv Wells, whether he wishes the rangers had called the FBI immediately instead of the next day.
“Oh, of course,” he answered back quickly.
Wells came to the office in 1987, and would soon learn the names Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey.
The Colonial Parkway is federal property, but the park rangers didn’t contact the FBI until the next day,
“They made a strategic error notwithstanding the other two cases. They found the car and assumed it was an abandoned car,” says Wells.
The National Park Service refused any interview or to give any statements.
10 On Your Side would have asked why the rangers weren’t initially suspicious after the Call car was found just one mile from Cathy Thomas’ car.
She and Rebecca Anne Dowski were found stuffed in Thomas’ car with their throats slit, and doused with diesel fuel that failed to ignite. They were found one-and-a half years earlier.
Rangers contaminated that crime scene by cracking the hatchback window, and by doing so illuminated any chance of getting fingerprints off the back window that the killers had to close to conceal the bodies.
Wells was concerned how the Park Service acted during the Call-Hailey case, “They were initially secretive … on that particular investigation we just didn’t get any cooperation.”
For the 30th anniversary of Cassandra’s disappearance, the Haileys would only send a letter of frustration.
“Lack of answers in the case is magnified by our feelings of abandonment by law enforcement,” the letter reads.
10 On Your Side showed the letter to Wells.
“First of all, I totally understand it,” he said.
10 On Your Side then emailed the Hailey letter to the FBI Field Office in Chesapeake, but only got back this response from Spokesperson Tina Pullen:
“We are fully engaged in the investigation and actively coordinating with the State Police to bring closure to all the Colonial Parkway cases.”
The Haileys also state in the letter that “no resources have been actively assigned, and no progress …has been made for many years.”
For his part, Wells, who retired in 1990, says he gave the Call-Hailey disappearance top priority.
“We gave it the proverbal full court press. Through the years we have extended countless resources, and it is very frustrating to think the case is not solved.”
But the bigger question, how can the FBI and Virginia State Police not solve at least one of these eight unsolved murders dating back to the 1986 Thomas-Dowski killings.
“It would just take one piece of information to solve this case,” Wells said.
Wells thinks bad luck has been at play in the FBI’s inability to find the killer or killers.
If we are to believe the eight murders are the work of a serial killer, perhaps two, they have not struck, that we know of, since September 1989 in the killing of Annamaria Phelps and Daniel Lauer. They were the last couple killed.
Wells thinks the killer, or killers, either died, are in prison, the dominant killer may have killed the submissive killer, or they had a lifestyle change like getting married and having children.
“It is an interesting thing. If you solve one, you solve them all,” Wells says.
The last excerpt from the Hailey letter reads, “Failure to prioritize this case and their lingering jurisdictional bickering have led to a stalemate where existing evidence has not been shared.”
It should be noted back in 2010, the FBI did met with the Call-Hailey and Thomas-Dowski families, giving them a state of the investigation report.
Cathy Thomas’ brother Bill said back in 2010, “We were pleasantly surprised by the volume of evidence that they have, and the evidence will be tested from the start.”
Today, the FBI still has an agent assigned to the case that keeps in contact with Keith’s family.
Keith’s sister Joyce said, “I asked the agent the other day, ‘Do you think that we are going to have an answer before either the perpetrator dies or we do?’ She answered, ‘I hope so.’ ”
Joyce adds, “We are getting older. My parents have already died. We need answers.”