WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (WAVY) — The Oxygen network calls the new documentary “Lovers’ Lane Murders.”
The documentary trailer starts like this: “Eight murders in four years. They were all lover lane-type couples.” You then hear ominous music and dark images.
“Lovers’ Lane Murders” plays out over four hours on the Oxygen network’s two-night special event Thursday and Friday night.
The trailer continues into describing the series of murders: “within a four-year period, within a 30-mile radius, and all on weekend or holidays.”
The Colonial Parkway murders began here in Hampton Roads nearly 35 years ago. The murders associated with the series span from the area around the Colonial Parkway around Williamsburg, to New Kent County.
WAVY’s Andy Fox has covered this before, and was featured in the trailer.
The trailer continues: “Law enforcement, journalists have come to the conclusion that all four were done by a serial killer.”
“But to me, there are obvious differences, like there are no fingerprints in common.”
“There is no DNA in common, no weapons in common.”
These lines are delivered back and forth between former FBI Agent Maureen O’Connell and former Prosecutor Loni Coombs who discuss what likely happened.
Bill Thomas is also part of the project. He is a consulting producer and the brother of the first victim Cathy Thomas.
“As part of the show, Maureen and Loni explore the case and they get into really great debates into how they see things, where the evidence would take them… They get into significant debate whether this is the work of a serial killer or are they independent events.”
“As a prosecutor I couldn’t put that in front of a jury,” Coombs said.
“As an investigator I cannot ignore the coincidences,” O’Connell countered.
Now-retired FBI profiler Jim Clemente is a profile expert “who has worked on many legendary cases,” Thomas said.
“And he comes in and helps them reprofile the cases, and basically puts on fresh eyes,” Thomas told 10 On Your Side.
Then there is forensic expert Dr. Laura Pettler, who does a crime scene reconstruction.
“They rented cars, and brought in vehicles and did their best using all the available information to recreate what the four crime scenes would have looked like in the Colonial Parkway murders,” Thomas said.
Then there’s Thomas himself, who worked on this project for four years as a consulting producer and a subject matter expert.
“Well, I’ve lived [here] for almost 35 years. I facilitated all of the interviews with family members, and investigative journalists like yourself,” he told WAVY’s Andy Fox.
“We are dealing with a smart evil killer,” WAVY’s Andy Fox can be heard saying in one of the show’s trailers.
Andy was interviewed in the summer of 2019 to offer his recollections covering the Parkway murders since October 1986, when he first reported the Dowski-Thomas murders.
“I mean you can see the passage of time just by watching you [Andy], for example… You are a time element during the years showing we all have aged during this time,” Thomas added.
10 On Your Side asked Thomas to find the one thing he learned in each double murder.
In Cathy Thomas’ case, what Thomas learned revolved around victim Rebecca Dowski.
“There is a strong possibility that Cathy and Becca may have known their killer… I think it is a very strong possibility.”
The two were found in October 1986 with their throats slit. They were nearly decapitated. Their killer [or killers] then tried to burn up the car and pushed it into bushes down toward the York River from the Parkway.
Then in September 1987, David Knobling and Robin Edwards were murdered and ended up with both thrown into the James River. Either that, or they or marched down the beach and were executed with shots to the back of the head.
“The two of them may have made plans to get together, to engage in sexual or romantic behavior, but I also think there is the possibility that this could be a low-level drug deal gone bad,” Thomas said.
Six months later in April 1988, Keith Call and Cassandra Hailey disappeared. Their bodies still have not been found. Call’s car was discovered about a mile from where Thomas and Dowski were found,
“It happened earlier and elsewhere, and then the car brought to the Colonial Parkway site where Keith’s Toyota Celica was found. This was just a dumpsite, and nothing more… Whatever happened to them happened away from the parkway, and then the car brought to the parkway.”
In September 1989, Daniel Lauer and Annamaria Phelps disappeared from a rest area in New Kent County. Their bodies found in woods at the next exit. They were executed, and wrapped in a blanket. Crime scene photos show the skulls.
“This one is the least related of the four crime scenes. It’s away from the water. Daniel Lauer and Annamaria Phelps were found away from the water. The way Annamaria and Daniel were laid out in the woods side-by-side under a blanket,” Thomas said.
The question for Thomas: Are these eight murders serial killings?
“I believe there are relationships between these murders, but I don’t think it is one, two, three, four straight lineal relationships. I think there are links here in the Colonial Parkway murders and to other unsolved murders in Virginia and elsewhere.”
“I don’t think all four of these double homicides is necessarily part of the same sequence… and I believe the last one with Lauer and Phelps is not related to the other three.”
During the Oxygen Network’s “Lovers Lane Murders,” you will hear the Phelps-Lauer case is the odd one out — the one that doesn’t fit in the sequence of the others.