ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY, Va. (WAVY) — Were there more Colonial Parkway murders?
Since October 1986, 10 On Your Side has covered what are now known as the “Colonial Parkway murders.”
There were four double homicides. They were couples in cars. They all died at night. And in each case, the vehicles had been staged following the murders or disappearances.
The first case was 35 years ago on October 9, 1986, when Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Ann Dowski were found killed on the Colonial Parkway in Thomas’ car. That sad 35th anniversary is quickly approaching.
10 On Your Side is now opening the Colonial Parkway murders to ask whether there were more homicides than the four cases normally associated with the string of murders. It’s also been debated whether those four homicides are actually associated with each other.
Here’s what we know: Over seven-month period of time from 1987 to 1988, four people were killed and thrown into the James River. Two of them are considered part of the Colonial Parkway murders, but not the other two.
Consider that the timeline and close association of all four bodies makes the consideration intriguing.
Those two cases — not currently associated with the Colonial Parkway murders — involve the brutal deaths of Newport News resident 25-year-old Brian Pettinger and 18-year-old Laurie Ann Powell from Gloucester County in 1988.
The first homicide in question is that of Brian Pettinger, who disappeared Dec. 4, 1987 leaving a Hampton dance studio. Two months later on Feb. 3, 1988 Pettinger’s body was found floating in the James River near the mouth of the Chuckatuck Creek that flows into the James River.
“33 years later I still have no idea what happened,” said Brian’s former wife. She did not want to be identified, but, with her permission, we will refer to her as “Ms. Pettinger.”
“We believe this case has been ignored for 33 years, it will never be solved, and will only be looked at when it is pulled out of the drawer,” she said.
The second homicide in question is that of Powell, who was found dead just a few months after Pettinger went missing.
“You know, it’s funny you say the pain you had that day, and how you feel today, but the truth is the pain never changes. It’s always the same pain,” said Powell’s mother, Joann Compton, who has lived with the death of her daughter for 33 years — a longer period of time than Powell was alive.
As WAVY-TV 10 reported in 1988, Compton’s daughter had argued with her boyfriend March 9, 1988. She demanded he drop her off at a Gloucester County Little Sue store, she started walking home along Route 614, and was never seen alive again.
WAVY interviewed her boyfriend, who at the time was a suspect. He had failed a lie detector test, but he was never charged. When we interviewed him, he was in the Gloucester County Jail for an unrelated crime. We asked him whether he had killed his girlfriend.
“No… I failed the lie detector test because every time I hear her name my blood boils,” he told WAVY.
We are not reporting his name because he was never charged.
The timeline is stunning when the bodies were pulled out of the James River.
In September 1987, David Knobling and Robin Edwards — who are considered part of the Colonial Parkway murders, turn up dead in the James River. Both were shot in the back of the head and their bodies thrown into the river.
Three months later on Dec. 4, Pettinger disappeared, and on February 4, 1988 he was discovered by watermen floating which his wrists and ankles tied, and a rope around his neck. The investigator at the time described him as likely hog-tied. The autopsy shows Pettinger had blunt force blows to the back of the head. He was thrown in the river alive, and then he drowned.
Due to the gruesome nature of the killing, speculation suggested it may be mob-related, but there was never any evidence that was true.
We do know the lone suspect who was last seen with Pettinger leaving the dance studio ended up killing himself.
Two months later in April, Powell’s body was found near Craney Island stabbed five times in the back.
Then one week later on April 10, 1988, Keith Call and Casandra Hailey disappear with Call’s car left behind on the Colonial Parkway never to be seen again. They both attended what is now Christopher Newport University. They were on their first date, and it is believed somewhere between the university and the turnoff for Hailey’s home in York County, they were stopped possibly by someone posing as law enforcement.
We don’t know what happened, but Call’s car was later left on the Colonial Parkway.
In seven months, six murders. The four left in the James River very close in proximity to each other.
We asked Compton if she is disappointed Powell and Pettinger’s cases were not included in the discussion of the Colonial Parkway murders.
“Well yes… They never got the attention as the parkway murders,” she said.
Pettinger and Powell were never considered part of the Colonial Parkway murders because those cases involved couples and staged cars, but Ms. Pettinger still questions it.
“Come on, look at the timeline… I think the timing of the murder brings in the factor they could be connected, the timeline of all the murders,” she said.
Not only timeline, but Pettinger and Powell worked together at Liberty Security Services in Gloucester County.
Not only that, but the mother of Colonial Parkway murder victim Robin Edwards, whose name is Bonnie, told us she worked there herself. Bonnie had left the job before the tragic loss of her daughter. In a recent phone call, she says she never saw anything that would explain a motive between Liberty and the murders.
“That certainly raised a lot of questions for my family, and we think it is beyond coincidental that they all worked or had connections to Liberty,” Ms. Pettinger added.
The Liberty connection is so striking the FBI interviewed Liberty owner Ron Little, who recounted the questioning back in April 1988 during a WAVY interview.
“After asking a few questions, they asked me face-to-face, did I kill them and I said ‘no.’ They then asked, did I have anything to do with the abduction or the disappearances and I said ‘no,’” he said.
The FBI concluded Little was not a suspect then deported him to New Zealand on immigration charges.
The original Pettinger case investigator, Sgt. Carter Hicks, has since died. He told us the only known suspect died by suicide.
“He [the suspect] denied being at the dance studio or seeing Brian that night,” Hicks said at the time.
However, the suspect later admitted leaving with Brian. He also failed a lie detector test. In June 1988, the suspect died by suicide.
“I feel [the suspect] held most of the answers because if he did not know who did it, we feel he was there with whatever happened did happen,” Hicks told us in 1989.
In his suicide note, the suspect wrote “I didn’t leave any clues, so don’t feel guilty.”
He never explained that line, and Hicks told us they were at a dead end.
After 33 years, that apparently hasn’t changed. The investigation into the death of Pettinger remains at a dead end.
Suffolk police agreed to be interviewed about that case, and they insist the Pettinger case remains open even though new evidence hasn’t been submitted since he was killed 33 years ago.
“If it were me given that period of time. I think sometimes things are not just coincidence,” Suffolk Lt. Gary Myrick told us recently while sitting in front of an evidence box marked “Pettinger.”
We asked Myrick whether the Pettinger and Powell cases could be connected to the Colonial Parkway murders based on this timeline.
“Anything is possible. That is a tight time frame for homicides in a close particular area, so I’m not going to tell you it’s not connected,”
Following our investigation, Myrick agreed to review the Pettinger physical evidence for DNA re-testing in the lab,
“That will likely happen in the next quarter,” Myrick told us.
The Virginia State Police investigated the Powell murder. State police refused to do an on-camera interview or sit down with us and go through the Powell file, but did send us this statement.
“In reference to the [Powell] file, this is a criminal investigation that is still active and so we can not release the files. The last DNA submission for this case was in 2007. In 2016, we received a tip with information on the case. We have nothing further to add at this time. No interview will be granted,” said Sgt. Michelle Anaya, a spokeswoman for Virginia State Police.
As for Compton, she’s still emotional.
“When I die and I see Laurie Ann then and only then will I fully understand… she will then tell me. That’s when I will know,” Compton said.
33 years of not knowing is more than enough time for these still grieving families.