Column: When DNA Isn't Helpful

Column: When DNA Isn't Helpful

— Word arrived Sunday past.

Unsolved Update

  • Ruthanne Lodato, 81 days, murdered Feb. 6;
  • Ronald Kirby, 177 days, murdered Nov. 12;
  • Nancy Dunning, 3,807 days, murdered Dec. 5, 2003.

I could hardly contain myself that finally progress could be reported. An alleged triple murder suspect was returning to Virginia.

At the least, “the” information came from various people always in the know. I must admit this old news dog could barely contain himself.

The news? It was that Charles Severance, alleged primary suspect in three Alexandria murders, would finally be extradited from West Virginia. Not to Alexandria, mind you, but to Loudoun County and it would be “Monday and no later than Tuesday.”

With this information, “working the case” became the immediate order of business. Family members of the victims, the neighborhoods still jumpy and the general citizenry could relax and be assured that justice, Alexandria-style, was imminent.

Despite being armed with the latest facts, it was business as usual from the modern, $60 million new Wheeler Avenue police headquarters with all of the new technology available to help solve crimes. The popular abbreviation DNA apparently was “don’t know anything.” Instead of bragging about a coming success to closing three major murder cases, the word remained, “nothing has changed.”

Just a reminder: Ruthanne Lodato was fatally shot on Feb. 6; Ronald Kirby, fatally shot on Nov. 12; and Nancy Dunning fatally shot on Dec. 5, 2003.

The reality is this, despite no forthcoming information from investigators, Severance was returned to Leesburg Monday afternoon, not by sheriff’s deputies but by the U.S Marshals Service. The latter are the ones who nabbed him in Wheeling, W.Va. Thank you feds.

Early on Monday, Ohio Valley (West Virginia) jail people said they knew nothing of an impending transfer of Severance. Loudoun County sheriff’s office said they had no information. Ditto Alexandria.

Fortunately, the marshals know what they’re doing and picked up him at 2 p.m. Monday.

Alexandria police have reluctantly admitted Severance was a triple murder suspect after his appearances in the Wheeling courts. Of course the shameful line from Alexandria is, as always, they don’t discuss ongoing investigations. Well, to be frank, every other agency does, particularly when help is needed. The APD has held on to pertinent facts in the Lodato-Kirby-Dunning cases to the point where even police officers, sheriff’s deputies and federal agents talk among themselves and with judicial officials.

Severance is facing larceny and felony gun charges in Loudoun County. When will Alexandria’s official involvement be made public? Not any time soon apparently.

Inside information is also running rampant that city police officers are resigning in droves, including two deputy chiefs who’ve retired for North Carolina jurisdictions’ chief positions. Of course, the current chief, the long-serving Earl Cook, may be feeling the heat, too, although no one wants to talk on the record. He is eligible for a nice retirement after decades of service.

There is more to successful police work than just smiling faces at promotions and public awards ceremonies. Publicity runs high in Alexandria for longtime service, advertisements for employment opportunities for new police officers and honors. It is never a good thing for public awareness of city-wide crime. The first thing old timers teach newcomers is keep quiet or careers will be short. They will often, when frustrated, make comments.

Will city detectives descend upon the Loudoun County anytime soon? If they have the evidence, say some. Magistrates are on duty 24 hours daily at chambers in the Truesdale Detention Center. They will certainly listen to the evidence and can instantly issue a warrant or three. Sheriff’s deputies are ready and able to transport Severance to “guest” quarters on Mill Road. They even have use of video conferencing.

At least, legal holds on Mr. Severance will guarantee his return to Alexandria to face murder charges. Three murders could well be considered capital crimes.

One wag, getting a bit outdone by the delay in releasing the latest information, was somewhat critical when criminal investigation detectives were described as “cops in disguise.” That’s not nice and not appropriate for Alexandria’s investigators. Their hands have been tied to date.

If Severance is the man, police and prosecutors should say so. If Severance is not, admit that too; they should stop acting as if the public and the media are simply being annoying or aggravating.