Police Investigate Tip in Unsolved Alexandria Killings
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UPDATED: March 14, 2014 6:27 p.m.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (WNEW/AP) — Police are investigating whether a man arrested in West Virginia could be linked to the unsolved killings of three Alexandria residents over the last 10 years.
Alexandria Police said Friday that Charles S. Severance, a longtime city resident, came to their attention on a tip. Police say they then learned that Severance was illegally in possession of a firearm as a felon in Loudoun County, where he was living most recently.
Police in Wheeling, W.Va., arrested Severance at a public library Thursday afternoon, and Virginia is seeking his extradition to Loudoun County on the weapons charge.
It is unclear whether Severance is connected to a series of high-profile killings in Alexandria, but WNEW has confirmed Alexandria Police have been in contact with authorities in Wheeling.
Authorities cautioned, though, that the tip is merely one among many they continue to pursue in the case. Alexandria Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said Friday that police are “nowhere close to charging someone with murder” and declined to name Severance as a suspect, but added that they aren’t ruling him out, either.
Law enforcement officials in Virginia notified Wheeling Police that Severance may be staying in the area. Officers discovered a car believed to be driven by Severance at a local hotel and found him at the library a short time later.
He currently is being held on $100,000 bail while awaiting an extradition hearing.
Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille says that even though Severance isn’t officially a person of interest, his connection to the area is worth investigating further.
Euille says he remembers Severance from his time in city politics — he unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1996 and 2000 — particularly because of his strange dress and unusual campaign platforms.
“It was 70 degrees outside, he was at the candidates events wearing a leather coat that went all the way down to his ankles, and leather black gloves — like something out of a comic book character,” Euille said.
Former Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley, who ran against Severance in both the 1996 and 2000 mayoral elections, tells WNEW that Severance was an “odd opponent, to say the least” — wearing all black and giving the same answers for all campaign questions.
“He would launch into a diatribe about juvenile mental health conditions and the use of psychotropic drugs,” Donley said, adding that police assigned an undercover officer to shadow him during both elections out of concern that Severance posed a threat to his safety.
Alexandria Police say the killing last month of a popular music teacher who was shot when she opened her front door appears to be linked to two other unsolved killings in the area.
Forensic examination of bullet fragments found similarities among the ballistics in last month’s shooting of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, the 2003 slaying of Nancy Dunning and the November 2013 killing of Ronald Kirby.
Police say the ballistics testing found similarities, but cannot state conclusively that the same weapon was used in all three shootings.
“Their analysis shows that the bullets recovered from the Lodato case exhibit the same general rifling class and characteristics and are similar in design to bullets submitted in both the Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning cases,” police said in a statement.
In addition to the ballistic similarities, all three were killed at approximately the same time of day, in the late morning hours. Also, police say all three were killed in their homes after presenting themselves at the front door. Authorities could not say for certain whether the shooter knocked on the door in the other killings as he did in the Lodato shooting.
“The cases appear to be linked, but until we have evidence to point to only one suspect, we investigate all possibilities,” Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook said.
A second woman was wounded in the Lodato shooting. Police had been looking for an older, white male with gray hair and a full beard.
All three victims were prominent in the Alexandria community. Lodato was a well-known music teacher, Kirby a respected transportation planner and Dunning a real-estate agent who was the wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning.
For years, Dunning was a suspect in his wife’s death, and had not been ruled out as a suspect at the time of his death in 2012.
Asked about Dunning, Cook said that it is standard procedure for police to consider family members as suspects in an unsolved slaying and no suspects are ruled out until an arrest is made.
Cook said the police are investigating the cases as though they are linked, but are not ruling out other possibilities.
No motive has been established in the killings, Cook said. He acknowledged the fear that the shootings have triggered in the community, given their apparently random nature. He urged residents to be vigilant and not to open their front doors to strangers, but not to overreact.
“I’m hoping it doesn’t create any type of hysteria,” Cook said.
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