First version of Virginia cold-case database includes killings unsolved for years — with plans to expand

·2 min read

In 1991, three teenagers stumbled upon a headless, handless body which had lied for months near a busy Virginia Beach intersection. Without fingerprints or teeth, police were unable to identify person, presumed to be a young white male.

The body of John Doe has remained unidentified — and his killing unsolved — for decades. Now, a new database developed by Virginia state police aims to bring renewed attention to Doe and other victims.

The online database brings to fruition a bill passed in 2020 and introduced by state delegate Danica Roem, D-Prince William. Roem — who has championed other legislation geared toward increased public access to information — called the database “a radical act of transparency.”

“The goal is to solve unsolved murders,” Roem said. “If we solve one case that is on this database because the database exists, then the whole thing’s working.”

John Doe’s case is one of dozens included in the first version of the online database, which went live last week. The tool defines cold cases as a homicide, missing person or unidentified person case that has remained unsolved for at least five years. The cases on the website date back as far as 1973.

The website only details cases investigated by state police but will later include cold case submissions from local law enforcement agencies, Roem said. Currently, 39 homicide cases, six unidentified person cases, and five missing person cases are included on the site.

“This version that Virginia State Police has released to the public, this is a great start. It is not the finite, final copy,” Roem said. “There will be more cases to be added to it.”

Cold cases from Hampton Roads include a 1987 homicide in which Robin Margaret Edwards, 14, and David Lee Knobling, 20, were found fatally shot on the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge in Isle of Wight County. Edwards and Knobling were two of 8 victims in a series of homicides that became known as the Colonial Parkway murders, though law enforcement has never conclusively linked the cases.

The site also notes case’s anniversaries. On Monday, the database spotlighted 39-year-old Robert Lawrence Smith Jr., who was found fatally shot on June 20, 1992 on the ramp from South Street to Interstate 264 in Portsmouth.

The pages dedicated to the cold cases include victims’ and missing persons’ names, ages and other identification information, if available. A short description of the case accompanies the location and date of the crime.

The pages offer the option to share cases on social media or to submit a tip to investigators with the goal of giving “justice to victims and closure to families,” the website’s description reads.

Ali Sullivan, 757-677-1974, ali.sullivan@virginiamedia.com