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Evonitz not checked in unsolved slayings
Date published: 11/18/2007
By PAMELA GOULD
IF FEDERAL AUTHORITIES had pursued serial killer Richard Marc Evonitz as relentlessly as they pursued Darrell Rice, at least three families could know whether Evonitz killed their daughters.
Five years ago, relying predominantly on forensic testing, investigators announced that overwhelming evidence showed Evonitz killed 16-year-old Sofia Silva, 15-year-old Kristin Lisk and 12-year-old Kati Lisk.
In the final days of his life in June 2002, while fleeing from authorities into Florida after abducting and raping a South Carolina teen, Evonitz told one of his sisters he had committed “more crimes than he could remember,” police said.
Whether it was an idle boast remains to be seen.
On Aug. 13, 2002, with the local, state and federal law enforcement officials of the Lisk–Silva Task Force behind him, then-Spotsylvania County Sheriff Ron Knight pledged they would do all they could to determine every crime the former sailor and salesman committed in his 38-year life.
That hasn’t happened.
That pledge for a definitive investigation into Evonitz’s criminal activities has been either forgotten, aborted or blocked.
The FBI was to create a timeline of Evonitz’s life and then notify police agencies around the country—if not the world—to see if they had any crimes the former Spotsylvania resident might have committed. As they have done with other serial killers, the FBI’s profilers planned to then host a meeting of investigators to discuss their cases.
The timeline was finally finished in the summer of 2006 after the FBI got Evonitz’s Navy records. But plans for the meeting have been scrapped.
And despite saying they would forensically check Evonitz against crimes nationwide, the FBI and Virginia State Police didn’t pursue those tests for unsolved homicides in Evonitz’s own backyard.
Beginning in March 1996, seven girls and young women were killed in a 14-month span—all within the region where Evonitz was known to troll for his victims.
Four of those slayings remain unsolved.
Starting in 1997—five years before Evonitz surfaced—and still today, federal authorities have relentlessly pursued Darrell David Rice, a computer programmer from Maryland with mental health problems. His most serious crime before he became the focus of investigators’ attention was using illegal drugs.
Did 'cursory look' miss clues?
The former chief of the FBIï¿½s Richmond Division said serial killer Richard Marc Evonitz got only a ï¿½cursory lookï¿½ in the slayings of two young women in Shenandoah National Park because the bureau was focused on Darrell Rice.
ï¿½We had another suspect so I think that would have been an extremely cursory look, and probably as quickly decided Evonitz wasnï¿½t involved,ï¿½ said Donald W. Thompson Jr., who retired in July 2006 after eight years in the Richmond office.
Further, he said he felt the May 1996 slayings of 24-year-old Julie Williams and 26-year-old Lollie Winans ï¿½just didnï¿½t trackï¿½ with Evonitzï¿½s known crimes.
But Thompson, like former Spotsylvania County Sheriff Ron Knight, had the impression more was done to forensically check Evonitz in those slayings and the March 1996 slaying of 25-year-old Alicia Showalter Reynolds than actually occurred.
ï¿½Iï¿½m sure it was done because nobody would not take advantage of that kind of information,ï¿½ Knight said in an interview earlier this year.
It is unclear to what extent Evonitz was checked in the death of 20-year-old Anne Carolyn McDaniel, who disappeared from the town of Orange in September 1996.
At least one item from her slaying was submitted to the FBI Laboratory, but the lead investigator, Culpeper sheriffï¿½s Maj. Jim Branch, declined to say how or to what degree Evonitz was assessed.
Virginia State Police Capt. Rick Jenkins, who oversees the Reynolds case, wouldnï¿½t say why the agency never asked to have the evidence forensically checked against Evonitz. He would not specify what was done to investigate the serial killer, but said state police relied on information from the Liskï¿½Silva Task Force.
ï¿½We evaluated that individual, but Iï¿½m not going to comment any further on that information,ï¿½ Jenkins said.
ï¿½You canï¿½t possibly think we havenï¿½t looked at every individual that could be a possible suspect.ï¿½
Science trumps behavior
During their pursuit of Rice in state and federal court, prosecutors said Evonitz wasnï¿½t a valid suspect in the four unsolved slayings because those victims were all in their 20s whereas his known murder victims were between 12 and 16.
But law enforcement officials interviewed for this project disagreed.
ï¿½You wouldnï¿½t eliminate a young 20-year-old, 25-year-old, and there are females in their 30s that look very young,ï¿½ Thompson said.
ï¿½You donï¿½t rule out anything,ï¿½ said Knight, who retired in January 2004.
John J. Hess, head of the FBIï¿½s Behavioral Analysis Units, acknowledged the women in the unsolved slayings didnï¿½t fit the description of Evonitzï¿½s ï¿½victim of choice,ï¿½ but said ï¿½they wouldnï¿½t automatically be ruled out.ï¿½
If asked, he said, the profiling units would recommend that evidence from those cases be checked forensically against Evonitz.
ï¿½Hard science trumps behavior,ï¿½ he said.
Evonitz has been looked at for crimes involving victims older than 16.
In 2004, Spotsylvania Sheriff Howard Smith, Knightï¿½s successor and the head of the Liskï¿½Silva investigation, linked Evonitz to the abduction and sexual assault of an 18-year-old.
And The Free Lanceï¿½Star learned that a Palm Beach County, Fla., detective asked to have Evonitz checked forensically in the 1989 slaying of a 23-year-old woman suspected of being a prostitute. That case was being checked, in part, because of unique similarities between the conditions of that womanï¿½s body and one of the Spotsylvania victims.
ï¿½A new pledgeï¿½
Three years ago, the FBIï¿½s profilers said they would host a meeting of investigators from across the nation to discuss crimes Evonitz might have committed. But Hess said that isnï¿½t going to happen.
ï¿½Itï¿½s mainly because we feel to our satisfaction that all departments where he [lived or visited] have been made known about his whereabouts,ï¿½ Hess said.
ï¿½We donï¿½t have the resources to do conferences like this on every case,ï¿½ he added.
Knight, who still has photos of Evonitzï¿½s victims displayed in his home, was disappointed with the decision.
ï¿½Iï¿½m sure, with 9/11 and all, theyï¿½ve transferred a lot of agents to terrorism ... but youï¿½d like to see them do that,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½It shouldnï¿½t take that long to doï¿½a day or two.ï¿½
Despite not viewing Evonitz as a strong suspect when he surfaced in 2002, Thompson said he supports running the forensic checks for the regionï¿½s unsolved slayings.
ï¿½In general terms, if you have an unsolved case and a suspect and some evidence that might tie him to the case, Iï¿½d say, yeah, do it,ï¿½ he said.
ï¿½Why he wasnï¿½t checked, I just donï¿½t know,ï¿½ he added. ï¿½I really was not down in the weeds to that extent.ï¿½
Charles J. Cunningham, who replaced Thompson as head of the FBIï¿½s Richmond Division, volunteered ï¿½a new pledgeï¿½ to the families and the community earlier this year, saying he would look into what happened to checking Evonitz in the unsolved cases.
ï¿½Iï¿½m taking an interest in it,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½I want to know.ï¿½