The director of a criminal justice school in Illinois is looking into the possibility that the unsolved 1988 rape and murder of two women in Northern Virginia may be linked to a bisexual man who patronized one of D.C.’s gay nightclubs on O Street, SE.
George Seibel, director of the Cicero, Ill.- based Morton College Institute for Cold Case Solutions, is calling on patrons of the O Street clubs to observe a police sketch and computer-generated photo of a possible suspect in the case. The sketch and digitalized photo are based on a description given by two witnesses more than 16 years ago.
Seibel is a former homicide detective with the Chicago Police Department and the author of four books on criminal investigations. He acknowledges that finding new witnesses who may recognize the suspect after that many years will be a difficult task. But he said evidence in the case leads him to believe the perpetrator is a cunning and highly intelligent serial killer who may have targeted gay men as well as heterosexual women.
The cases of more than a dozen gay men who have been murdered in the D.C. metropolitan area since the late 1980s remain unsolved. The most recent of the unsolved cases involves gay airline flight attendant Craig Donoghue, 35, who died Sept. 6, 2004, at George Washington University Hospital, seven days after he was found unconscious and badly beaten on the unit block of O Street, SE, where six gay clubs are located.
According to Seibel, the possible link between the 1988 murders and the O Street clubs surfaced when a matchbook from La Cage Aux Follies nightclub, then located at 18 O Street, SE, turned up at the Westchester County, N.Y., gravesite of Rachel Raver on Jan. 1, 1989. Raver, 22, was found raped and murdered in a remote wooded area in Reston, Va., on Dec. 4, 1988.
The discovery of the matchbook came about a week before Raver’s stolen car — a nine-year-old Toyota Corolla — was found abandoned and burned near a public housing project in Queens, N.Y.
Veronica Raver, Rachel Raver’s mother, told the Blade she discovered the matchbook lying on the snow-covered grass next to her daughter’s grave on New Year’s Day in 1989.
“I took it home and showed it to my son,” Veronica Raver said. “He took it from me and called the police. And we, of course, the next day immediately mailed it out to them.”
Seibel said Rachel Raver’s brother, Matt Raver, told him police claimed they analyzed the matchbook and several cigarette butts that Matt Raver found at the gravesite the next day. The matchbook and cigarette butts had deteriorated from the weather and investigators were unable to extract either fingerprints or DNA samples from them, Matt Raver told Seibel.
The La Cage nightclub went out of business in 2003. It reopened under new ownership and a new name — Heat — a year later.
The matchbook finding, which Seibel said could have been merely coincidental, might also support his separate belief, based on psychological profiling, that the killer is bisexual and may have had homosexual relationships.
The slayings of the two Northern Virginia women and the boyfriend of one of them have remained unsolved for nearly 17 years and have baffled police in Arlington and Fairfax, who considered them unrelated for more than a decade. It was not until April of 2000 that a DNA test showed that semen found inside the two women came from the same man.
Raver, a graduate of George Washington University who was preparing to apply to law school, and her boyfriend, Warren Fulton, also 22, a GWU senior who played on the school’s baseball team, were found shot to death Dec. 4, 1988, in a wooded area off of Hunter Mill Road in Reston. Raver’s red shoes and neatly folded clothes were found placed beside her partially clothed body, which was found about 50 feet from Fulton’s body. Both had been shot in the head execution style, police said.
An autopsy showed she had been raped after she was shot. Investigators believe the killer shot Fulton immediately after ordering the two out of the car. They believe Raver started to run away and that the killer chased her down, shot her in the head, and disrobed and raped her.
The two were last seen alive at a bar near the GWU campus in Northwest D.C., the night before their bodies were found. Investigators believe the killer abducted them at gunpoint and forced one of the two to drive Raver’s car to the remote site where he killed them.
The Raver and Fulton murders occurred more than seven months after the abduction murder and rape of another Northern Virginia woman that police failed to link to the Raver-Fulton case for more than a decade.
Veronica Jefferson, 24, an accountant with the CIA, was found shot to death on the grounds of Arlington’s McKinley Elementary School at about 2:30 a.m. on May 11, 1988. Her red shoes and neatly folded clothes were found placed beside her nude body, just as Raver’s red shoes and clothes were found beside Raver’s body.
The DNA test that matched the semen extracted from Raver’s and Jefferson’s bodies 11 years after the murders shocked investigators from the two police departments, according to a lengthy article about the cases published in the Washington Post Magazine in June 2001. Post reporter Tamara Jones wrote that the DNA match came at a time when scientific advances made forensic DNA technology more readily available for criminal investigations.
It also came at a time when detectives who worked separately on the two cases did not believe they were linked to a serial killer, Jones reported. Raver was white and Jefferson was black, a factor that contradicted the conventional wisdom that serial killers seek out victims of the same race. The fact that Raver was with a boyfriend at the time she was abducted also appeared to fly in the face of the belief by Fairfax police that a serial killer would not seek out a woman accompanied by a man.
Seibel said investigators from the two departments may not have been familiar with a large body of research on serial killers that shows they are motivated by factors that often are unrelated to a victim’s race or whether victims are alone or accompanied by another person.
He said the red shoes appear to have served as a “trigger” for the killer.
“I think it’s possible he acts out, that he acted out in rage against women with red shoes because of some kind of abuse or twisted behavior when he was a child,” Seibel said. “But that’s not to say that the same guy, if he was involved with males, that he might not also be a violent guy in that arena as well.”
In one of his books, in which he uses the murders as a case study, Seibel wrote, “There is an excellent possibility that the killer is bisexual and lives in a homosexual relationship.”
Seibel’s independent investigation into the three murders has created a stir among investigators with the Arlington and Fairfax police departments. In his two most recent books, “Cold Case Investigation: Cases & Materials” and “Violent Crime Investigations: Cases & Materials,” Seibel criticizes the way investigators from both departments handled the two cases.
Homicide detectives with the two departments either did not perceive any significance over the red shoes and neatly folded clothes associated with both the Raver and Jefferson murders or they failed to compare notes of the murder scenes with each other, Seibel said. He called the placement of the clothes and the fact that both victims had red shoes a classic sign of a serial killer, a sign that investigators with the two police departments failed to recognize.
Spokespersons with the two police departments dispute the suggestion that they did not cooperate with each other in the two cases. But they would neither confirm nor deny whether, prior to the DNA findings, they shared with each other the fact that the two female victims were found with their red shoes and neatly folded clothes placed next to their bodies.
Sgt. Rich Perez, a former homicide detective and current spokesperson for the Fairfax police, said Seibel has never contacted Fairfax or Arlington police investigators to discuss the Raver-Fulton and Jefferson cases.
“Mr. Seibel is entitled to his opinion,” Perez said. “But here is a gentleman who is going off on news articles.”
Perez and Lt. Ray Harp, a spokesperson for the Arlington police, said detectives with their respective departments continue to investigate the cases and would welcome any information from the public — including the gay community — that might lead them to a suspect.
Both said they believe their departments submitted details about the cases to the FBI’s Violent Crime Apprehension Program, known as “VICAP,” but said they would check with investigators to make sure such a submission was made. The FBI compiles and compares information it receives under the VICAP program to determine whether a single, serial killer may have committed murders in different states or cities.
Ann Todd, an FBI spokesperson for the VICAP program, which operates out of the FBI’s crime facility in Quantico, Va., said the bureau does not release information obtained from the program to the press or the public, only to state and local law enforcement agencies. She declined to say whether any recent or past murders of straight women or gay men involved the placement of red shoes or neatly folded clothes near the victims’ bodies.
Seibel acknowledges that he has yet to contact the Arlington and Fairfax police about the cases in question. He said he obtained extensive information about the cases from interviews with the victims’ family members as well as from two key witnesses in the Jefferson case. He said he used the murders as case studies for the criminal investigation courses he teaches.
Seibel said he also carefully reviewed a detailed report on the cases by the television crime program “Unsolved Mysteries.” Seibel said investigators with the Arlington and Fairfax police departments gave detailed, on camera interviews to the television program’s reporters about their strategies and theories on the cases.
Two of the witnesses that Seibel interviewed were John and Betty Flanagan, a married couple who told police they saw Veronica Jefferson at the Giant Supermarket at Bailey’s Cross Roads, a section of Fairfax County near the Arlington County boarder, about an hour before her murder.
John Flanagan told police as well as the “Unsolved Mysteries” interviewers that he saw a large, distinguished looking African American man approach Jefferson at the Giant deli counter and that the man flirted with her. Flanagan reported that Jefferson appeared amused but nervous that the man, who later became known as the “handsome stranger,” was coming on to her. Seibel said John Flanagan is convinced, from the nature of the conversation that took place in front of him on the deli line, that Jefferson did not know the man and that the meeting was a first-time encounter between the two.
Betty Flanagan, meanwhile, told authorities that about 10 or 15 minutes later, she saw the same man approach Jefferson in the Giant parking lot. Betty Flanagan said she saw the two talking while she waited for her husband to bring their van to the place where they would pick up their grocery bags from a shopping cart.
“Betty Flanagan said Veronica was smiling but she was also looking around and that she was looking for help,” Seibel said. “The Flanagans then got into their van and drove away,” Seilbel said.
Fifteen minutes later, an off-duty deputy sheriff saw a man driving a car later identified as Jefferson’s late model, red Camaro, with a woman sitting in the front passenger seat. The sheriff reported that the car was moving slowly and erratically and ran over a curb as it turned onto Carlin Spring Road in Arlington.
According to the Sheriff, the car stopped and a woman who resembled Jefferson got out and smiled but appeared to be talking nervously to the driver. At that point, the sheriff, who had become suspicious of the erratic driving, assumed the woman was being dropped off on a residential street, prompting him to drive away without stopping to see if there was anything wrong.
Less than an hour later, Jefferson’s nude body was found in the schoolyard several miles away. A bullet was lodged in her head.
Arlington police developed a sketch of the so-called handsome stranger, who is considered an unidentified suspect in the case, from descriptions provided by the Flanagans. Seibel said he arranged for a computer generated “photo” of the same possible suspect from his own interviews with the Flanagans.
Seibel said it is possible that the handsome stranger has visited D.C. gay bars, including the bars and clubs on O Street, SE. Although the possibility is remote, Seibel said, the handsome stranger could have traveled to Rachel Raver’s gravesite in Westchester County, N.Y., before abandoning her car in Queens, and could have left a La Cage Aux Follies matchbook at the gravesite in an attempt to taunt the authorities. Such behavior is not uncommon among serial killers, Seibel said.
Seibel said he has seen no information to indicate that Arlington and Fairfax police attempted to pursue this theory. The spokespersons for the two departments said they were unaware if they looked into Seibel’s theory, although they said the theory appears far-fetched.
“I don’t afford myself the luxury of deciding whether a particular theory is sound or unsound,” Seibel said. “It’s a question of you go and investigate. If you arrive at a dead end and you’ve done everything you can, then you say, ‘Well, you can eliminate that possibility.’ It just may have been a coincidence and somebody tossed a matchbook nearby.”
Seibel said he doesn’t believe Arlington and Fairfax police did much, if anything, to follow up on the matchbook theory. That’s why he’s hoping the D.C. gay community will take a look at the sketch and computer photo.
Seibel said that at the time the Flanagans saw him, the handsome stranger was between 24 and 28 years old, about 6 foot-2, and weighed about 190 to 210 pounds. He is described as having a muscular build and a light brown complexion.
Mrs. Flanagan also reported that he might have been driving a green Jaguar sedan at the time he approached Veronica Jefferson in the Giant Supermarket parking lot, Seibel said. Seibel said the Jaguar sighting raises questions about why the killer would drive Raver’s old model Toyota Corolla to the site of a public housing project in Jamaica, Queens. Seibel said one possible explanation is the killer grew up in that area and had an emotional connection between his desire to kill and his hometown neighborhood.
After Jefferson’s body was discovered months earlier than Raver’s, police found Jefferson’s car in the Giant parking lot. They discovered its inside surfaces had been wiped clean of fingerprints. This has led Seibel to believe the killer is cautious and meticulous and most likely has committed other murders either before or after the Raver-Fulton and Jefferson cases.
One long held theory by Arlington police was that Jefferson was the victim either of a date rape by someone she knew or was killed by a jilted lover. In the early stages of the case, an Arlington investigator said Jefferson’s nighttime murder most likely occurred on the grounds of the Arlington elementary school after she voluntarily took off her clothes to engage in sex. The murder took place after the killer, who supposedly knew Jefferson from some type of ongoing relationship, became enraged and decided to shoot her to death, Arlington police theorized.
Seibel calls that hypothesis ridiculous. He notes that everyone who knew Jefferson described her as refined and dignified. She had an important job as an accountant with the CIA, and had cleared a rigorous screening process to get the job.
“She would no more have willingly disrobed and made love in a schoolyard than she would have made love on the hood of her car in the supermarket parking lot,” Seibel said.
Veronica Raver, Rachel Raver’s mother, said she is hopeful that nightclub patrons on O Street might turn up information that will lead to the capture of her daughter’s killer. She said the recent arrest of a serial killer in Kansas, more than 10 years after his last known victim died, gave her encouragement that a similar development would occur in her daughter’s case.
“You never know,” she said. “I’ve never given up hope.”