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‘Your Stomach Just Turns’: Surveillance Footage Leads Cops To Killer Of Virginia High Schooler
Alexis Murphy, a 17-year-old high school student, mysteriously vanished on her way to the hair salon. What happened to her?
Alexis Murphy was excitedly preparing for her senior year at Nelson County High School in the rural enclave of Shipman, Virginia in the summer of 2013.
At 17, she was outgoing, loved dancing and volleyball and, like many girls her age, was attached to her cell phone. She even had 12,000 Twitter followers, according to investigative reporter Katie Love.
“She was this social media star,” Love told “Final Moments,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
Then, suddenly, on August 3, Alexis vanished.
Red flags went up when Alexis missed her 11 p.m. curfew and didn’t pick up phone calls. Her family went to the sheriff’s office and filed a missing persons report. Police Lieutenant Billy Mays worked the case and was immediately concerned about Alexis’ large social media presence.
“It’s a breeding ground for predators,” he told producers.
Social media experts from the FBI joined the case, said Mays. They traced Alexis’ digital messages, and one of them, posted early Saturday evening, revealed her plans to travel to Lynchburg.
She was driving her father’s white Nissan, and was going there to get her hair done in advance of senior portraits being taken the next week. She never arrived at the salon.
Hours after Alexis was reported missing, an app called Find My Phone led police to a 4,800-acre estate in Arrington, Virginia called Oak Ridge Estate. Sheriffs combed the area in cars and helicopters, but the search was a dead end.
The State Police and the Department of Emergency Management joined the search. Officials considered the road, Route 29, Alexis would have taken to Lynchburg. It had been the scene of a rash of mysterious crimes. However, no solid leads emerged from that line of investigation.
Alexis’ mother, Laura Murphy, appealed to the public through the media to come forward with any information.
“The whole community has mobilized at this point,” said Love.
On May 5, investigators obtained Alexis’ cell phone records. The last known ping came from the Liberty Gas Station in Lovingston, Virginia. Security footage from the store confirmed that Alexis was there around 7 p.m.
“She didn't appear to be distressed or distraught or in any kind of danger or scared and she was there alone,” said Mays.
The last activity on her cell phone was at 7:17 p.m.
Authorities canvassed the gas station area for Alexis and her car. On August 6, a tipster reported seeing her vehicle in Charlottesville, about 40 miles north of Shipman and 70 miles north of Lynchburg.
Investigators confirmed it was the white Nissan she was driving, but Alexis wasn’t in the vehicle. Surveillance footage in the area where the car was found also showed an unidentifiable individual near the car.
Officials went back to the gas station security footage. This time, they observed that a man held the door for Alexis when she left. It appeared that they two may have exchanged a few words. The attendants who worked at the gas station identified the man in the video as 48-year-old Randy Taylor.
“The gas station attendant knew Randy because he has a car that’s very distinctive,” said Love, adding that he drove a truck with a camouflage design on it.
A security camera in the parking lot showed Alexis’ white Nissan following the camo truck along Route 29 toward Charlottesville.
Investigators discovered that Taylor lived in a camper just off of Route 29, and four days after Alexis disappeared, Mays went to the property. The abandoned house and camper there looked, he said, “like something out of a horror movie.”
Taylor denied knowing anything about Alexis. But when they confronted him with the footage of him there at the same time as Alexis he changed his story. He admitted she was there and recalled meeting her a year before at a car wash.
“He was smoking some marijuana and she had made a comment about the marijuana,” said Mays. “According to him, she was talking about how it smelled like some really good stuff.”
Taylor told investigators that Alexis was with another man, said Mays. “And they're talking about a marijuana sale.” By Taylor’s account, they came to his camper and he bought marijuana. Then they left.
To validate Taylor's story Mays filed for a warrant to search his trailer. Alexis’ social media was scoured in search of the man matching Taylor’s description. The individual, identified as Dameon by “Final Moments,” had gone to Nelson County High School. He’d left town and gone to Alabama around the time Alexis vanished. While that raised a red flag, he had an alibi for his whereabouts at the time Alexis went missing.
“There was nothing, there were no dots to connect with Dameon,” said Mays. “It was just another ploy for Randy to throw the investigation off.”
Investigators obtained a warrant to search Taylor’s home, where they found a torn fingernail, hair extensions, and diamond stud. DNA later matched the evidence to Alexis.
“Hearing this kind of evidence,” said Love, “your stomach just turns.”
Police called in a K-9 unit trained to detect adhesive used in cell phones to search near Taylor’s trailer. Alexis’ phone, “her lifeline,” said Mays, was recovered about 70 feet away from it. It had been smashed. Taylor was arrested.
“He looked like a ghost … a deer in the headlights,” said Mays. “I don’t think Randy expected the rain of hell that came down on him as fast as it came down.”
Mays had a difficult conversation with Alexis’ family. He told them he didn’t believe she was alive and that he wanted to charge Taylor with her murder. The family agreed.
Before the trial law enforcement offered Randy Taylor a deal — he’d spend 20 years behind bars if he told the family where Alexis’ body was. His response was: “Give me 10,” said Love.
The murder trial began in May 2014 at the Nelson County courthouse. Taylor was found guilty of abduction and first-degree murder. He was sentenced to two life terms in prison.
Mays believes Alexis may have planned to buy marijuana from Taylor, which explained why she followed him. Her family isn’t convinced.
On February 5, 2021, the remains of a body discovered a month earlier on private property near Route 29 in Nelson County were identified as Alexis Murphy.
To learn more about the case and others like it, watch “Final Moments,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.