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On The Colonial Parkway, The Mark Of Unsolved Murders Remains Thanks To Urban Legends
Lovers’ lanes have played a backdrop in urban legends for decades — and there are real-life reasons for that.
It’s been almost 35 years since a series of double homicides dubbed the Colonial Parkway murders began, and despite decades of investigations into the crimes that shocked and rocked Virginia, the killer, or possibly killers, still have not been identified.
“Lovers’ Lane Murders,” Oxygen’s new two-night special event airing February 11 and February 12 at 9/8c and 10/9c on Oxygen, offers a fresh perspective on the unresolved murders that claimed the lives of eight young men and women over four consecutive years and continue to haunt the parkway area to this day.
Evidence that the Colonial Parkway murders are still on people’s minds can be found online — and not just in periodic news stories about developments in DNA evidence in relationship to the case or in true crime blogs, but in a forum far from forensic science: TripAdvisor.
“There is no toll or charge but it is run by the Forest Service so don’t get caught speeding and you might want to keep a lookout for the Colonial Parkway Murderer of the 80’s - He was never caught,” reads one review. And that’s just one of a few cautionary comments posted over the years that turned up during a February 2021 search of the site.
“If you google the Colonial Parkway, most likely some historical information will pop up about the 1980’s infamous Parkway murders. Don’t let this scare you away from taking a drive on this beautiful parkway,” reads another. One poster noted, “Beautiful and yet one of the scenes of a serial killer … that has never been solved … No worries now, although I wouldn’t go there at night.”
Of course, there are plenty of people who would second that warning about staying away from a crime scene, even one that’s separated from the murders by decades of distance. But on the other hand, “there’s a lot of people who definitely would go there,” said Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D., professor of forensic psychology at DeSales University in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and author of “How to Catch a Killer: Hunting and Capturing the World’s Most Notorious Serial Killers.” “People are attracted to spots of strong emotion.”
“Murder scenes have the sense of an aura,” she told Oxygen.com. “The fascination depends on the level of publicity.”
Consider the Milwaukee apartment house where the world-infamous Jeffrey Dahmer killed most of his 17 victims that was demolished in 1992. “The building is not there,” said Dr. Ramsland, “but the vibe is still there.”
The Colonial Parkway murders may not be as well known, but the unsettling vibe the string of double homicides left behind remains. It’s perhaps fueled by its association to the urban legend, or “culture story,” as Dr. Ramsland calls it, about killers preying upon victims in lovers’ lanes. After all, most people have heard the tale of a couple pulling off in a car for some alone time, only to hear on the radio about an escaped murderer on the loose … followed by some ominous noises by the car …
And along the winding 23-mile Colonial Parkway there are such pull-offs where couples could go to be alone. The first two victims were found in that kind of spot, and vehicles belonging to the other three pairs of victims were also found off the road.
“Urban legends usually come out of some seed of truth,” former prosecutor and “Lovers’ Lane Murders” co-host Loni Coombs explains in an Oxygen video exclusive you can watch, above. “Lovers’ lanes — they are places that killers target.”
Maureen O’Connell, a fellow co-host and a former FBI special agent, offered a particularly noteworthy example. In 1946, the city of Texarkana was terrorized by the Phantom Killer, a serial murderer who attacked young couples while they were in their cars.
Another famous example of a lovers’ lane prowler is David Berkowitz, aka Son of Sam, who would “approach cars where he thought a couple might be engaging in sexual activity and he would shoot them,” former FBI profiler Jim Clemente adds in the video.
So, why do these places attract killers?
“Couples go to a lovers’ lane because it’s isolated,” O’Connell explained. “They’re usually in a dark area. They’re secluded, especially when they’re there to engage fully with one another. All those things could feed the fantasy of a serial killer.”
Similarly, crime scenes stir people's imaginations, including writers. “Having done the research for the book, I’ve since found that it’s a creepy place to go at night,” said Blaine Pardoe, co-author of “A Special Kind Of Evil: The Colonial Parkway Serial Killings.” “It’s lost its romance. There are alternative routes.”
To learn more about the case, watch “Lovers’ Lane Murders,” airing February 11 and February 12 at 9/8c and 10/9c on Oxygen.