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The Colonial Parkway is a scenic, 23-mile stretch in Virginia that links the historic towns of Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. It’s difficult to imagine something as gruesome and shocking as a string of murders occurring on this seemingly safe road — but that’s exactly what happened decades ago.
From 1986 to 1989, four double homicides occurred on or near the Colonial Parkway. All of the victims were young, white, and either a romantic couple or could resemble one to an outsider. And as of today, all of the murders remain unsolved.
A double homicide is a rare occurrence in and of itself, so four happening so close together has naturally caused many to wonder if a serial killer is behind this series or murders. Or could it be that four separate criminals were executing young people in the area? This question of serial killer or coincidence is explored in Oxygen’s new limited series, “Lovers’ Lane Murders,” airing Thursday, February 11, and Friday, February 12 at 9/8c and 10/9c.
So, who were the Colonial Parkway murder victims?
Cathy Thomas and Rebecca Dowski
Cathy Thomas, 27, and Rebecca Dowski, 21, had been dating for several months when they went out for food on October 9, 1986. It was the last time they would be seen alive.
Just three days later, they were found murdered inside Thomas’ 1980 Honda Civic, Richmond.com reported in 2016. The car had been pushed down an embankment off the Colonial Parkway. Their throats had been viciously slashed and they had been strangled to death.
Their families were devastated and shocked.
“[Thomas] could hold their own from day one. She had a soft side but there was a toughness, too,” her brother, Bill Thomas, told the producers of “Lovers Lane Murders.”
The young woman had graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1981, as part of its second class to admit women. However, just before her death, she had left the Navy. Gays and lesbians were banned from the Navy at that time, and she had been investigated by nine agents regarding her sexuality, her brother told producers. After leaving the armed forces, she had transitioned into a successful career as a stockbroker, according to Richmond.com.
Thomas had also entered a relationship with Dowski, and the two were known to regularly visit the area where they were murdered. Dowski was younger and still a student at the College of William and Mary. She worked two jobs while studying, caring for toddlers at a daycare center and at the college’s English department as a clerk, the Virginian Pilot reported in 2016.
“She enjoyed going to the Gap and dressing well, whatever the trend was. Just a beautiful woman,” her sister-in-law, Ginny Minarik, told “Lover’s Lane Murders.”
David Knobling and Robin Edwards
It’s still unclear what David Knobling, 20, and Robin Edwards, 14, were doing together the night of their murders in 1987. Knobling had taken Edwards out with his little brother and cousin that day. He dropped Edwards off at her home, but later that night she snuck out to meet him.
On September 20, 1987, Knobling’s truck was found abandoned by the James River Bridge, Richmond.com reported. The keys were still in the ignition, the door was open, and the windshield wipers were going. Three days later, their bodies washed up onto the beach at Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge. They had both been shot in the head, execution-style.
Knobling lived in Hampton while he worked for his father’s landscaping business, and was expecting a baby with his longtime girlfriend. By all accounts, his truck was his prized possession, so family members knew right away something was terribly wrong when it was found abandoned, the Virginian Pilot reported.
Edwards’ family members, meanwhile, grieved the lost opportunity to know the woman the teenager was becoming. Edwards had struggled with her mental health and was prone to running away and some reckless behavior. However, her sister, Janette Santiago, told “Lovers’ Lane Murders” that Edwards, who she described as “full of energy” and “not afraid of anything,” had entered therapy and made remarkable progress in the months before her death.
Cassandra Hailey and Richard “Keith” Call
Hailey, 19, and Call, 20, were both students at Christopher Newport University. Call was a computer science major and “an old soul in a way,” his brother told “Lovers’ Lane Murders.”
“He was shy at first, but once you got to know him he opened up,” he said. Call loved going to the beach and was especially fond of his car.
"He was always washing it,” his sister, Joyce Call-Canada, told The Virginian Pilot.
Hailey, meanwhile, was a college freshman who modeled and taught gymnastics, according to the outlet.
“Sandy was unique. There was nobody she wasn’t going to be a friend too […] She was very generous with everything,” Joanne Hailey, her mother, told “Lovers’ Lane Murders.”
The pair went on a date, seeing a movie and attending a party, on April 9, 1988. They were never seen again after that night. Call’s beloved Toyota Celica was discovered at a York River overlook, just a few miles from where Thomas and Dowski had been murdered two years prior. Several clothing items were found in the vehicle, as were the car keys. Dogs traced their scents to the river, but soon lost it.
Annamaria Phelps and Daniel Lauer
Annamaria Phelps, 18, and Daniel Lauer, 21, were not a romantic couple. Phelps, who family members described to “Lovers’ Lane Murders” producers as having “a very sharp wit,” was dating Lauer’s younger brother, whom she lived with in Virginia Beach. However, the young couple was struggling financially, so Lauer had agreed to move in with them to help them out with money.
Lauer needed to go back home to get his belongings, and Phelps decided to accompany him for the drive to see her own family in their hometown. However, on their way back to Virginia Beach to start a new chapter in their lives, they vanished.
On September 5, 1989, their car was found abandoned at an I-64 rest stop — strangely, the rest stop was on the opposite route of their way back to Virginia Beach. Months later, they were found murdered, wrapped in a blanket in the woods. Their bodies were so decomposed, investigators were unable to determine a cause of death.
“I feel like for my husband and my sister-in-law’s sake — well, really the whole family just wants to know what happened to their loved one,” Jennifer Phelps, Annamaria Phelps’ sister-in-law, told Richmond.com.
The investigations into all eight murders are ongoing and active, the Virginian Pilot reported. The FBI is investigating the slayings of Thomas, Dowski, Call, and Hailey, as they were found dead or went missing on federal property. State police and local agencies are investigating the murders of Knobling, Edwards, Lauer, and Phelps.
For more on the Colonial Parkway murders, watch Oxygen’s new limited series “Lovers’ Lane Murders,” airing Thursday, February 11 and Friday, February 12 at 9/8c and 10/9c.
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