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Murder and mayhem in Richmond

Former FBI Profiler Clint Van Zandt profiles  seven related homicides in Richmond.  Murder and mayhem have placed this town in the spotlight after this horrific crime spree.

On November 15, 1959, two basically inept young men walked into the Holcomb, Kansas home of Herb and Bonnie Clutter and their two children.  Richard Hickock and Perry Smith believed there was something worth stealing in the Clutter home, and when they didn’t find what they wanted they murdered, no they slaughtered the Kansas family of four.  This was a crime so horrific that it was later immortalized by writer Truman Capote in his now famous book.  “In Cold Blood” was redefined last week in Richmond, VA.  This is where 28-year-old Ray Joseph Dandridge and his 28-year-old uncle, Rickey Javon “Cooley” Gray, are alleged to have murdered, no, not just murdered but annihilated a modern day family of four on New Years day.  This deadly pair, however, then went on to murder another family of three the following Friday, after which they escaped in one of their victims cars, an SUV that they used to transport their meager stolen goods to Philadelphia where they went to a local pool hall to shoot a friendly game.  Murder and mayhem now have human names; they are Ray and “Cooley.”

As I wrote in this column last week, the Bryan and Kathryn Harvey family, to include daughters 4-year-old Ruby and 9-year-old Stella, were murdered in a fashion normally reserved for the worst of Hollywood slasher movies.  Apparently the two assailants gained entry into the Harvey home via an unlocked door and forced this young family down into their basement family room while their getaway driver waited in a nearby van.  As unfortunately happens in so many occasions, one unlocked door may have been the difference between life and death as the robbers and murderers sought a home, any home in the Harvey’s neighborhood to invade.  It was here, in the comfort and relatively safety of their own home that Bryan, Kathryn and their two young daughters were bound and then slashed, stabbed and in one or more cases, brutally beaten to death.  Next the consciousless mass murderers (four or more murders at the same location) set the Harvey’s house on fire to cover their horrific crimes and fled with a few items taken from the now lifeless home.  The killers may have taken electronic equipment that could be sold or pawned or otherwise traded for a few cents on the dollar, maybe netting them a few hundred dollars at most.  That would make the lives of each of the four Harvey family members worth, say $50 apiece.  Fifty dollars apiece for four human lives!

On January 3 another home invasion took place near Richmond.  In this case a local family heard a knock on their door at 7 PM.  It was dark outside, but one of the homeowners answered the door and found two men and a woman (probably to include the getaway driver from the Harvey home) at his doorstep, the three indicating that they needed directions to a nearby location.  The intruders shoved their way into the home, but soon left after stealing a number of items and determining that one of the residents was handicapped and in bed.  Police have subsequently linked this offense to the killers of the Harvey family, as well as the soon to be murdered Tucker family, also of Richmond.

Sometime last Friday the suspected killers are believed to have entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. Percyelle Tucker and their adult daughter, Ashley, the latter of whom, unfortunately, had a history of drug abuse and had recently been released from jail.  Police have now indicated that Dandridge, himself just released from prison in November after serving 10 years for robbery, and his uncle Gray both knew 21-year-old Ashley, had been with her that week, and that she was the woman who drove the getaway vehicle at the Harvey home and was an accomplice in the January 3 home invasion.  It appears that something went terrible wrong, however, with the now three robbers and murderers of the Harvey family.  (When a relationship goes bad with sociopaths, someone can die.)  The two male assailants are believed to have bound Ashley and her parents and murdered them.  Our now two remaining mass murderers and “spree killers” (multiple murders over a period of time without a serial killer-like emotional cooling off period between offenses) then stole more electronic equipment, loaded it into a SUV owned by one of the Tuckers, and drove off for Philadelphia, PA, where Dandridge’s family lives.  It was in PA that another terrible crime was recently committed for which Gray and Dandridge are also prime suspects.  In early November 2005, “Cooley” Gray’s wife, Treva, who lived near Pittsburgh, was found beaten and strangled to death, her body tossed away in the woods like some child’s broken and discarded doll. This crime, if linked to these suspects, may be the genesis of the sickening one month crime spree attributed to Gray and Dandridge.

Richmond has a very good police department and they, and the multi-agency task force working these seven local murders and the home invasion, were able to quickly connect the dots.  They traced the murder suspects to “the city of brotherly love,” where a local police SWAT team quickly took the two suspects down.  “Cooley” Gray tried to escape by hiding in the basement, the same kind of location where he is now believed to have helped murder the Harvey family just one week before. 

Authorities in Richmond initially suggested that nothing had been stolen from the Harvey home, and that the victims were not believed to have been chosen randomly, leading some to suggest that they could have been murdered by a killer or killers that knew the family, someone who had to have been very angry with the Harveys, but someone so angry that he or they could have murdered the family of four, including two little girls?  Other investigators suspected the killers had to be on drugs to commit such a terrible crime, drugs or part of the 4% of society that have sociopathic or psychopathic personalities, a percentage of the population so jaded concerning the pain of others that they wouldn’t mind killing four to eight people for a few dollars. 

The authorities are fortunate in the case of the January 3 home invasion as the two victims lived to identify Ashley Baskerville as one of the three people who invaded their home.  The two Richmond area homicide scenes were not only gruesome and grisly, but also sloppy, indicating the disorganized killers will likely be linked to the seven local murders by physical evidence at the crime scenes, or by what they took from these crime scenes.  Seven known dead for a few pieces of used stereo and computer equipment.  What a waste; a stupid, sick waste of human life by killers so callous that they found time to shoot a round of pool after killing their last three victims, one of whom was their former accomplice.

It now falls to the families of the deceased to grieve their losses and for the local Richmond community to try to understand these senseless crimes.  Police from PA to VA will put their various cases together, trying to identify if other unsolved crimes (like the murder of Treva Gray and the December 18 death of Sheryl Ann Warner of Culpepper, VA, found dead from a gunshot wound to her head, hanging by her neck in her basement that had been set aflame), this just an hour or so drive north of Richmond, are the work of these monstrous offenders.  The court appointed defense lawyers will look for holes in the police investigation, trying to find reasons to explain the unexplainable, why their murderous clients may have crawled out from under some rock and took the lives of seven or more people who had so much life ahead of them. 

Murder and mayhem, just like Dandridge and Gray, are related, and we know their names today, but their identities are constantly changing as the worst of society continues to prey upon the otherwise innocent.  Something, unfortunately, that has happened since the beginning of recorded history.  Let’s hope that Richmond’s “In Cold Blood II” never becomes a real movie; another Hollywood training film for sociopathic mass murderers to be.       

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Van Zandt and his associates also developed, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and was the leader of the analytical team tasked with identifying the "Unabomber."