A dead fisherman has been identified as the suspect in three cold-case homicides in Virginia from the 1980s, including two of the notorious "Colonial Parkway Murders" that once stoked fears in the area.
Alan Wade Wilmer Sr. was identified by forensic evidence in the 1987 double murder of David L. Knobling, 20, and Robin M. Edwards, 14, in Isle of Wight County; and the 1989 murder of Teresa Lynn Spaw Howell, 29, in the city of Hampton, Virginia State Police announced Monday.
Wilmer died in December 2017 at his Lancaster County, Virginia, home at the age of 63.
Prosecutors for Isle of Wight County and the city of Hampton said that if Wilmer were alive, charges would be filed against him in connection with the three deaths.
In a news conference Monday, Virginia State Police said a new look at the case led the Virginia Department of Forensic Science to "positively link" Wilmer to the three slayings after he was found to be a genetic match to evidence found on the victims.
Knobling and Edwards were last seen alive on Sept. 19, 1987.
The following day, Knobling's pickup truck was found abandoned in the parking lot of the Ragged Island Wildlife Management Area, Virginia State Police spokesperson Corrine Geller said. The keys were in the ignition. The radio and windshield wipers were on.
On Sept. 23, 1987, their bodies were found along the shore line of Ragged Island, on the south shore of the James River in Isle of Wight County. They had been shot, and Edwards had been sexually assaulted, Geller said.
She shared a statement on behalf of the Knobling and Edwards families.
"For 36 years our families have lived in a vacuum of the unknown. We have lived in the fear of worrying that a person capable of deliberately killing Robin and David could attack and kill another victim. Now we have a sense of relief and justice knowing that he can no longer victimize another," the statement said. "His death will not allow us to seek out the answer to countless questions that have haunted us for so long."
Their deaths were one of four double slayings known as the Colonial Parkway Murders that occurred near or along the area from 1986 to 1989.
However, Geller said that while the "similarities in this series of double homicides that spanned a three-year period cannot be ignored, at this time there’s no forensic or physical evidence to link the Isle of White homicides to the those other double murders.”
The other case Wilmer was deemed a suspect in is the death of Teresa Lynn Spaw Howell.
She was last seen alive on July 1, 1989, around 2:30 a.m. outside the Zodiac club in Hampton, once a popular nightlife spot that no longer exists, Hampton Police Capt. Rebecca Warren told reporters.
At 10:10 a.m. that same day, construction crews working in the 500 block of Butler Farm Road found female clothing. The remains of an unidentified female were found a short time later in a woodline not far from the clothing.
On July 4, 1989, a missing person report filed in York County led to the identification of Howell. She had been sexually assaulted and died by strangulation, Warren said.
She read a statement from Howell's family that said: “We would like to express our gratitude to all investigators involved in the investigation of Terri's death. Their dedication, relentless efforts and evolving technology has brought us closure that we have sought over the last 34 years."
"While we are grateful for the closure that has been provided, nothing will bring Terri back. The void left by her absence over the years is inexpressible. We kindly request privacy as we navigate through a host of new emotions that this brings," the family added in the statement.
A fresh look, then a hit
Authorities combed through decades of evidence and witness statements, Geller said.
Several suspects were developed. The Virginia Department of Forensic Science identified a common suspect a couple years ago based on DNA in the Isle of Wight and city of Hampton killings, but there was no match in the FBI's database of DNA profiles of convicted offenders.
Wilmer had no felonies on his criminal record so his DNA was never put into the system, she said.
However, in the fresh probe of the cold cases, authorities looked into Wilmer as a suspect. When they learned he was dead, they legally obtained his genetic material and submitted it to the forensic science department to compare it to the evidence collected in the slayings. Geller said authorities got a hit in June 2023.
Now, Virginia State Police and the FBI are now asking the public for information about Wilmer to see if he’s possibly linked to more cases.
Wilmer was a fisherman, known to own a small 1976 wooden commercial fishing boat called the "Denni Wade." He'd dock at marinas in Gloucester and Middlesex counties.
During the the time of the slayings, he worked as a fisherman farming clams and oysters, and also ran a business called Better Tree Service, state police said. He was also known to be an avid hunter and belonged to a hunt club in the Middle Peninsula region.
Authorities shared several photos of Wilmer, and described his watercraft and car, asking the public to come forward.
Brian Dugan, special agent in charge of the Norfolk, Virginia, FBI office said investigators will look into whether Wilmer is connected to other Colonial Parkway Murders, including the killings of Cathleen Thomas and Rebecca Ann Dowski and the deaths of Richard Keith Call and Cassandra Lee Hailey.
“Even though Mr. Wilmer is deceased, we want you to know, it’s not too late to come forward,” Dugan said.