RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A former Richmond police detective reveals a secret he's kept for 17 years. He claims he was forced to cover up murders by one of Richmond's most notorious serial killers.
Leslie Leon Burchart pleaded guilty and confessed to seven slayings over six months in 1996 during a terrifying killing spree of older women in the West End called the Golden Years murders. Many of the women were beaten, some were found in bathtubs with cleaning fluids poured on top. Towels were used for strangulation.
Burchart was a homeless schizophrenic, off his medications. He's called the Golden Years killer for the murders of the older woman, but this serial killer fit no perfect profile. While killing the women, he also killed three homeless men and savagely beat a fourth.
"He said when he killed older women, the only reason he'd done it was because it reminded him of his step mother. He said he killed homeless men because they reminded him of himself," said former detective Sgt Ron Reed.
Reed was one of the people who arrested Burchart. At the time, Burchart was wanted for the murders of the homeless men. No one knew the person sitting in lockup was also the Golden Years killer.
"He didn't blink. He just stared," said Reed. He spent hours in a room with Burchart. "Every time I interviewed him, he wanted an Arby's sandwich. So I'd go buy an Arby's sandwich and then I'd bring it to him and he would sit and eat it and would describe all the things he's done."
Burchart admitted to the murders of Mamie Verlander, Lucille Boyd, Elizabeth Siebert and Jane Foster. Reed says while he was asking about the murder of Boyd on Grace Street, Burchart started describing a killing a few blocks over at Kensington Gardens. That's an adult care facility, that is now closed.
"He said, 'I went into the room, she was suffering, so I thought she needed to die.'" Reed said Burchart described a woman lying in bed with an oxygen mask and told him, "I removed the oxygen mask and I watched for her to suffocate, and then I left the room."
At the time of that confession, the death had already been ruled natural causes by the Medical Examiner. Reed said police initially responded to Kensington because a nurse reported seeing a man leave the dead woman's room. Reed said, once Burchart confessed, he took a picture of him to that nurse. "She said, 'Yeah, that's the guy that came out of the room.'"
Reed also said Burchart admitted to another killing he was never charged with - a homeless man behind a grocery store at 1640 West Broad.
"He told me, 'The guy was just like me, he was suffering. I took my shirt off, put it around his neck and choked him.'" Reed said the cause of death, this time, was alcohol poisoning.
Reed said neither case, the homeless man or the woman at Kensington Gardens, was publicized and that Burchart knew very specific details.
"I'm here today because I want the people to know, the woman in Kensington Gardens, that she was murdered and I covered it up."
Rachel asks, "Just you?" Reed responds, "No! I was ordered to cover it up." Choking back tears, Reed told me he was called into an office and threatened.
"He told me that he would fire me and I would lose my retirement," said Reed.
In 1996, there were 114 murders. Richmond was just two years removed from that ominous title of murder capital of the U.S..
Reed says he was told, "We do not need to change them into a homicide because it would raise the homicide rate. Don't tell the family, don't change anything."
Rachel asks, "Why come forward?"
"I want to notify the people in Kensington Gardens that their mother was murdered. It eats my insides up that her son called me twice a week for two or three months and I had to say, 'No, we haven't come up with anything yet,' and I knew we had come up with something."
Reed's wife said her husband had to come clean after years of sleepless nights and nightmares.
"He feels like he has lied to people for years about the whole case. He just can't take it anymore. It's just too hard on him," said Becky Reed.
He knows many people might be angry with him, but he said he could no longer bear the guilt. "I'm sure he killed more people than we knew about," said Reed.
Burchart died in prison a few years after his convictions. He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch just before his death that he wasn't the Golden Years killer. There wasn't a single piece of DNA that tied him to the killings, only the confessions of a madman. But police have always maintained he knew details about those deaths never released to the public.
Ron Reed says he came forward because he wants to find the family of the woman at Kensington Gardens and tell them his truth.
Richmond Police issued a statement. "The Richmond Police Department takes great pride in all of its investigations. We invite anyone who may have information about cases that we investigate to contact us. We try to bring all of our cases to successful conclusions." -- Gene Lepley, Richmond Police Spokesperson.
We also tracked down the man who was police chief at the time of the Golden Years homicides. Jerry Oliver told us the story was not true.
We are attempting to get records from of Richmond Police. Again, Reed wants to track down the family of the woman at Kensington Gardens.