AUGUSTA, VA (WWBT) - Wednesday marks twenty years since Rangers made a grim discovery at the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia - the battered bodies of two missing female hikers.
Over the years, we've seen an arrest in their murder, but the suspect was let go because there wasn't enough evidence. Now with new DNA testing capabilities, the FBI says the investigation is very active.
June 1996 - after a two day search, Park Rangers discover a remote campsite along the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah National Park. Not far from the busy Skyland Lodge was 24-year-old Julie Williams and 26-year-old Laura Lollie Winans. Their hands bound, mouths gagged and throats slit.
"Hard to believe it's 20 years of course," said Tom Williams, Julie Williams father.
He continues to wait for answers.
"It's challenging coming up with enough evidence to convict in any situation; certainly given the circumstances of Julie & Lollie's murders, it's especially true," said Tom Williams.
Julie and Lollie were lovers - a secret even to their families, a fact that threatened to steal more more headlines in 1996 than their brutal murders.
To this day, FBI investigators believe this was a horrific hate crime.
"I know it's been 20 years, but we continue to this day to try and exploit the existing evidence and try to obtain new evidence," said Adam Lee, Special Agent in charge of the Richmond Division. "Julie and Lollie are not forgotten in the Richmond division of the FBI."
New DNA technologies could be a key. Science has changed so much in 20 years.
Lee bristles at the term 'cold case'. He calls it pending and highly active.
"It's a case we are constantly trying to obtain new evidence, to shed light on the prosecutor's case ultimately," said Lee. "That is our goal is to build a case that we can deliver for them."
U.S. Attorney for the Western District John Fishwick is in close contact with investigators.
"Our office has not forgotten about Julie Williams and Lollie Winans," said Fishwick. "We're not going to rest until justice is done in this case."
In 1996, the Route 29 Stalker was terrorizing Virginia. Alicia Showalter Reynolds went missing - her body discovered in Culpepper. Then, three months later, the headline-grabbing Shenandoah Park Murders.
In 2002, federal prosecutors had a prime suspect: Darrell David Rice. He was eventually charged, but those were charges were dropped in 2004 due to lack of evidence.
Known serial killer Richard Evontiz has also been considered a suspect over the years. Responsible for the murders of three girls in Spotsylvania County, he died in 2002.
Lee wouldn't talk about any individual suspects, but he made it clear.
"I can tell you that nobody has been exonerated in the case," said Lee.
He wouldn't go deeply into any new discoveries, but he says the agency is actively leveraging new technologies in this case. His investigators are emotionally invested.
"They're human beings," said Lee. "They feel frustration. they know justice is out there and they're going to doggedly pursue finding it."
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