Colonial Parkway

I know just about everyone in the area is familiar with Colonial Parkway; 23-miles of scenic parkway linking three of Virginia's historic cities, Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. The parkways meandering path carries you along a tree covered road that follows the York River and then the James River for most of its way.

It's a great way to travel from the Pub or the Deli at Yorktown Beach or to leave the Battlefield and ride to Jamestown settlement or take the Ferry and cross over the James River to Surry and ride some of the area's best roads heading to all points in Virginia.

But I wonder how many know some of the Parkway's history?

"In 1930, a survey of the area was undertaken by National Park Service (NPS) for a 500-foot (150 m) right-of-way for the parkway.

Between Yorktown and Williamsburg, the initial proposals called for the parkway to follow an inland route along colonial-era roads. However, instead, it was decided to align the road along the York River through U.S. Navy land to avoid grade crossings, extensive tangents, modern intrusions and other "visual junk". This land included the Naval Weapons Station (Yorktown) and the former E.I. DuPont explosives factory and town complex at Penniman, Virginia which later became known as Cheatham Annex.

Following the parkway concept of Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmsted, designers of New York City's Central Park, the planners of the Colonial Parkway used a model of a limited access highway with broad sweeping curves, set in a meticulously landscaped right-of-way devoid of commercial development. These features, derived from 19th-century Romantic landscape theories, created a safer and more pleasant drive compared to the increasingly congested urban strips. In addition to protecting the views, culvert headwalls and parkway underpasses were clad in antiquated "Virginia-style" brick laid in English and Flemish bonds to promote a "colonial-era" effect. Design features such as molded coping rails, string courses and buttresses followed the historical prototypes found at Williamsburg.

The land for ten miles (16 km) of the route between Yorktown and Williamsburg was given to the NPS free of charge, and construction began on first on this portion.

By 1937, the road was completed to just outside Williamsburg. There was some debate over the routing in the Williamsburg area, and eventually a tunnel was selected. The tunnel under the historic district of Colonial Williamsburg was completed by 1942, but opening was delayed by World War II and some structural and flooding problems. It finally opened for traffic in 1949, leaving only the Williamsburg-to-Jamestown section to be built.

The parkway was closed through Navy lands near Yorktown during World War II. New utility lines and access roads were built across the parkway to serve defense needs and the road was used for convoy training. In 1945, the U.S. Navy agreed to halt all transports on the parkway and help in the restoration of the landscape destroyed during three years of wartime use.

During the early 1950s in anticipation of the 1957 350th anniversary of Jamestown's founding, the park finalized plans to complete the parkway, still following the same design standards. Several long fills were required near the James River and workers rebuilt the isthmus to Jamestown Island which had been severed by weather since the colonial days when Jamestown was actually a peninsula. Other major improvements at the southern terminus included development of Jamestown Island as part of the Colonial National Historical Park and the adjacent Jamestown Festival Park, which was largely state-funded by Virginia.

On April 27, 1957, the Colonial Parkway was opened for traffic along the entire route between Yorktown and Jamestown. Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain and her consort Prince Philip made a state visit that year on October 16"

The parkway passes through many areas of beauty and historical significance. At one overlook the signs tell us that on May 5th 1862 that Lt. George A. Custer led a detachment over the roadway and crossed Cub Dam Creek as part of the Battle of Williamsburg.

The parkway has some more recent and dark history, not only was it rumored that German Submarines actually traveled up the York River during WWII, but even more recently the parkway was menaced by its own serial killer from 1986 and 1989.

"The Colonial Parkway Killer was an apparent serial killer believed to have murdered at least eight people along the Colonial Parkway of the U.S. Commonwealth of Virginia (or nearby) between 1986 and 1989. During that time, three couples were murdered and one couple is missing and presumed to be dead.

The first two known victims were Cathleen Thomas, 27, and Rebecca Ann Dowski, 21. The lesbian couple liked to park on the Colonial Parkway for privacy. On October 12, 1986, their bodies were found inside Thomas' Honda Civic, which had been pushed down an embankment near an area of the parkway that was popular with gay couples. An autopsy found rope burns on their necks and wrists, signs of strangulation, and their throats had been slashed. Their purses and money were found inside the car. It appears that Thomas may have struggled with her attacker. A clump of the suspect's hair was later captured by her fingers. Both women were fully clothed and there was no evidence of sexual assault.

On September 22, 1987, David Knobling, 20, and Robin Edwards, 14, were found murdered in the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge, on the south shore of the James River in Isle of Wight County, near Smithfield, Virginia. Knobling's truck was found at the refuge three days before the bodies were discovered by his father.

On April 9, 1988, Cassandra Lee Hailey and Richard Keith Call were reported missing after attending a party in the University Square area in Newport News during their first date together. Call's vehicle was found, unoccupied, on the Colonial Parkway the next day. Neither body has been found, but both are presumed dead.

On October 19, 1989, the bodies of Annamaria Phelps, 18, and Daniel Lauer, 21, were found in New Kent County by hunters in the woods near a rest area on Interstate 64 between Williamsburg and Richmond. They had been missing since September 5 when the couple vanished on route to Virginia Beach. The hunters discovered the bodies on a logging road about a quarter-of-a-mile from Courthouse Road, a location about a mile from the I-64, New Kent rest stop.

In 1996, the unsolved case of the Colonial Parkway Killer was presented on national television on the program Real Stories of the Highway Patrol, a series that aired from 1993-1999. Actor Steve Altes portrayed the killer.

In 2007, the murders of Cassandra Hailey and Keith Call were featured in the Investigation Discovery program "Sensing Murder," whereby investigators brought in psychics Pam Coronado and Laurie Campbell to gain new insights into the crimes. The show mentioned these murders may be part of the Colonial Parkway killings. Psychic Pam Coronado felt that the killings were all related but that the location of the cars was not where the actual violence occurred.

In June 2010, the victims' families requested the assistance of a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective, Steven Spingola, an investigator with a national reputation for excellence.

After visiting the crime scenes, Spingola spoke with a handful of family members, tipsters, and law enforcement veterans. In August 2010, Spingola released Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders, a 29-page magazine article that detailed his findings.

Spinigola ascertained that the murders are the work of different killers, especially the slayings of Cathleen Thomas and Rebecca Dowski. The former homicide detective believes the Thomas-Dowski crimes are directly linked to the deaths of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams-a lesbian couple found with their throats slashed in the Shenandoah National Park, 180 miles west of the Colonial Parkway, in 1996. Spingola identified the deaths of these lesbian couples as crimes of hate and profiled the killer.

After Spingola's team of investigative journalists, known as the Spingola Files (SF), after their Web site's online moniker, visited Yorktown, Virginia, a family member of one of the victims searched the belongings of her deceased relative. A note was discovered that may identify a possible person of interest in one of the couple-homicides. While the Virginia State Police claim the information in this note was previously examined, one of the lead investigators at the time of 1989 murders told a television reporter from WAVY that he could not recall such a note.

Spingola's lengthy magazine article has its critics. A family member of one of the victims claimed the former detective sought to profit from his writings. In Predators on the Parkway, Spingola also described the vehicle of the possible person of interest mentioned in the recovered note, which a family member of a victim dubbed "irrelevant" to the overall investigation. But Spingola and his SF staff insist that the note found in a victim's belongings is "very significant" and that the proceeds from Predators on the Parkway are used to off-set costs associated with records requests and travel to explore other unsolved homicides.

In January 2010, after crime scene photographs of Colonial Parkway murder victims were used inappropriately to instruct a class by a retired and now deceased former FBI photographer, the bureau reopened its investigation of the Colonial Parkway murders. Investigators soon found that evidence, stowed for over two-decades, had yet to be tested for DNA. Responding to media criticism, the FBI met with the victims' families. Dozens of pieces of evidence were then submitted to the FBI's crime lab for DNA analysis. The FBI reportedly told the victims' families that the results of DNA testing should be available in the latter part 2010, although the testing of crime scene evidence and interviews of suspects has continued through the fall of 2011.

As of 2014, the killer has not yet been identified. Investigators have speculated that the suspect might be a law enforcement officer, someone impersonating one, or perhaps a rogue operative from the Central Intelligence Agency, which has a training facility nearby at Camp Peary in York County. Other investigators believe the killings were committed by more than one person working as a team

Remember the parkway killer has never been caught, so as you enjoy your leisurely ride along this scenic parkway keep an eye out for the killer he could be hiding in the bushes waiting to get you…

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