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
"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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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