Closure Without Justice: FBI Solves 1996 Shenandoah Murders After Nearly Three Decades

Walter Leo Jackson Sr.
Walter Leo Jackson Sr.

RICHMOND, Va. ( –¬†After nearly three decades, the FBI announced on Thursday, June 20, that investigators have solved the 1996 murders of Julianne “Julie” Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans, who were killed while camping at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

The FBI reanalyzed evidence and matched DNA to Walter “Leo” Jackson Sr., a convicted serial rapist who died in an Ohio prison in 2018. The announcement brings bittersweet closure to the families of the victims, who have long sought answers. “They’ve been seeking answers far too long,” said Stanley Meador, a special agent in charge with the Richmond FBI office in Virginia.

Winans and Williams were found bound, gagged, and with their throats slashed. Further investigation revealed both women had been sexually assaulted. The murders had initially led to the wrongful accusation of Darrell David Rice, who was charged with the crimes but later exonerated after forensic evidence ruled him out as a suspect.

In 2021, a new investigative team reviewed the case. A private lab pulled DNA from several pieces of evidence, which led to the match with Jackson. Authorities confirmed the DNA match with additional testing from Jackson’s previous swab taken for another rape case. The likelihood of the DNA belonging to someone other than Jackson is one in 2.6 trillion.

Kathryn Miles, author of “Trailed: One Woman’s Quest to Solve the Shenandoah Murders,” expressed frustration that the case could have been solved while Jackson was still alive, allowing for an arrest and prosecution. “That should have happened 20 years ago,” she said. Despite the resolution, the families are left with many unanswered questions.

The FBI noted that while the crime was brutal and hateful, there is no evidence it was motivated by anti-gay bias. The murders have left a lasting impact on the LGBTQ+ community, instilling a sense of fear and insecurity. “This was a hate crime and continues to act as a hate crime in the sense that it had this secondary trauma for an entire generation of people who identify as female and who identify as queer,” Miles said.

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