FBI Links Serial Rapist to Murders in National Park

2 women were found with their throats slashed in Shenandoah National Park in 1996
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 21, 2024 2:30 AM CDT
FBI Identifies Killer of 2 Women in National Park
An image is displayed during a news conference concerning the 1996 murders of Laura "Lollie" Winans and Julianne "Julie" Williams at a campsite in Shenandoah National Park   (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Nearly three decades after two young women were found with their throats slashed in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, federal authorities announced Thursday that they have identified a now-deceased serial rapist from Ohio as the person they believe was responsible for the killings. The bodies of Julianne "Julie" Williams, 24, and her partner, Laura "Lollie" Winans, 26, were found bound and gagged at their campsite in the park in 1996. The killings sent a wave of fear through the LGBTQ+ community, but the FBI said during a news conference Thursday that there is no evidence that the women were targeted because of their sexual orientation, the AP reports..

  • The long-unsolved killings were reviewed by a new investigative team starting in 2021, said Stanley Meador, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Richmond office. Recently, a private lab pulled DNA from several pieces of evidence from the crime scene and sent the genetic profile to the FBI's Combined DNA Index System database.
  • They got a positive match to Walter "Leo" Jackson Sr., a convicted rapist originally from the Cleveland, Ohio, area. Meador said the FBI then got DNA from the original swab taken from Jackson when he was charged in another rape in Ohio, which confirmed the match. He said the recent DNA testing found there is only a one in 2.6 trillion chance that the DNA found at the crime scene came from someone other than Jackson.

  • Jackson, who worked as a house painter, died in prison in 2018 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, at age 70. He had served at least four separate prison terms after being convicted of kidnapping and multiple rapes and assaults.
  • The recent retesting of crime scene evidence showed that both Williams and Winans were sexually assaulted, said Christopher Kavanaugh, the US Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. Kavanaugh said authorities investigated whether the rapes and killings could be considered hate crimes. But he said they found no evidence that Jackson knew of their sexual orientation or targeted them for that reason.
  • Make no mistake, this crime was brutal, this crime was definitely hateful, nevertheless we do not have any evidence" that the crime was motivated by anti-gay bias, Kavanaugh said.
  • Meador said the FBI is continuing to work with other law enforcement agencies to determine if Jackson is responsible for other unsolved crimes. "Our investigation will not stop," he said.
(More cold cases stories.)

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