Suspect identified in women’s 1996 double murder at national park campsite: FBI

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(RICHMOND, Va.) — After nearly three decades, a convicted serial rapist has been identified as the suspect in the 1996 double murder of two women in a Virginia national park, federal authorities said.

But the suspect won’t face charges, as he died in prison six years ago, authorities said.

On May 24, 1996, Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26, and Julianne “Julie” Williams, 24, were sexually assaulted and killed in a “brutal” attack at their Shenandoah National Park campsite, Christopher Kavanaugh, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said at a Thursday news conference.

Winans and Williams met through an organization providing outdoor adventure and educational programs for women, Kavanaugh said.

The women went into the park on May 19 and were last seen alive on the evening of May 24, Kavanaugh said.

Their relatives called the National Park Service when they didn’t come home, and their bodies were discovered a week later, the FBI said.

Decades went by without answers.

Then, in 2021, a new FBI team was assigned to investigate the case, and the team determined what evidence would be suitable for retesting, FBI Richmond special agent in charge Stanley Meador said.

A lab recently “pulled DNA from several items of evidence,” and that DNA profile was submitted to CODIS, the national law enforcement DNA database, the FBI said in a statement.

The DNA profile was a positive match to Walter “Leo” Jackson Sr., a convicted serial rapist and avid hiker who was known to visit Shenandoah National Park, the FBI said.

“Even though we had this DNA match, we took additional steps and compared evidence from Lollie and Julie’s murders directly to a buccal swab containing Jackson’s DNA,” Meador said in a statement. “Those results confirmed we had the right man and finally could tell the victims’ families we know who is responsible for this heinous crime.”

The FBI said, “Jackson had a lengthy criminal history, including kidnapping, rapes, and assaults.”

On June 5, 1996, just days after the double murder at Shenandoah National Park, Jackson kidnapped and raped a woman at knifepoint in Ohio, Kavanaugh said. One month later, he kidnapped and raped another woman at knifepoint, Kavanaugh said.

Jackson was most recently sent to prison in 2011 and died behind bars in Ohio in March 2018, the FBI said.

Kavanaugh noted that 22 years ago, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging another man in the murders of Winans and Williams, but “that case was not built on forensic evidence.”

In 2003, in the lead up to the trial, prosecutors “moved to continue that case because the government’s experts concluded that DNA” from the crime scene was from a then-unidentified man — not their defendant, Kavanaugh said.

Prosecutors then dismissed the case, Kavanaugh said.

The re-testing of the crime scene evidence developed the DNA profile that was uploaded to CODIS, leading to Jackson, Kavanaugh said.

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