Killer of 2 Women in National Park in 1996 Has Been Identified, F.B.I. Says

It took the authorities one week to find the bodies of Julianne Williams and Laura Winans near their campsite at a national park in Virginia in 1996 after their family reported them missing. But it would take nearly three decades for the authorities to identify the person they believe killed them.

The F.B.I. office in Richmond on Thursday announced that new DNA evidence showed that Walter Leo Jackson Sr., a convicted serial rapist from Ohio who died in prison six years ago, had killed the couple in what initially was believed to have been an anti-gay hate crime and led to charges against another man that were eventually dropped by prosecutors in 2004.

“After 28 years, we are now able to say who committed the brutal murders of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams in Shenandoah National Park,” Christopher R. Kavanaugh, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia, said in a news release. “I want to again extend my condolences to the Winans and Williams families and hope today’s announcement provides some small measure of solace.”

An F.B.I. investigative team revisited the case in 2021, the agency said. It re-examined previous leads and interviews and evidence recovered from the site of the killings. Investigators submitted some of the evidence for DNA testing and found a match to Mr. Jackson’s DNA, the agency 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,” Stanley M. Meador, the F.B.I. special agent in charge in Richmond, said in a news release.

Mr. Jackson, who painted homes for a living, died in an Ohio prison in March 2018, officials said. He had an extensive criminal history, including convictions for rape, kidnapping and assault.

At a news conference on Thursday, officials said that there was evidence that Mr. Jackson had sexually assaulted both women before killing them, The Associated Press reported.

Park rangers discovered Ms. Williams and Ms. Winans with their throats slashed on June 1, 1996, near the Skyland Resort in Shenandoah National Park, according to officials and a report in The Roanoke Times in 2002.

That year, federal prosecutors announced that another man, Darrell David Rice, had been indicted in the slayings of the women, The Roanoke Times reported.

The U.S. attorney general at the time stated that Mr. Rice, who had a history of violence toward women and had been charged for attacking a woman at the same national park, had targeted the couple because they were women and they were lesbians, the paper reported.

In 2004, prosecutors dropped the murder charges against Mr. Rice because DNA evidence ultimately did not match him or the women.

At the news conference, officials said that they had investigated whether Mr. Jackson could be charged with a hate crime, but found no evidence suggesting that he knew about the sexual orientation of the women, The Associated Press reported.

At the time of the killings, Mr. Jackson, who officials said was an avid hiker, was believed to have been driving a 1984 Chestnut Brown AMC Eagle 30 and later drove a Ford van.

At the news conference, the F.B.I. released details about his vehicles along with photos of Mr. Jackson and asked for the public’s help determining whether he had additional victims.

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