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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Charles Severance Triple Murder Case

The Nancy Dunning Murder Case

     In 2003, Nancy Dunning, a 56-year-old real estate agent, lived with her husband who was the sheriff of Fairfax County in Alexandria, Virginia outside of Washington, D.C. A community activist, Mrs. Dunning organized arts festivals and other events including a farmer's market. 
     On December 5, 2003, when Nancy failed to show up for a lunch date at the Atlantis Restaurant in the Bradlee Shopping Center, her husband John and their 23-year-old son Chris went to the house to check on her. They found Nancy lying dead in the foyer. She had been shot several times. There was no forced entry and nothing had been taken from the dwelling. 
     Homicide investigators theorized that the victim had been murdered when she answered her front door. Detectives were unable to identify a suspicious man caught on a nearby Target outlet surveillance camera that morning. Just before her death, Nancy had shopped at that Potomac Yard Target store. 
     A $100,000 reward failed to attract any productive information in the case. There was some speculation that Nancy Dunning had been the target in a murder-for-hire plot. John Dunning died in 2012. 

The Ronald Kirby Murder Case
     Ronald Kirby lived with his wife Anne Haynes and their two children in Alexandria, Virginia. The 69-year-old, in 2013, was the director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He had worked at the agency for 25 years and was a nationally known transportation expert. 
     Mr. Kirby, who took pride in taking the bus or Metrorail to work every day, played tennis and often accompanied his wife to dance classes. He was also an avid Washington Redskins fan. 
     On November 11, 2013, a relative found Mr. Kirby dead just inside the front door to his home. He had been shot several times in the torso. Investigators believed the victim had been murdered that morning between ten and noon. As in the Dunning case, there was no forced entry and the crime wasn't motivated by theft. Investigators have no idea who had committed this murder and no clue as to why. 

The Ruthanne Lodato Murder Case
     Norman and Ruthanne Lodato lived in the North Ridge neighborhood of Alexandria a little more than a mile from where Ronald Kirby was murdered. Ruthanne's 89-year-old mother Mary Lucy Giammittoria resided in the house with them. The couple employed a caregiver to help with Ruthanne's mother. Norman Lodato was an active member of the North Ridge Citizen's Association and Ruthanne was a locally well-known piano teacher with a program called Music Together in Alexandria. 
     At eleven-thirty on the morning of February 6, 2014, Ruthanne and her mother's caregiver were shot when they answered a knock at their front door. The shooter fired several bullets into the 59-year-old Lodato and a single bullet into the caregiver. Mrs. Lodato died on the spot. The other woman survived her wound. 
     Seconds after the two women were shot, a next door neighbor looked out her window when she heard a dog barking. The witness saw a bald man with a beard in a tan jacket run across the Ladato front yard. The suspect appeared to be in his fifties or sixties. The authorities have released a sketch of this white suspect's face. 
     There were similarities in the Dunning, Kirby, and Lodato murders. The victims lived in Alexandria, Virginia and were shot with a small-caliber handgun in the morning when they answered their front doors. The victims were active, high-profile members of the community, and they shared an interest in the arts. They did not, however, know each other. 
     On March 6, 2014, Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook told reporters gathered at a news conference that ballistics evidence suggests a link between the three murders. The victims had been shot by bullets of the same caliber that feature rifling striations that were generally similar. As a result, detectives were looking for a serial killer.

     In February 2014, police arrested a 55-year-old suspect in the Ruthanne Lodato case named Charles Severance. Severance, with long white hair and a matching beard, was identified by Janet Dorcas, the healthcare aide the shooter had wounded. Another witness had seen Severance driving in the area about the time of Lodato's murder.

     Mr. Severance, an eccentric who had graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in mechanical engineering, had run for political office in 1996 and 2000 and on both occasions had lost. As part of his election platform, Severance wanted public educators to incorporate country dancing in their curricula.

     In the suspect's voluminous essays, manifestos and notes, investigators found this passage: "Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit. Murder." The passage did not, however, mention any victim by name. A forensic psychiatrist for the state diagnosed Severance as having a "personality disorder with mixed paranoid and schizotypal features."

     As for motive for murdering Lodato, Kirby, and Dunning, prosecutors believed Severance killed these three strangers because they represented Alexandria's elite. Following a child custody battle that he had lost, Severance, as the theory went, developed an intense hatred of Alexandria that he took out of the three high-profile women of that community.

     The Charles Severance triple murder case went to trial in Fairfax, Virginia in November 2015. Without a murder weapon, confession, or physical evidence connecting the defendant to any of the three murder scenes, the prosecution's case was relatively weak. A forensic ballistics expert tied the Lodato murder, the one with the eyewitness, to the Kirby and Dunning killings.

     Following the three-week trial, the jury, after deliberating fifteen hours, found Charles Severance guilty of all three murders. The judge sentenced him to three life sentences.
    

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