1996 Shenandoah National Park double murder of gay couple solved

June 25, 2024

The bodies of Laura “Lollie” Winans, 26, and Julianne “Julie” Williams, 24, were discovered in Shenandoah National Park on June 1, 1996, at a campsite in Creekside, half a mile from Skyland lodge in central Virginia. Park rangers made the discovery around three miles from Skyland Drive.

Lollie and Julie were a couple who met in Minnesota, while partaking in an outdoors program, Woodswomen, an adventure and travel organization for women based in Minneapolis. Lollie was studying outdoor recreation at Unity College, Maine, and was just several months shy of graduating. Julie studied at Carleton College in Minnesota.

Lollie's friends described her as a kind and quiet music-lover.

Julie, who was on her way to becoming a geologist, was described as a "high achiever."

Both women had experience with the outdoors and were on a five-day hike through the park, scheduled to end on Memorial Day, when they were brutally slain.

The hike began on May 19, and the girls were last seen on May 24, 1996. The adventure was cut-short near the Appalachian Trail, ending in tragedy.

After Lollie neglected to return home as scheduled, she was reported missing by her family, and park rangers began to search for her.

Lollie's dog, Taj, a golden retriever who was with them on the hike, was found alone in the woods by rangers. The vehicle the girls had arrived in was found in the Skyland Lodge Hotel parking lot.

Rangers soon found the girls in the tent, bound and gagged - their throats slit.

News of the murders didn’t make it into the news media for 24 hours; journalists at the time remember debates on Lollie and Julie’s connection to one another, whether it was romantic, and if so, should the fact that they were a lesbian couple be published. According to friends of the victims, the girls were not publicly out yet, and many earlier reports stated they were companions.

The FBI joined forces with park rangers to comb through the crime scene. Both women had been murdered in the same way, one found outside the tent, the other found inside. Robbery as a motive was ruled out when the victim's personal belongings were found still at the crime scene.

Links were made between the Virginia Colonial Parkway murders- a series of serial murders that took place at a lover's lane between 1986 - 1989. In October of 1986, another young lesbian couple had been murdered in much the same way, their throats deeply cut, no sign of robbery.

In 2002, an inmate serving time for another crime, pleaded not guilty in the double homicide. Former drug dealer and computer programmer, Darrell David Rice, 34 at the time, was accused of the murders, prosecutors said, because of their "actual or perceived orientation." An article in The Charlotte Observer published April 26, 2002, described court documents in which Rice was said to be a "violent misogynist who told them that Williams and Winans deserved to die because they were lesbians." It was reported that the FBI homed in on Rice after working their way through thousands of leads.

He had attempted to kidnap a female cyclist in the park in 1997, but she managed to escape him and alert police.

Rice initially became a suspect due to his history of committing crimes in the Shenandoah National Park area. He was captured on surveillance footage entering the park on May 25, 1996, and leaving the day after, only to return on the day the bodies were discovered.

DNA discovered at the scene eventually ruled out Rice as the perpetrator, and the case remained cold until June 2024 when the FBI announced that they had identified the suspect, after a review of the case.

DNA found at the scene of the crime was sent to a lab, where a profile of the killer was created. The DNA was then entered into CODIS, The FBI's Combined DNA Index System, where the killer's name was revealed: Walter Leo Jackson Sr. a Cleveland, Ohio native and serial rapist. Jackson Sr. had a laundry list of crimes under his belt, including rapes, assaults, and kidnappings, and died in Cuyahoga County, Ohio in the spring of 2018.

He worked as a residential painter and was often found at Shenandoah National Park as he liked to hike, and was also known to switch out his vehicles often, as well as his license plates, often using temporary plates to disguise his own.

The FBI are currently seeking information regarding possible other unsolved crimes Jackson may have been responsible for.

The FBI have provided a list of time frames in which Jackson could not be responsible for any cold cases, writing:

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections provided the following timeline of when Jackson was incarcerated. Jackson would be excluded as a possible suspect for any unsolved crimes that occurred during this time period. 

-January 1984 through February 1989 (Charged in Geauga County, Ohio) -May 1994 through September 1994 (Charged in Cuyahoga County, Ohio) 
-August 2000 through May 2007 (Charged in Cuyahoga County, Ohio) 
-May 2012 until his death in March 2018 (Charged in Cuyahoga County, Ohio)

 Anyone with information is urged to contact the FBI's Toll-Free tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324)


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