In the summer of 1973, two teenage friends took a road trip from Pittsburgh to Virginia for a week long vacation in the quiet coastal city of Virginia Beach.
Best friends Lynn Seethaler, an editorial assistant and Janice Pietropola, a secretary, both 19 years of age, rented a cottage motel together on 10th street and Atlantic Avenue near the Oceanfront. They spent their days on the beach, swimming and sun bathing and their evenings relaxing with a few beers, often in the company of new friends they had met while vacationing.
On the final day of their trip the girls failed to check out, so a member of staff was sent down to their cabin to wake them. When the staff members knocks went unanswered they retrieved the door key and opened up the room to reveal a horrific sight.
The cottage was covered in blood and the two teenage girls had been violently murdered.
Lynn Seethaler was found dead with a bullet wound to her face and head. On top of that she had been strangled and her throat was slit with a shard of glass from a nearby broken wine bottle. Her friend, Janice Pietropola, was found with similar injuries. She had sustained three gunshots to the side of the head, displayed signs of strangulation and had also been raped. It was later confirmed that the girls had been shot with a .22 caliber handgun.
The victim’s personal possessions were found strewn and scattered around the room, but nothing seemed to be missing so robbery as a motive was quickly ruled out. Investigators determined that the perpetrator had gained access to the cottage through a broken window. The police searched the area extensively, utilizing a helicopter to search by air and even accessing the sewage system via manholes to search for the offender, to no avail.
The pretty teenage tourists went on a few dates while vacationing at Virginia Beach. Investigators batted around the theory that the girls had been murdered by someone they had met and maybe even spent time with, but with no evidence and no suspect they couldn’t rule out that the teens may have been targeted by a complete stranger.
The cottage was one of several that stood in a row not far from the seafront. Looking at the old black and white crime scene photos of the motel it’s difficult to imagine such an extreme act of violence took place at the unassuming beachside residence.
Despite the local police departments best efforts they could not identify a suspect and the crime went unsolved for over 40 years. The local community lived in fear of what they believed to be a serial killer as several more young women were found slain in the area over the next decade.
The case remained cold for over 4 decades until 2018 when an 80 year old man residing in an apartment for veterans in Queens, New York came up on the police radar. The suspect was later identified as Ernest Broadnax, who would have been in his mid-thirties at the time of the Virginia Beach murders. With the help of modern day forensic technology police were able to connect the St. Albans pensioner to the 1973 double homicide. Details of his arrest have not yet been published in the media, but it is believed that the suspect's DNA was found at the scene and matched to an entry in a national database.
The New York Times published an older image of E. J Broadnax.
Police looked into his criminal record and discovered that he had been incarcerated many times in the past and had a handful of other convictions under his belt including weapon possession, trespassing, burglary and assault. His neighbors in Queens did not know him well but said he was a volunteer at a local church food bank and admitted that they were aware of his struggles with alcohol addiction. Volunteers at the church saw him as a frail old man, they gave him light jobs and made sure he had food in his stomach and clean clothes on his back. They described him with words like “humble” and “kind” and had no idea of the cruel and violent assault he mercilessly inflicted on the two teenage girls back in 1973.
Ernest Broadnax is originally from Virginia where the crime took place. He later relocated to New York.
Broadnax has been charged with one count of rape and two counts of second degree murder and is currently being held at Vernon C. Bain Correctional Center, informally known as “the boat” in the Bronx. The boat is a 16 dorm anchored barge on the southern shore. He is expected to be extradited to Virginia and present in court on the 22nd of this month. It is unknown at this point in time if Broadnax is involved in any of the other unsolved murders that took place around the oceanfront.
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