A smalltime fisherman who died in 2017 has been linked to three cold-case homicides in Virginia from the 1980s, including two that were among a series of unsolved slayings of couples known as the “Colonial Parkway Murders,” law enforcement officials announced Monday.
Virginia State Police identified the suspect as Alan W. Wilmer Sr., but offered few details about how he’s tied to the killings, which occurred in 1987 and 1989, or when he became a suspect. However, authorities said Wilmer would be charged if he were alive.
“Part of the cold case philosophy is to go back over and start re-looking and going back through all the witness statements, all the evidence,” Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman, said at a news conference. “And it’s a very time consuming, very complex, but a very effective way.”
Investigators said they legally obtained Wilmer’s DNA after his death. Wilmer was not a convicted felon, which meant his DNA was not in any law enforcement databases. Two of the three victims were sexually assaulted.
The “Colonial Parkway Murders” involved the deaths of three couples and the suspected death of a fourth couple whose bodies were never recovered. The killings occurred between 1986 and 1989 on or near a scenic drive that connects Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown in southeastern Virginia.
In 1987, David Knobling, 20, and Robin Edwards, 14, were found fatally shot near the south bank of the James River in Isle of Wight County.
Geller said no forensic or physical evidence currently links that double homicide to the others, although the other cases remain active.
“Although the similarities in these series of double homicides that spanned a three-year period cannot be ignored, at this time, there is no forensic nor physical evidence to link the Isle of Wight County homicides to those other double murders,” said Geller, who added the other cases remain active.
In 2009, CBS affiliate WTKR-TV reported that dozens of graphic crime scene photos of the victims of the “Colonial Parkway Murders” were leaked to the public. They were used to teach a class by a retired former FBI photographer, the station reported at the time.
Geller read aloud a joint statement from the Knobling and Edwards families, which thanked the investigating law enforcement agencies.
“For 36 years, our families have lived in a vacuum of the unknown,” the statement said. “We have lived with the fear of worrying that a person capable of deliberately killing Robin and David could attack and claim another victim. Now we have a sense of relief and justice knowing that he can no longer victimize another. His death will not allow us to seek out the answers to countless questions that have haunted us for so long.”
Wilmer was also identified as the suspect in the 1989 slaying of Teresa Lynn Spaw Howell, 29, in the city of Hampton. Her strangulation death is not linked to the Colonial Parkway killings.
Howell’s body was found at a construction site about 11 miles from where Knobling and Edwards were found nearly two years before. Howell was last seen outside a popular nightclub.
Hampton Police Captain Rebecca Warren read aloud a statement from Howell’s family that also thanked investigators.
“Their dedication, relentless efforts and evolving technology have brought us closure that we have sought over the last 34 years,” the statement said. “While we are grateful for the closure that has been provided, nothing will bring Terry back. The void left by her absence over the years is inexpressible.”
Wilmer died at age 63. Geller said investigators are actively pursuing leads on the other killings and haven’t ruled anything out, including Wilmer’s potential involvement. Investigators are still working to reconstruct his movements and encounters with others during his lifetime.
Wilmer was 5’5″ tall, was muscular and weighed around 165 pounds, police said. He had sandy-brown hair, blue eyes, and a close-cropped beard.
Wilmer went by the nickname “Pokey” and drove a blue 1966 Dodge Fargo pickup truck with the license plate “EM-RAW,” police said.
He owned a small fishing boat named “the Denni Wade,” which he often lived on while it was docked at marinas along the many waterways in southeastern Virginia. He made a living through clamming and oystering but also ran a small business called “Better Tree Service.”
Brian Dugan, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Norfolk, asked for anyone who knew Wilmer to help.
“We recognize relationships and loyalties change over time,” Dugan said. “As do people and their perspectives. There are occasions where people who may have had knowledge of an incident didn’t feel comfortable coming forward with that information in the past, but we want them to know it’s not too late for them to step forward.”
Anyone who knew or worked with Wilmer is encouraged to contact the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or submitting a tip online at www.tips.fbi.gov.