The bodies of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans, both 26 years old, were found on June 1, 1996, by park rangers in Shenandoah National Park in a campsite tucked away in the woods not far from the well-known Skyland Lodge. The search was initiated in response to Julie’s father’s allegation that they had failed to show up on May 29 as scheduled.
A sophisticated criminal scene was present. In their sleeping bags, both ladies had been bound with duct tape, although Lollie was in the tent and Julie had been taken 100 feet to a little brook. Their camping gear seems to have been rummaged through and piled up. A vibrator was clearly displayed on top of their camping gear. One fabric glove near the crime site, thought to be of a man’s size and style, was the sole readily apparent piece of forensic evidence. The glove included numerous hairs. Since there would have been no legitimate explanation for someone to have such a glove during the summer months at the park, it was considered that the crime had been planned.
Nobody who had seen or heard anything was ever located. A female park ranger advised staying close to where the women were discovered because she was quite certain she had given them a ride to the parking lot near the campsite. On May 24, 1996, around 5:30, it took place. Along with their tools, a camera (an antique film camera) was discovered. The film was promptly developed by the investigators. Every day, several photos were taken, with the most recent ones being taken on May 24th (these cameras have a “date stamp” for every photo shot).
Before the 24th, the women had been backpacking in the park for a week. Investigators made the assumption that the murders took place between May 24’s evening and May 25’s morning based on the sighting and the photos. In addition to checking the cameras set up at each park entry that recorded the license plates of all vehicles entering in the days before to May 25, they made an effort to locate any hikers who may have seen them. Hikers who reported seeing them after May 24th largely discounted their claims.
Following the autopsies, further information was made available. There was no evidence of sexual abuse against either woman; the women had been strangled to death. The death was determined to have occurred on May 28th (plus or minus one day). This determination, which is said to be state-of-the-art for determining the time of death, was established using a chemical study of the fluid in the eye. The “controversy” surrounding the death date would hinder the probe.
There was a lot of media coverage because the murders took place in a well-known National Pack where idyllic forest trails drew thousands of campers and hikers each year. As it turned out, Julie and Lollie were a lesbian couple who hadn’t told their relatives they were lesbians. This ended up giving the narrative a “human interest” component and raising the idea that this was a hate crime. The FBI joined the investigation since the killings took place on federal property, and there was a lot of pressure to make an arrest and secure a conviction.
There were worries that the case was going cold after 18 months of no suspects being located. Then, a man by the name of Darrell Rice was detained not far from the park for attempting to kidnap and assault a woman riding a bike. He was a well-known frequent visitor to the park, and a camera at the entrance confirmed his presence there on May 24, 1996, but he seemed to have an alibi for May 27 through May 29. He denied being responsible for the killings, but witnesses said they overheard him profess hatred towards lesbians and women in general.
They made the decision to conduct a DNA analysis using the glove hairs. Similar hairs were stuck in the glue on part of the duct tape, too. Hair typically lacks the familiar DNA that may be compared to databases. It only possesses M-DNA, or mitochondrial DNA, which is common among those who are not descended from the same female line but is not unique to all individuals. It would be unlikely but not impossible in the US for an innocent person to have M-DNA match with a sample from a crime scene; they would need to be related through female ancestors. Darrell Rice didn’t fit the bill. This did imply that he was innocent; prosecution was not an option despite the possibility that he had a partner or that there was some unidentified contamination.
An interesting fact was discovered after more analysis of the M-DNA results. The M-DNA belonged to a well-known serial killer who lived and worked close to the park, and it was almost an exact match. Three months prior, when he was going to be apprehended for kidnapping and raping a 15-year-old girl who escaped from his home, Richard Evonitz committed suicide. He was implicated in the rape and killing of three girls between the ages of 13 and 16, which started a few months after the Shenandoah murders, according to evidence discovered in his residence.
Because the crime is so dissimilar from Evonitz’s previous crimes, the majority of Law Enforcement personnel involved in the case currently tend to think Rice is the murderer. He kidnapped young girls, imprisoned them for days, and repeatedly raped them. The victims at Shenandoah were in their 20s, weren’t sexually abused, and passed away there and there. The M-DNA match was also quite close but not exact. Recent research has revealed that M-DNA matches might not always be 100% accurate due to several circumstances. The science is not as developed as that pertaining to well-known DNA.
Additionally, it’s conceivable that more recent testing than that carried out 25 years ago will provide more conclusive results. According to records kept by the FBI, Rice was identified as the suspect and the case was closed.