State and federal investigators rushed to Hanover County on Tuesday to compare evidence in the state's most recent double murder to several murders and disappearances on the Peninsula.
Two decomposed bodies found Tuesday in Mechanicsville were identified Wednesday through dental records as 21-year-old Deborah S. Ferguson, a Virginia Commonwealth University art student, and 20-year-old James R. Sherrin, a former VCU student. The couple had been missing since May 18.
Although the immediate investigation found nothing to connect the Hanover case with the Peninsula cases, Hanover sheriff's deputies agreed to keep state and federal investigators "up to date" on the case, said Lt. Howard L. Wray Jr. of Hanover. In January the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations in Richmond assigned two agents full time to review the four Peninsula cases involving young couples.
Since then, "we are especially watchful of any special case taking place," said Tom Stanley, special agent in charge of the office. "We go to see if there is a ressemblance, a connection, or what have you."
Both the State Police and FBI declined to deny or confirm the possibility of a serial killer in the cases on the Peninsula, or whether they fear more deaths as a motive for putting new emphasis on the case.
"We're fully aware of all the similarities and likenesses," said Tom Love with the FBI in Norfolk, hesitating before adding, "and all their dissimilarities."
State police have jurisdiction over two of the Peninsula cases:
* The murders of 21-year-old Daniel Lauer and 18-year-old Anna Marie Phelps, who were last seen alive Sept. 4. His car was spotted the next day in the Interstate 64 rest area in New Kent County, and their bodies were found a short distance from the rest area on Oct.19.
* The murders of 20-year-old David Knobling and 14-year-old Robin Edwards, whose bodies washed ashore at the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge in Isle of Wight County Sept. 23, 1987, three days after Knobling's pickup was found there with the driver's door open, the key in the ignition, the radio playing and some of the couple's clothes on the seat.
The FBI has jurisidiction over two cases that occurred in the Colonial National Historic Park:
* The murders of Rebecca A. Dowski, a 21-year-old College of William and Mary senior, and Kathleen Thomas, a 28-year-old Virginia Beach stockbroker, found Oct. 12, strangled and with their throats cut, in Thomas' car several yards off the Colonial Parkway.
* The April 10, 1988, disappearance of Richard Keith Call, 20, of Gloucester County, and Cassandra Hailey, 18, of York County. Call's car was found in a pullover with the driver's door open and car keys and clothes lying on the seat.
The FBI and state investigators have been working the cases together to take advantage of more manpower and the ability to make comparisons, Stanley said.
"They stick their noses in everything that happens within an hour and a half of the Peninsula," Wray said. Working on the accumulation theory, they might find something at scene one and a little more of it at scene four, for example, and, "If you get enough of this cumulative evidence, it might put you on the right track," he said.
In the last several weeks, state investigators have interviewed parents of all the missing or murdered except for those in the Dowski-Thomas case, who live out of state and have not been reached yet, Stanley said.
Richard Call, Keith Call's father, said he was encouraged by the meeting with agents from the FBI and the state police. "Basically, we're kind of glad there is a lot of action going on," he said.
"I think basically they've started investigating it as a case of a serial killer, and they're afraid it's going to happen again, and that's why there's a big push now," he said.