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FBI doubles Colonial Parkway murders reward, sends evidence for advanced testing

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Posted at 4:58 PM, Dec 18, 2009
and last updated 2012-03-01 11:44:25-05

Norfolk, Va. - The FBI is doubling the Colonial Parkway reward to $20,000 and is sending fingerprints and trace evidence from the murders for advanced scientific testing at its laboratory in Quantico, bureau officials said at a news conference Friday.

Alex J. Turner, special agent in charge of the Norfolk FBI office, said he could not promise when that blood and fiber evidence would be tested for DNA but said, "the FBI laboratory has committed to expediting the examinations."

"I think the focus is it is being done," Turner said. "That's the positive that we're looking at right now."

Turner also revealed how a Federal Bureau of Investigation slideshow of Parkway crime scene photographs was leaked to the public. He said a "non-agent" FBI photographer removed the slides without authorization to use as a presentation at a civilian security company. Turner said the photographer retired in 2001 and later died. The slides remained at the company which continued to use them, Turner said. He declined to identify the photographer or the agency.

The slides contained graphic crime-scene photographs, including autopsy images, taken during the investigations of the six murders and two disappearances on the Colonial Parkway and other rural roads in the region. The murders were never solved.

"As of this date, the Norfolk FBI has seized all slides and copies of the crime-scene photographs from the former employee's estate, the civilian training agency, and two other individuals identified during the course of the investigation," Turner said.

NewsChannel 3 revealed the existence of the leaked photographs in September. The station was provided copies by Fred Atwell, a former Gloucester sheriff's deputy who discovered the slides were being used by a civilian security company. Atwell said he tried for a year to get the FBI to investigate but was ignored.

When NewsChannel 3 called the FBI in September, a spokesman said the agency was aware of the photographs but there was nothing that could be done. But when the report aired, agents began rounding up the photographs. Turner said that was his decision.

"I felt that we needed to identify, or do our best to identify, who may have been in possession of those photographs, who may have taken those photographs, where they were acquired," Turner said. "I made that call as the special agent in charge. And that's what we did."

Turner repeated on Friday many of the updates he provided by phone Thursday night to families who lost relatives on the Colonial Parkway in the late 1980s. Turner told the families:

- An analysis found fingerprints and trace evidence that could be useful to the case.

- Reports and statements have been digitized and agents will use "intelligence analysts" to help review the files.

- Despite the absence of concrete evidence linking the cases, agents still believe all eight murders are the work of a serial killer or killers

"That's the working theory," Turner said.

Bill Thomas, brother of Cathleen Thomas, said the conference call with Turner was wide-ranging and, in many ways, reassuring to families who had felt ignored by the agency for decades.

"After 20 years of neglect by the FBI, the Thomas family is pleased to see the investigation moving forward," Thomas said from Los Angeles. "We were pleased with the phone call. We feel like Special Agent Turner and his team are making this case a priority."

The FBI is asking anyone with information on these killings to call the Norfolk office at (757) 455-0100 or to email Colonial_Parkway_Murders@ic.fbi.gov