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Abandoned property where human remains found in search for Hannah Graham likened to ‘horror film’ set

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Posted at 9:06 AM, Oct 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-21 09:06:29-04

An Albemarle County resident offers a vivid description of the abandoned property off Old Lynchburg Road where investigators located human remains and is now the scene of a death investigation.

The remains were found behind an abandoned home, just eight miles from where missing UVA student Hannah Graham was last seen.

“It looks like a movie set from a horror film,” Caroline Burns told WTVR.  “It’s very disturbing and it’s rather alarming because it’s so quiet down here.”

Caroline Burns

Caroline Burns

Neighbor Elias Awad also offered a chilling narrative, calling the property a “ghost place” that no one maintained.

“There’s no one I have seen step foot on the property,” Awad reiterated.

However, investigators said someone did step foot on the property before Saturday, when human remains were found there by Chesterfield County Sheriff’s deputies assisting in the search for Hannah.

Those remains have since been taken to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond. While police cannot yet say they belong to Hannah, they do say they have suspended the search for the 18-year-old.

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“I just felt very badly for the parents if it does turn out to be Hannah at least they’ll have some closure on it but it’s just a horrible thing to happen,” Burns said.

Elias Awad

Elias Awad

Awad agreed and said that he is more accustomed to being greeted by the beautiful sight of his farm out his front door. But after Saturday, he’s now faced with blue lights, crime scene tape and the realization that somebody likely lost their life just feet from his home.

“We’ve had the police come in. Nobody had a reason to see anything. Chances are it was dark in the night and everybody was tucked in and the rest was history,” he said.

Just four miles from the abandoned Albemarle County property where the remains were found sits the house Jesse Matthew Jr. and his mother once called home.

“She wanted to try to keep Jesse out of the city away from gang activity — if there was any in the city. She was just trying to make it safe for her son,” neighbor Cliff Hunt told WTVR.

While the ordeal has been hard on the tight-knit Charlottesville community, it has also been inexpressibly difficult for Hannah Graham’s parents waiting for word if forensic testing will confirm their worst fears.

It has also been tough for Jesse Matthew’s father, who through a friend told WTVR that he is heartbroken for Hannah’s family and his own, as they come to grips with mounting serious allegations against their son who so many thought they knew.

Forensic psychologist Mike Banks told WTVR that the investigation is likely intensive and expansive at the abandoned property.

“I’ve seen crime scene investigators crawling inch by inch with a magnifying glass,” Banks said. “You never know what you’re going to find in the bushes, you never know what you’re going to find near the body, under the body, on the body.”

Banks said that dental records could identify the remains, but that investigators want to be sure of their findings.

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The last hours Hannah was seen

On the evening of Sept. 12, she was seen at a party before friends saw her at an apartment complex a couple of blocks away. That was shortly before midnight.

About 12:45 a.m. on Sept. 13, a surveillance camera caught her outside of a pub, about three-quarters of a mile from the apartment complex. Other surveillance cameras captured her, as she ran past a gas station, walked past an Italian cafe and then by a jewelry store.

At 1:20 a.m., Graham texted her friends to say she was lost and trying to find a party. She and a man said to be Matthew were seen having drinks at a bar between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m.

Police believe she may have been under the influence of alcohol, making her less able to defend herself.

Matthew is believed to be the last person who saw Graham alive.

He was named a person of interest after police conducted a search of his vehicle and then his home. Once forensic evidence returned, a warrant was issued charging him with the abduction of Graham, with intent to defile.

Authorities later found Matthew 1,300 miles away camping on a beach in Galveston, Texas. The 32-year-old Matthew was returned to Virginia and charged.

His next court hearing is scheduled for December 4.