Unsolved: Colonial Parkway murders near 30th anniversary as families hold out hope

Posted at 12:00 AM, Aug 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-28 23:23:20-04

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - The Colonial Parkway is one of the most scenic roads in Virginia, connecting Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown, but this winding road holds secrets that have now been kept for 30 years.

In October 1986, Cathy Thomas and her girlfriend, Becky Dowski, wound up dead just off the parkway. Cathy's brother Bill recently visited the crime scene for the first time and still holds out hope his sister's murder will one day be solved.

"I think it's a significant anniversary," Thomas said of the 30 the anniversary of his sister's death. "I know we're one of the longest unsolved multiple homicides in the United States."

From 1986 to 1989, three couples were killed around the Williamsburg area. Another is still missing, but presumed dead. The killings have been dubbed the Colonial Parkway Murders. Cathy and Becky were the first victims. The two were out one October night in Cathy's car. "Unfortunately something transpired. They were ultimately murdered," Bill Thomas said. "They were strangled with rope. Their throats were cut from beyond ear to ear."

It's not clear exactly where Cathy and Becky were killed, but their car wound up at the edge of the York River near a pull-off area. It appears someone tried to set their car on fire, but failed. "It was very hard to understand the brutality of it and not just why it happened, but how it happened," Thomas said.

The FBI is handling their case. One theory that's been floated around through the years is that a law enforcement officer or someone posing as one approached the women's car that night. "If they presented as a cop, they might have been able to get control over the two young women," Thomas said.

Whether all four of the incidents are related has been the subject of debate for decades. "The point has been made to me, what are the chances of four double homicides happening in and around Williamsburg, Virginia over this three year period," said Thomas. "I have to agree that's pretty unusual."

Thomas says his family didn't hear of any updates in the cases for years. Then in 2009, a News 3 investigation found graphic crime scene photos from the case had leaked out and were being circulated in the public. That began a renewed push by families to get answers.

"We were infuriated," said Thomas. "We couldn't believe that these highly graphic crime scene photos were being used."

Now, 30 years after his sister's murder, he has hope new forensic testing will produce new leads in the cases. "I think we're getting closer," he said. "I think we may have a day where we talk about how an arrest has been made or suspects have been named or the Colonial Parkway Murders have been solved."

A spokesperson for the FBI says the investigation remains very active and they continue to look for new leads.