State Police dive nets no new evidence tying IW slaying to Colonial Parkway Murders

Published 5:23 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Virginia State Police divers say they’ve found no new evidence tying a recently solved 1987 Isle of Wight County double homicide to a series of still-unsolved, decades-old slayings known as the Colonial Parkway Murders following a Feb. 20 search of the waterways adjacent to the highway that connects James City and York counties.

According to State Police Sgt. Michelle Anaya, the search and recovery dive team joined forces with Suffolk’s, Chesapeake’s and Hampton’s police departments and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to look beneath the water for clues while the road undergoes a nearly two-year reconstruction.

State Police, in January, announced new DNA evidence pointed to a deceased Lancaster County man – Alan Wade Wilmer Sr. – as the likely killer of 20-year-old David Knobling and 14-year-old Robin Edwards, whose bodies were found by a beachcomber the morning of Sept. 23, 1987, on the shoreline of the Ragged Island wildlife refuge in Carrollton. Both had been shot in the back of the head at close range.

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Wilmer, who died in 2017 at age 63, was one of several suspects investigators considered during the 36 years the case stayed cold. Upon learning of Wilmer’s death, police were able to posthumously obtain a genetic sample to compare to DNA preserved from the Ragged Island crime scene. Last summer, the Virginia Department of Forensic Science issued a certificate of analysis confirming a match to Wilmer, State Police spokeswoman Corrine Geller said at a Jan. 8 press conference held at the VSP’s regional headquarters in Suffolk. Wilmer’s DNA, according to Geller, also proved a match to DNA belonging to the killer of 29-year-old Teresa “Terri” Spaw Howell, who was found raped and murdered in 1989 in Hampton.

“The Virginia State Police, City of Hampton Police and FBI Norfolk Field Office continue to follow up on every investigative lead, especially on new information that’s come to light since January,” Anaya said in a Feb. 20 news release. “Our agencies and investigators are also still encouraging anyone with information related to the Alan Wilmer Sr. and/or the crimes connected to him, and/or the Colonial Parkway double homicides to please come forward and contact the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit a tip online at Anyone with information can also reach out to the Virginia State Police by email at or the City of Hampton Police via the Peninsula Crime Line. Anonymous tips are welcome.”

Knobling and Edwards were each last seen alive the evening of Sept. 19, 1987, four days before their bodies were found. Janette Edwards Santiago, Robin’s older sister, told The Smithfield Times in 2022 ahead of the then-unsolved crime’s 35th anniversary that Robin had arranged a date with David’s cousin Jason, who’d shown up with David and his brother, Michael, in David’s truck that evening to take Robin to a movie that ended up being sold out.

The four instead went to an arcade, dropping Robin back at her parents’ house around 10 p.m. After putting her younger sister, Pam, to bed, Robin went back out later that night with David.

Howell was last seen alive on July 1, 1989, at 2:30 a.m. at the former Zodiac Club, which had been a popular nightspot off Mercury Boulevard. Roughly eight hours later, construction workers found female clothing at the wedge of the woods off Butler Farm Road and eventually came upon a woman’s remains police later identified as Howell’s. Police determined Howell’s cause of death to be strangulation. Articles of Robin’s clothing had also been left near the Ragged Island crime scene in Knobling’s truck.

The FBI’s Norfolk division has for years linked the Ragged Island slayings with the Colonial Parkway Murders, three unsolved double homicides from the 1980s believed to be the work of a serial killer. The first occurred in 1986. On Oct. 12 of that year, U.S. Park Service rangers found the bodies of 27-year-old Cathleen Thomas and 21-year-old Rebecca Dowski inside Thomas’ Carr in a wooded area near the York River off Colonial Parkway. Six months after David and Robin’s bodies were found, 20-year-old Richard “Keith” Call’s father found his son’s car abandoned at the York River overlook off Colonial Parkway the morning of April 19, 1988. Roughly a year and a half later, hunters found the bodies of 18-year-old Annamarie Phelps and 21-year-old Daniel Lauer on a logging road less than a mile from an Interstate 64 rest stop in New Kent County on Oct. 19, 1989. As with Robin, clothes belonging to Call and Hailey were found inside Call’s car, though neither victim has ever been located.

Geller, at the January press conference, said police at that time still had no physical or forensic evidence tying the Isle of Wight or Hampton homicides to the two on Colonial Parkway or the one in New Kent.

According to police, Wilmer, also known by the nickname “Pokey,” was 32 and working as a commercial fisherman at the time of the Ragged Island murders. He owned and frequently lived aboard a 1976 fishing boat named the “Denni Wade,” which he would dock at marinas throughout Hampton Roads. Wilmer’s family, in a written statement distributed at the January press conference, said the DNA match came as a “complete and horrific shock” and that “the man who committed these crimes was not someone we knew.”