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FBI: DNA evidence conclusively links Shenandoah National Park murders to convicted serial rapist

A photo of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, provided by the FBI
A photo of Lollie Winans and Julie Williams, provided by the FBI.

Federal agents say DNA evidence has solved the case of two women murdered nearly 30 years ago in Shenandoah National Park.

Lollie Winans and Julie Williams were hiking in the park when they were killed in 1996.

At a news conference Thursday, federal authorities said more recent DNA testing conclusively links the crime to a convicted serial rapist from the Cleveland, Ohio area.

Walter Leo Jackson, Sr. in a photo from 1996
Walter Leo Jackson, Sr. in a photo from 1996

Walter Leo Jackson, Sr. died in prison in 2018 following a conviction for abduction and sexual assault in Ohio. FBI agent Stan Meador, in charge of the bureau's Richmond office, said the DNA match produced a level of certainty "that is rarely seen." Investigators said that the DNA testing has already linked Jackson to additional unsolved cases in Ohio.

Meador said Jackson was a residential painter in the Cleveland area. But he was also an avid hiker who was familiar with Shenandoah National Park. U. S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh said the DNA evidence was so strong he had no doubt it would have led to a conviction on federal murder charges. Kavanaugh added there was no evidence that the crime was committed due to Winans and Williams sexual orientation.

The DNA match was the result of a new review of the case file and evidence that began in 2021. Advanced DNA testing produced more detailed results that then were matched to Jackson. His DNA had been obtained by law enforcement following one of his previous convictions.

Kavanaugh said there was no connection between Jackson and Darrell Rice. Rice was accused of the murders 22 years ago, but the charges were dropped when DNA evidence excluded him. Investigators also said Jackson is not connected to another unsolved murder case in Eastern Virginia. Jackson was in prison at the time the Colonial Parkway murders were committed.

Investigators informed the Winans and Williams families of the news on Wednesday. Meador said they were grateful for the work of law enforcement and for helping to provide closure.

Special thanks to WRIC for technical assistance in Richmond.
This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

David Seidel is Radio IQ's News Director.
Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief