Alexandria police investigate lives of three slaying victims for possible links


Alexandria resident Ruthanne Lodato was shot and killed at her home on Feb. 6 by an unknown assailant. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

By Anne Haynes’s account, her connection to the families of Alexandria’s two other high-profile slaying victims has only ever been one of shared sorrow.

Haynes, whose husband, regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby, was fatally shot inside his home in November, said she and Kirby did not know prominent real estate agent Nancy Dunning or popular music teacher Ruthanne Lodato — the two victims whose killings police say might be connected to her husband’s. She overheard workers talking to Lodato’s husband a few weeks ago in the office at Alexandria’s Ivy Hill Cemetery and introduced herself to the man who was, to her, a stranger.

“As he was going up the stairs, I said, ‘I’m Ron Kirby’s widow,’ ” Haynes said. “And he came down and gave me a big hug and said, ‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ and I said, ‘I’m sorry for yours.’ ”

On Friday — a day after police announced that they were treating the cases as a “series of crimes” — investigators were left with the arduous task of probing through the lives of the victims to find connections that even those closest to them could not envision.

Experts in criminal profiling said detectives will leave no avenue unexplored.


Artist sketch of a suspected gunman whose weapon in a recent killing may be connected to two other slayings. (Alexandria Police Department)

“I want to know everything about them,” said Mary Ellen O’Toole, a former FBI profiler who is not involved in the case. “I want to know their lives, their habits, their personality, their friends, their associates, how they interact with people.”

The circumstances of the crimes are remarkably similar, even though one occurred about a decade ago. All occurred in daylight, close to noon, at homes within two miles of one another. The killer or killers didn’t force their way in.

But aside from enjoying prominence in Alexandria, the victims seemed to share few concrete connections.

All were white, but two were women and one was a man. They were in a similar age range, although the oldest and the youngest were separated by about 13 years. All were parents, all shared an interest in the arts, and all were — on some level — engaged with public officials. Liz Dunning, Nancy Dunning’s daughter, said that her mother and Lodato were members of the city’s Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church for a time, but she did not know whether they were acquainted.

But were those facts even meaningful? On Friday, experts could only speculate.

Kirby, 69, who was found slain in his home Nov. 11, was an often-quoted transit expert who worked as director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. He had a son and a daughter, and in his spare time, he enjoyed wine, art and tennis, his daughter said.

Dunning, 56, who was found shot to death in the foyer of her home on Dec. 5, 2003, was a mother and real estate agent so involved in organizing arts festivals and other community events that people called her the “Queen of Del Ray.” Her husband was James Dunning, a former Alexandria sheriff who died in 2012.


(The Washington Post)

Lodato, 59, who was fatally shot after answering the door to her home Feb. 6, was a mother of three daughters and a well-known music teacher whose husband works for the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, friends said. Her father was the late George Giammittorio, a judge on Alexandria’s Circuit Court, and one brother is retired Alexandria General District Court judge Eugene Robert Giammittorio, friends said.

Friends and relatives of the victims said they knew of no enemies, shared or otherwise, who would want to hurt the three.

“Yesterday was a pretty tough day for all of us,” Marilyn Kirby, Ronald Kirby’s daughter, said in a text. “All I can really say is that I hope they catch this person before he does it again.”

Police have not concluded definitively that the slayings are linked or that one killer is responsible. They announced Thursday that the bullet fragments recovered in each case had similar markings, and all seemed to come from a small-caliber weapon. That led investigators to conclude that the cases “appear to be linked,” police said.

But police also said microscopic comparisons of the fragments were inconclusive, and they could not say with certainty that the fragments were fired from the same gun. Haynes said Police Chief Earl L. Cook stressed in a meeting with family members that there were “thousands of these kinds of guns with that kind of bullet in it in the United States.”

Liz Dunning said Friday that the connections between the cases did not feel that strong, after reflecting on the information released by police.

“It feels even more tenuous today than it did yesterday,” she said.

Experts also said it was too early to say with any certainty whether the slayings were random or targeted. They said investigators would have to profile not just the victims but also the areas in which they were killed.

“You take the matrix of who, what, where, how, when and why, and turn it upside down and focus on the why,” said Pete Klismet, another former FBI profiler.

Haynes said detectives had questioned her aggressively about her husband’s personal and business life when the crime occurred — even asking about contractors who worked at the home — but they had not asked her questions about the other victims and possible connections there. She said they assured her in their recent meeting that they were comparing the circumstances of her husband’s killing to similar crimes across the country.

Liz Dunning said she, too, has not been questioned by the police about any connections between her mother’s killing and the other two cases. Dunning said she has not had a substantive conversation with detectives about the investigation in more than five years.

An Alexandria police spokeswoman said Friday that police had interviewed and would re-interview friends and family members of all the victims to look for possible connections. She said they were also following up on every tip they received.

Experts said that even if the cases were the work of one killer, that person might not be so easy to identify. Finding connections in people’s lives is painstaking work that often produces dead ends and false leads.

“It’s the exception that it’s real glaring, and frankly, in the cases that I’ve had, there’s no nexus,” O’Toole said. “There’s so many goofy things that can ultimately end up being the resolution, that you learn to reserve your comments because you’ll end up being wrong.”

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.
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