Alexandria police still trying to solve slaying of Nancy Dunning, sheriff’s wife

A prominent member of the community, found dead at home by a family member in a quiet, safe neighborhood. No signs of forced entry and no suspects.

That could describe the fatal shooting of 69-year-old Ronald Kirby in Alexandria’s Rosemont neighborhood last month. But Wednesday, Alexandria police were asking for help solving a case that occurred 10 years ago — the slaying of Nancy Dunning in nearby Del Ray.

“We continue after 10 years to work to try to reach an arrest in this case,” Police Chief Earl L. Cook said at a news conference Wednesday morning. “We will never put this case on the shelf.” He urged anyone who had any information that might help the investigation to come forward. Friends have maintained a $100,000 reward fund for anyone with information that could lead to an arrest.

On Dec. 5, 2003, Dunning failed to show up for a lunch date with her husband and son at the Atlantis restaurant in the Bradlee shopping center. The Dunnings returned home, where they found her on the floor, shot to death.

Surveillance video showed Dunning leaving the Target store in the Potomac Yard shopping center that morning. Police looked for information on a man seen leaving the store at the same time, but that trail never yielded a solid lead.

Real estate agent Nancy Dunning is shown in a file photo from March 2002 in Alexandria, Va. (JAMES A. PARCELL/AP)

A real estate agent, Dunning was given the nickname the “Queen of Del Ray” for her involvement in the community. Her efforts in organizing arts festivals and other events helped turn Del Ray into the vibrant, artistic neighborhood it is today. She was married to then-Sheriff James Dunning, who retired in 2005 and moved to South Carolina. He died last year.

At the time of her death, police said Nancy Dunning was targeted by someone she knew. Ten years later, Cook acknowledged that there is still no “viable suspect” in the case.

The investigation has been turned over to a new team of detectives three times, Cook said, as members of the police force retire or move away. A new lead detective took over the case about 10 months ago, and solving it is his primary responsibility. Developments in forensics have given the police new angles to approach the mystery, Cook said.

“I don’t think anybody who knew Nancy Dunning will ever give up hope that whoever did this will be found out,” said Gayle Reuter, a close friend. “I firmly believe that somebody knows something, that this was targeted.”

Detectives have looked at the similarities between Dunning’s death and Kirby’s recent slaying, Cook said. But “there is no reason today to think that those two cases are connected,” he said.

For the 10th year in a row, friends and neighbors will light luminaries along Mount Vernon Avenue in Dunning’s honor Saturday night.

“It really makes me feel closer to her,” said Kate Moran, Dunning’s niece and a musician who performs at the holiday event every year. “Thats what I do to honor her and her spirit.”

Anyone with information that might help the investigation is encouraged to call Sgt. Michael Kochis of the Alexandria police at 703-746-6864.

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Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.

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