Arrest not imminent in Alexandria slayings; Charles Severance a focus of investigation


Charles Severance talks with his attorney, Shayne Welling, during a recess in his court proceedings on March 19 in Wheeling, W.Va. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)
June 19

Alexandria police are focusing on an eccentric political gadfly in their probe of three high-profile murders. But no arrest is imminent, Police Chief Earl Cook said Thursday, and 53-year-old Charles Severance is not considered a suspect in the deaths of Nancy Dunning, Ronald Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato.

“With Mr. Severance’s name being so prevalent the last month in the community and in the media, we wanted to tell people where he fit into our investigation,” Cook said in an interview. “There are some things unique to Mr. Severance . . . that put him firmly in the scope of what we’re looking at.”

Severance is currently jailed and awaiting trial on a weapons charge that is unrelated to the killings.

Because he was convicted of a felony in 2005, Severance is not allowed to possess guns, and prosecutors allege he had two that were purchased by his girlfriend. A Loudoun judge on Wednesday ruled that the case can go to a grand jury.

It was not that ruling or new evidence that led the police to open up about Severance now, Cook said, so much as public speculation.

Police have previously said that ballistics evidence may link the killings of Dunning in 2003, Kirby in 2013 and Lodato in February. The city’s mayor has called Severance a “person of interest” in the killings.

Cook would not say whether the two .22 caliber revolvers at issue in the Loudoun case, both of which have gone missing, are part of the Alexandria investigation.

“We’re looking to find the murder weapons,” he said. Severance’s girlfriend testified Wednesday that the guns were purchased in 2012, nearly a decade after Dunning’s death.

The chief also did not call Severance a “suspect” in the slayings, although he said “he’s more that than not that.” The term suspect connotes a certain level in an investigation that hasn’t been reached, he said.

“An arrest is not imminent,” he said. “We have leads we’re still running down.”

A tip led police to Severance, Cook said, and the Northern Virginia resident’s decision to leave the state after police sought to question him in March prompted authorities to investigate him further. Severance was arrested in Wheeling, W.Va., and extradited back to Virginia in May.

Severance was interviewed by Alexandria police after his arrest, but Cook said that “now that he has legal representation, we can’t talk to him.”

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