Probe of unsolved slaying in Upperville revisited

September 3, 2012

Eleven years ago, Loudoun County’s bucolic hunt country was shaken by a sudden and seemingly random act of violence: Ursula Haberland, an 81-year-old widow who lived alone on a farm in Upperville, was found shot to death in her home.

The case has languished, unsolved, for more than a decade. Last week, after the anniversary of Haberland’s slaying, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office’s Cold Case Unit announced that it would revisit the investigation.

Haberland, who was remembered in her community as a kind woman known for her devotion to gardening, was found dead Aug. 23, 2001, by a neighbor, authorities said.

In the wake of her killing, residents of Upperville and Middleburg told The Washington Post that they were distraught by the apparently random nature of the shooting, which they said shattered their sense of safety in their community. Neighbors offered a reward for information that might lead to Haberland’s killer, but the tips led nowhere.

“Detectives with the Cold Case Unit believe that there is outstanding information which could be the key to solving this senseless act of violence,” Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman said in a statement.

Investigators will try to gather information from people who spent time with Haberland before her death. In the coming weeks, the detectives will conduct door-to-door interviews with Haberland’s former neighbors on Greengarden Road, the sheriff’s office said.

Authorities have renewed their focus on unsolved cases in Loudoun since Chapman took office in January. During his campaign for sheriff, Chapman said he had heard from numerous residents who were concerned about unsolved crimes in their communities.

The Cold Case Unit is made up of five detectives, led by Richard Fiano, the bureau commander for the crimes investigation division, sheriff’s office spokeswoman Liz Mills said.

The unit has also been focusing on the unsolved 2002 killing of 14-year-old Erica Heather Smith, whose body was found in a shallow grave near Broad Run Creek 11 days after she left her home to visit a friend.

The sheriff’s office said it would interview witnesses anew and reexamine forensic evidence in the Smith case, tactics that will also be used to try to solve the Haberland case, Mills said.

“The detectives will be looking at all the old leads and looking at any new leads,” Mills said, adding that establishing a possible motive for the crimes will be a key to solving the cases.

Authorities have not determined a possible motive in the Haberland killing, Mills said.

“They will proactively be going back to the area of the crime and looking for new witnesses,” she said.

The unit is reviewing 17 cold cases, Mills said, with current efforts focused on solving the killings of Haberland and Smith.

Anyone with possible information on these unsolved cases is asked to call the sheriff’s Cold Case Unit at 703-777-0475. Callers wishing to remain anonymous are asked to call Loudoun Crime Solvers at 703-777-
1919 or toll-free at 877-777-1931.

For updates on the Haberland case or to submit a tip online, go to www.loudoun.gov/coldcase.

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.
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