Note Found by Burned Vehicle Says Teacher Was Killed in Rage

By Alec MacGillis and Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

An apparent suicide note found near a man's body in West Virginia over the weekend alerted police that a 52-year-old Fairfax County teacher had been killed in a "drunken blackout rage" and led them to her body in her Annandale home, authorities said yesterday.

Fairfax police said an autopsy showed that Julie Mansfield Adams, a teacher at Virginia Run Elementary School in Centreville, died of a single stab wound.

Greenbrier County Sheriff's Deputy K.L. Sawyers said investigators are waiting for dental records to identify the man's body, found Saturday in a burned-out minivan in Monongahela National Forest. But information in the note suggests that its author was Donald R. Coffield, 43, a convicted sex offender who had lived with Adams for the past six years, Sawyers said.

The cause of his death has not been determined, but it was being investigated as an apparent suicide, Sawyers said. The vehicle, a red Chevrolet Venture, was registered to Adams.

The note amounted to "a dying declaration of murder," Sawyers said.

According to Sawyers, a hunter spotted the minivan engulfed in flames in a remote parking lot. A note was found nearby, weighted down by a rock. It was not addressed to anyone but contained names and phone numbers of Coffield's relatives, as well as Adams's address.

Investigators began calling the numbers, found they were accurate and then contacted Fairfax police, Sawyers said. Fairfax police spokeswoman Mary Mulrenan confirmed the investigation's focus, saying that Coffield was "a major suspect in the case."

If it was Coffield, there was no indication of why he drove to West Virginia, Sawyers said. Coffield's family indicated that he had a history of driving long distances in times of stress, Sawyers said.

Members of Adams's family said yesterday that they were trying to come to terms with her death. They said the youngest of her three sons, who is serving in Iraq, had been notified of what happened but that they hadn't heard back from him about when he would be able to return for services.

Her eldest son, Matthew Adams, 25, said he saw Coffield whenever he visited the house where he and his brothers were raised. But he said he did not know how his mother had met Coffield or what their relationship was like.

"I didn't really like the guy," said Matthew Adams, of Falls Church. "I had a bad feeling about him."

Adams's ex-husband, Edward Adams, who said he and Adams divorced about 20 years ago, said he also did not know much about Coffield, who was convicted of aggravated sexual battery in Tennessee in 1991.

"There's just shock. It will take several days to assess it. It's all conjecture now," said Edward Adams, also of Falls Church. "We're numb and waiting to see what's next."

Also reeling from Adams's violent death were her colleagues and students at Virginia Run, where for the past three years Adams had taught fourth-grade special-education students and also spent time with them in general education classrooms. School officials said many fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students knew her.

A team of counselors and social workers met with children in older grades to talk about Adams's death. Cindy Dickinson, Fairfax schools coordinator for crisis intervention, said it's important to tell children the truth without focusing on details that might be frightening. She said counselors explained to the children that their teacher was killed and reassured them that they are safe. They often ask the children to share good memories about the teacher.

"This is not an easy dialogue to have with anybody," she said. "All they know is somebody who was there and tried to help them is no longer there, and she didn't die of a disease. We say, 'We're hurt, we're sad and we're shocked.' "

Neighbors on Adams's quiet cul-de-sac in the Strathmeade community just outside the Capital Beltway said that they often heard carousing and arguing and that police had visited the house several times. Yesterday, an air of normalcy had returned to Glastonbury Court. Adams's house sat empty, with photos of her sons and grandson on her living room wall and a Nora Roberts paperback on the coffee table.

Staff writer Maria Glod contributed to this report.

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