Link Seen in Deaths of Aged Women

diamond ring link
Police believe this ring was stolen by Marion J. Newman's killer. It is thought to be the only item stolen in the deaths of Newman and Marion B. Marshall. (Fairfax County Police Department)
By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006

Two elderly women slain three months apart in Springfield may have been killed by the same person -- someone with ties to their community who happened to come along, saw them alone and pounced on the opportunity to attack them, Fairfax County police said yesterday.

"I'm not going to say it's a serial killer," Capt. Michael Spradlin, head of Fairfax's criminal investigations bureau, said at a news conference. But he said investigators decided that the cases were linked after looking at the common elements. "It's obvious, to me."

Police urged residents, particularly seniors, to keep their doors locked and be aware of their surroundings. They also revealed that a diamond ring worn by the second victim, Marion J. Newman, 74, was stolen from her, most likely by her killer. Police distributed photos of the ring and asked the public for help in locating it as a possible clue toward finding the killer.

Spradlin said he believed that the slayings were "a crime of opportunity," in which an attacker happens upon a victim without planning or preparation. In the slaying of Marion B. Marshall, 72, Spradlin believes the killer "was just walking the street, he happened to see her, found no one home and he attacked her."

There was no indication that the women knew each other, Spradlin said. Newman's ring is the only item known to have been taken from either home. There was no sign of forced entry into either home or any indication of sexual assault, police said.

"We also feel the offender in this case has ties to the community," Spradlin said, meaning he may work or live or visit someone in either Edsall Park or Crestwood.

Marshall was found in her home in the 6600 block of Bostwick Drive, in the Edsall Park neighborhood just off Braddock Road, on Aug. 14. Police have not disclosed how she was slain.

Newman was found in her residence, in the 7100 block of Reservoir Drive, in the Crestwood neighborhood near Backlick Road, on Nov. 21. The cause of her death has also been withheld so that only the killer will know that information. Both women died of "unspecified trauma to the upper body," police said.

The houses, where the women lived alone for many years, are about two miles apart.

Investigators do not have physical evidence connecting the two cases. "The link is basically we have two female, elderly citizens of Fairfax County," Spradlin said, "that have been brutally murdered. They lived close to each other, their neighborhoods are similar, the women are similar."

A reward of $26,000 has been offered by the families of the two women for information leading to a conviction in the case.

Police have been discussing the cases with analysts from the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit, but Spradlin said he did not want to release any possible profile of the killer, for fear of limiting tips on potential suspects.

The ring stolen from Newman was specially made for her, welded together from three rings, and has three bands made of white gold, with diamonds inlaid and one diamond mounted, and a leaf design in the main band. Anyone with information about the ring or the homicides is asked to call 703-691-2131.

Spradlin declined to speculate on a motive. "As soon as I find the killer," he said, "I'll let you know."

Investigators from across the Fairfax department have been drafted to work on the cases, knocking on doors, handing out fliers, tracking down leads. Patrols in the two neighborhoods have been increased, and residents are more cautious, police spokeswoman Mary Ann Jennings said. One resident called police when a plainclothes detective tried to talk to her, Jennings said.

Police have urged residents to report suspicious activity, no matter how small, and the tips have increased exponentially, said the Franconia district commander, Capt. Maggie DeBoard. Officers have also conducted safety checks on dozens of residences at homeowners' request, Jennings said.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company