Police Scrambling for Clues In Fatal Beating of Couple

Virginia Spevak, second from right, at a Green Acres School party.
Virginia Spevak, second from right, at a Green Acres School party. (Courtesy Of Green Acres School)
By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

District police combed alleys with sniffer dogs and searched around a badly burned family Toyota for clues yesterday in the weekend beating deaths of Michael and Virginia Spevak of Chevy Chase.

Beverly Fields, a spokeswoman for the D.C. chief medical examiner, said autopsies of the couple, found dead at home in their nightclothes late Saturday, revealed that they had been struck repeatedly with a sharp, heavy object.

Fields said Michael Spevak, 68, a psychiatrist, died of sharp and blunt force injuries to his head and neck; his wife, Virginia, 67, a retired teacher and social activist, died of sharp force injuries to her neck and chest and blunt force injuries to her head. "The manner of death was homicide," Fields said.

A police official said detectives were investigating "as a matter of standard procedure" whether a patient of Michael Spevak's or someone else the couple had helped might be involved in the crime. Police said several items were missing from the couple's home but would not say what they were.

Police also said they are seeking information from the public about the couple's blue 2005 Toyota Scion, which was found four miles away in the 500 block of Ingraham Street NW. It had been destroyed by fire. Police said they had found an ID of one of the Spevaks near the car.

In addition, police said they had found other material near the car, which they described as evidence. They did not elaborate. Police said several people who live near where the car was found were interviewed. Police obtained a search warrant for a house there. No details were provided.

Friends and colleagues of the Spevaks said they feared that the couple might have made themselves more vulnerable to attack by welcoming troubled and needy individuals into their home. Yet several expressed hope that the crime would not turn out to reflect negatively on the generosity of spirit that defined the Spevaks' lives.

"Ginny believed deeply that those who have had a more privileged life have a real responsibility to advocate for people whose lives are harder," said Joan Adler, a longtime colleague at the private Green Acres School in Rockville, where Virginia Spevak worked for 28 years before retiring in 2001. "I do not want to guess what happened, but it would be awful if it happened in a way that would somehow hurt the good work they did."

Adler and others described the Spevaks as an energetic, idealistic couple who were open to anyone who sought their help or advice, from homeless teenagers to tour groups interested in organic gardening. The killer, friends said, robbed the area of two people who championed the unfortunate.

Claire Duggan, a law student at George Washington University who worked with Virginia Spevak on a committee to help prisoners and ex-offenders, said that she was "passionate about" prison conditions and criminal justice -- as well as quilting, energy conservation and organic gardening -- and that she tried to help area inmates sent into the vast federal prison system.

"Whether this was a random act or someone who knew them, it is exactly the kind of thing she and her husband worked so hard to prevent. They wanted to help people get back on their feet and to make the world a safer place," Duggan said. "The last time I saw Ginny at a meeting, she was trying to help a man who had been sent to a prison in Georgia and said he was being beaten."

Several neighbors said they had become accustomed to seeing strangers, mostly young men, walking to and from the Spevaks' home in the 5300 block of Belt Road NW, where Michael Spevak saw patients. They said they knew of no incidents involving patients or visitors and described the area as generally crime-free. They said the Spevaks were involved in block parties and the neighborhood watch group.

Virginia Spevak was also involved in foster care and had taken in children and teenagers over the years, friends and colleagues said. Most recently, they said, she had cared for a teenage girl and her sister. Calls to District adoption and welfare organizations that worked with the couple were not returned.

Police have offered a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the case. Anyone with information is asked to call 202-727-9099.

Staff writers Clarence Williams and Elissa Silverman contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company