The Confession

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By Theresa Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 15, 2009

STAUNTON, Va. Some in this Shenandoah Valley community will tell you that the black and white tile bled for years on the same day -- April 11 -- in what used to be the ice cream shop where two young women were killed in 1967.

Like many violent acts committed in places where there are few, the slayings in this quiet city about 160 miles south of the District never faded with time. They grew with it.

Theories turned into rumors, which turned into folklore.

"A lot of Stauntonians will tell you where they were or what they were doing" when the women were killed, Staunton Police Chief Jim Williams said. "Like a lot of people can tell you where they were when Kennedy was assassinated or when the space shuttle blew up."

A few weeks ago, Staunton authorities announced that, at last, they had solved the case. Several men were suspected over the years, including one put on trial, but in the end, a woman confessed on her deathbed, they said. Even more surprising than the killer's sex was why she did it and how she got away with it for so long. She killed those women, she told police, because they teased her about her sexuality. She also told them that afterward she handed the gun to the lead detective and he buried it.

Suddenly, with those few details, a case that the community had held on to since Charlie Chaplin opened his last film and Elvis got married was both over and not. Recent weeks would find a police department investigating its own, relatives dragging out faded photographs and at least one man discovering what freedom feels like. It would become clear that in some places, some cases never die, even when those responsible for them do.

'I Shook So Hard and Cried So Hard'

The first Super Bowl had just been played and anti-Vietnam demonstrations were erupting throughout the country when two shots rang out at the High's ice cream shop, striking Constance Smootz Hevener, 19, and her sister-in-law, Carolyn Hevener Perry, 20, each in the head.

When police arrived about 11 p.m., both women were lying in a puddle of blood, dying. One had a weak pulse, the other a strong one, the lead detective wrote in the police report.

He also noted a man at a pay phone.

William Thomas Jr., whom friends call Bill and Gus, was a 24-year-old teacher. He was outside the strip mall, talking on the phone, for about 12 minutes before police appeared, he said recently. He hadn't heard the shots and didn't know the women were injured, he said, when he walked up to the detective.

"I don't know what has happened here, but if this will be of any help?" he said that night, according to the police report. "I saw two men split and run."

Within months, Thomas was the prime suspect, facing trial on one murder charge and indicted on the other.


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