Betsy Morefield got up early last March to get to her job at Sears and was surprised to discover that her brother, Richard, wasn't asleep in his bedroom. Maybe, she thought, he worked all night at his job at the Roy Rogers Family Restaurant on Little Turnpike near Alexandria.
her mother, Dorothea Morefield, tried to find the restaurant in the telephone directory, but it was not listed on Little River Turnpike. She tried calling the Marriott Corp., which operates the Roy Rogers chain, but the Washington offices were closed. It was Saturday.
So Mrs. Morefield and her daughter decided to go to the Roy Rogers, and stopping at the light near the restaurant, they saw police cars and rescue squad ambulances in the parking lot. Uniformed officers and other prople were going in and out of the front door.
Mrs. Morefield, a former nurse, turned to her daughter and said, "My God, he's got to be dead."
At the front door of the restaurant, Mrs. Morefield, propelled by her nursing experience in such circumstances, calmly indentified herself to an officer and said, "I think my son is in there."
A rescue squad chaplain heard, and came up to Mrs. Morefield and told her the truth.
Her son, Richard, 19, a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College, had been murdered along with two other restaurant employees and the husband of another worker, Julie Nakpodia. Mrs. Nakpodia, though shot in the head like everyone else, managed to survive.
The date - March 6, 1976 - marked the beginning of one of the most grisly and sensational murder cases in Fairfax County history.
Last November, James Leroy Breeden, a 39-year-old Alexandria man who had spent most of his adult life in prison, was convicted of the murders, and the shooting of Julie Nakpodia. He was sentenced to five consecutive life terms and 20 years in jail.
"He's one of the few guys I've prosecuted whom I consider to be totally immoral," says Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr., who argued a couple of hundren defense motions before the trial began.
Breeden, who fired his court-appointed attorney and hired another to press his plea of innocence, is preparing an appeal that will claim 140 errors occurred during the trial.
"The prosecution was a total fabrication," Breeden said in a telephone interview from the Powhatan correctional center west of Richmond. "No one had identified me." Although Mrs. Nakpodia indentified him during the trial as her assailant, Breeden said, "Mrs. Nakpodia was doing what she was told to do."
When Fairfax police began their investigation, there were no leads. The bullets that killed Richard Morefield, assistant manager Dennis Gildea, part-time clerk Patrick T. Marcil and Edward Nakpodia, were from a .32 caliber revolver, a common weapon of criminals, as Horan noted at a press conference two days after the murders.
"We've got nothing." Capt. John W. Zelaska, chief of the criminal investigations division, said in the early days of the search.
More than 1,500 possible leads came into the division by telephone, mail or police teletype. Some people came in person to offer theory. The Marriott Corp. offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the assailants.
None of the possible leads went anywhere.
Horan, interviewed last week, said the first piece of information that didn't evaporate came from a bondsman in mid-March.
"Check out this guy Breeden," Horan quoted the bondsman telling him.
Going over Breeden's arrest sheets, police spotted the name of 26-year-old Samuel Michael Burns, an alleged accomplice in a 7-Eleven burglary six months before the Roy Rogers murders.
When he showed up (in the files)," Horan said, "things began to fall in place."
On April 29, Breeden was arrested for the 7-Eleven robbery by 10 Fairfax County police officers who waited just inside the county line for him to drive past from his home in Alexandria. He was held on $100,000 bond for the $40 robbery, and Mrs. Nakpodia indentified him in a police lineup while he was jailed on the robbery charge.
Later, at the trial in the Roy Rogers murders, Burns testified that he and Breeden had cased the Roy Rogers restaurant a couple of weeks before the murders. Burns himself was not implicated in the murders or Roy Rogers armed robbery, though he did testify he was involved with Breeden in the 7-Eleven robbery.
Breeden's attorney, after he fired Gilbert K. Davis, was Alan J. Cilman, an intense young man who said he was convinced his client was innocent.
Taking on the time-consuming job for the total fee of 50 cents, Cilman saw the rest of his law practice decline to almost zero. During the trial he had to get a loan to pay his office staff.
"I'm broke," Cilman said matter-of-factly during a recess in the pretrial motions.
Cilman, assisted by two other attorneys, cranked out new pretrial motions even as Judge Burch Millsap struck down others.
Since the trial ended, Cilman has closed his Alexandria law office, and reported has told friends that he will go to the West Coast to practice. Breeden said in his interview, though, that Cilman, along with collegue Marvin Miller, will file the appeal of Breeden's conviction.
Mrs. Nakpodia, the prosecution's chief witness, is now living in the Northeastern part of the United States, but has asked that her whereabouts not be disclosed, Horan said.
For Sandy Gildea, the year since her husband, Dennis, was killed has been one of "healing and coping and spiritual growth."
She and her three sons moved from an apartment in Leesburg to a house she bought in Loudoun County. A Charismatic Christian, she is trying to write an inspirational book about her tragey. She has received encouragement from a publisher of religious books.
"You don't go taking tranquilizers or drink; you don't lean on crutches," she said. "You seek the Holy spirit. Then you find warmth, peace, you are lifted up."
There are hard moments, though.
"I seek the Lord in everything," she said, "but I'm not saying I'm a goodie-goodie. You're in the supermarket and you see somebody who stands the way Denny did, or says something the way he would have . . ."
A week before Gildea was murdered, his father died in Gloucester, Mass. At the funeral, Mrs. Gildea recalls, his older brother, Barry, given the American flag that draped their father's coffin, turned to Denny and said, "Do you want this?"
"Yes, I do," Mrs. Gildea recalled her husband saying.
Later, walking along the Gloucester waterfront before their trip back to Virginia, Mrs. Gildea asked her husband why he took the flag, now packed in the car trunk with their other belongings.
"I don't know," he told her, "I just want it."
"A week later," Mrs. Gildea said in an interview, "it was on his casket."
At the Roy Rogers family Restaurant at 6227 Little River Turnpike, a scattering of customers eat their double R burgers and french fries.
One of the "ranch-hand" hostesses is asked if she remembers what happened a year ago.
"Sure," she said, "I know what you mean. But I wasn't her then; I came two months later. Everyone who was here has transfered or left. There's no one here who would have any memories."