An investigation that started in August, 1976, with what a policeman describes as no more than a gut reaction ended yesterday with the sentencing of 18-year-old Montie Ralph Rissell to four consecutive life prison terms for slaying four Alexandria women.
Rissell, sentenced in Alexandria Circuit Court, had once been arrested on an attempted robbery charge by Alexandria police Det. John W. Turner and lived in the western Alexandria neighborhood where the four women and Turner himself lived. (Rissell has also been convicted of slaying a fifth woman, who worked in the western Alexandria area, and is to be sentenced Monday by a court in Fairfax County for her death.)
The first of the slayings - that of Aura Marina Gabor, 26 - occurred on Aug. 4, 1976. She was found strangled with her own brassiere.
Det. Turner recalls that he had "a gut feeling" that the murderer was Rissell. He said he had developed a rapport with the youth and his mother in 1973 after Rissell had tried to rob a woman in an elevator near his home with a knife after saying, "this is a stick up."
Partly because the elevator incident happened in the same neighborhood where Gabor lived. Turner said, "I suspected him (Rissell) from the first murder." Gabor's car also was found parked on Beauregard Street not far from Rissell's home on N. Armistead Street, Turner said.
Nevertheless, four more women were to die and the arrest was far in the future.
The second slaying - this time by stabbing - occurred seven months later. Turner said that last March 8, a day after the body of 22-year-old Ursula Miltenberger was found in a Fairfax wood, he and a Fairfax County policeman discussed the similarities of the Gabor and Miltenberger killings but reached no definite conclusions.
Then, on April 30, the drowned body of Glady's R. Bradley, 27, was found in Holmes Run.Turner said he went to the same area where Gabor's car had been found and located Bradley's car. He said he drew a triangle on a map, using as its points Gabor's car, Bradley's car and Rissell's home. But he said he thought Rissell was incarcerated at the time of the most recent slaying.
The body of Jeannette McClelland, 24, who had been stabbed 24 times, was found last May 5. Turner said he and a Fairfax detective decided to compare the Miltenberger and McClelland murders because both had been stabbed repeatedly and had been found in woods near their cars.
Rissell's fingerprints matched those found by the Fairfax police on Miltenberger's car, Turner said.
After the McClelland killing, Turner said police had a psychiatrist look at the facts and draw a personality profile of the suspect they wanted.
"I looked at the profile and he could have stamped Montie Rissell on it," Turner said.
During May, Alexandria police worked on almost no other case and exchanged information with Fairfax police, according to Alexandria police Capt. Clyde Scott. Turner and other detectives put in more than 100 hours overtime, some of it lying in creeks, waiting for Rissell to strike again, setting up roadblocks and keeping Rissell under surveillance, Turner said.
On May 17, Aletha Byrd, 35, who had been missing from her home since April 10, was found dead of multiple stab wounds in a wooded area. Police searched Rissell's car at that point, showed him Byrd's wallet, keys and comb they found in the car and at that point - May 18 - Rissell confessed to killing all five women.
He was charged with abducting, raping and murdering all five, although the abduction and rape charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to the murder charges.
In court yesterday his 22-year-old sister cried silently and more than two dozen of his friends from T. C. William High School looked on as Rissell was sentenced by Judge Donald H. Kent. Rissell made no statement on his own behalf, but one of his attorneys, Stephen Pickard, said Rissell wanted him to tell the judge he was remorseful.
Rissell will be eligible for parole after serving 20 years in prison.
Clarke said 10 states have passed legislation similiar to what the Council is considering.
According to a presentenct report, Rissell "evidences an unstable family background marked by two divorces and the absence of consistent male supervision for approximately eight years of his life."
Rissell has "a history of psychological treatment since 1973," the report continued, and "has appeared generally responsive to treatment and the degree of dangerousness indicated by the present offenses never clearly surfaced during his therapy."
The psychiatrists and others who worked with Rissell since 1973, the report said, "can only conclude that these offenses and the psychological dynamics which caused (him) to commit them were totally hidden."
Rissell told police, the report says, that "his actions in these offenses were even hidden from him from the time immediately after they occurred until he was arrested and charged."
Rissell's regular psychiatrists interpreted his statement to police as evidencing "psychological dissociation and denial as found in cases of multipersonality."
Following yesterday's sentencing, the Rev. Richard Martin of St. Leo's Church in Fairfax, told Rissell's mother, "they'll get him some help. That's the most important thing."
Father Martin told a reporter he had talked frequently with Rissell since he has been in jail and that the youth "was definitely remorseful from the very beginning. I think he began his sentences many, many months ago."
Det. Turner, who credited co-operation between Fairfax and Alexandria police and commonwealth's attorneys for Rissell's capture, has been named one of the nation's top 10 police officers by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and a national magazine for his work in the case.