Montie Ralph Rissell, an 18-year-old high school drop-out, pleaded guilty yesterday to murdering four young Alexandria women between August 1976 and March 1977 in wooded areas near their apartment house homes along Shirley Highway.
According to papers filed in court yesterday as evidence for his guilty plea, Rissell confessed to accosting the women in apartment elevators and parking lots, threatening them with a knife taken from his mother's kitchen and telling them, "This is a stick-up."
Rissell then made victims drive to wooded areas and promised not to hurt them if they agreed to have sexual intercourse. However, after they submitted to him, Rissell murdered them anyway - strangling 26-year-old Aura Marina Gabor with his hands and her bra, drowning 27-year-old Gladys R. Bradley in Holmes Run Creek, stabbing 24-year-old Jeannete McClelland 24 times and stabbing 35-year-old Aletha Byrd 14 times.
Rissell's only words during the half-hour proceeding yesterday were "guilty" to four counts of first degree murder, and "yes" when asked by Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Donald H. Kent about his rights and whether he admitted the murders.
About halfway through the hearing, Rissell, who during previous proceedings smiled and scribbled notes, bowed his head and wiped his face. His mother, who usually sat in the courtroom, was not present yesterday.
Commonwealth's Attorney William L. Cowhig said following the hearing that he was told Tuesday morning that Rissell, a former mental patient with a juvenile record, had decided to plead guilty.
"There have been conferences between Mr. Rissell and his attorneys and the commonwealth's attorneys," Cowhig said. "This has been going on for three weeks at least, every other day."
Rissell's attorneys, Stephen Pickard and Stefan C. Long, said they did not want to discuss the case until after Rissell's sentencing, scheduled for Oct. 11.
"He decided" to plead guilty, Pickard said. "It's always his decision. It's been something he's given a lot of thought to."
Because Rissell pleaded guilty to the four murder charges, the Alexandria prosecutors dropped four other charges of rape and four charges of abduction in connection with the deaths. Rissell could not serve any additional time in prison if he were convicted of those charges, Cowhig said.
First-degree murder carries a penalty of 20 years to life in prison. If sentenced to life for two or more of the murders, Rissell will be eligible for parole in 20 years. If he is given anything less than two life sentences he will be eligible for parole in 15 years. Kent has the authority to sentence Rissell to serve less than the 20 years, Cowhig said.
Rissell is also charged with the death of Ursula Miltenberger, 22, whose body was found in a wooded area of Fairfax County last March. Rissell is scheduled to stand trial in Fairfax on charges of murder, rape and abduction in connection with that incident on Oct. 12.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert F. Horan Jr. was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment on whether Rissell had discussed a guilty pleas in the Miltenberger case with him.
The court papers filed to support Rissell's guilty plea yesterday provided new details about the four murders that terrorized the residents of the Holmes Run area of western Alexandria for months.
The first murder occurred at about 2 a.m. on Aug. 4, 1976.Aura Gabor left her job in Maryland and drove her 1976 Mustang II into the parking lot of her apartment building at 412 N. Armistead St. She lived in the same block as Rissell.
Gabor got out of the car and as she was locking the door. Rissell approached with a knife and said, "This is a stickup." Gabor replied, "Please don't hurt me," and Rissell told her he wanted money. He told her to get back in her car and directed her to drive to the 5800 block of Quantrell Avenue, according to the court papers.
Gabor said she would have sexual intercourse with Rissell if he wouldn't hurt her. Rissell directed Gabor down an embankment toward a creek that runs parallel to Interstate Rte. 395.
Rissell had sexual intercourse with her there, and then grabbed her by the neck and both of them fell down the embankment into the creek. Rissell strangled her there.
Rissell then returned to Gabor's car, drove it to the 600 block of N. Armistead Street and abandoned it, the papers said.
During the early morning of April 8, Rissell took a steak knife from his family's apartment and sat on a grassy area between his apartment at 437 N. Armistead St. and 5400 Morgan St. Aletha B. Byrd drove in the parking lot of her apartment building. 5445 N. Morgan St., and Rissell followed her into the building elevator.
"When the elevator door closed, Rissell flashed the knife and told Byrd, "This is a stick-up."
The elevator stopped in the basement and Rissell forced Byrd out a side exit and told her to give him her car keys. Under Rissell's instructions, Byrd drove to near Lake Barcroft in Fairfax County. Rissell told her he wanted to have sexual intercourse with her and she agreed if Rissell would not hurt her. At the lake, Rissell sexually attacked her twice, according to the signed document.
Rissel, and Byrd returned to Byrd's car and Rissell told her to drive to N. Pickett Street. Byrd told Rissell if he didn't throw the knife out of the car she would drive into a tree. Byrd started speeding and Rissell reached over with his foot and hit the brakes. The car skidded to a halt, according to the papers.
Byrd jumped out of the car and climbed over a barbed wire fence that borders a wooded area on the east side of N. Pegram Street. Rissell chased Byrd into the wooded area where he struggled with her, and then stabbed her with the steak knife. She fell and Rissell continued to stab her 14 times in the chest.
Rissell placed Byrd's body beside a log and covered it with debris, according to the signed statement.
Gladys Bradley, of 5420 Morgan St., was also accosted in an elevator in a manner similar to Byrd. Rissell forced her to drive to the parking lot of the John Adams School off Rayburn Avenue.
Rissell told Bradley to walk through a wooded area and take off her clothes. She took off a brown raincoat and laid it on the ground where Rissell had sexual intercourse with her.
They dressed and walked about 100 yards and Rissell told her to undress again. He had sexual intercourse with her a second time and they dressed and continued to walk in the woods.
As they started up a hill Bradley struck Rissell with her and and began to run. Rissell pulled her back and then fell into the water, which is between 12 and 18 inches deep, according to the statement.
Rissell sat on Bradley for several minutes even after she had drowned. He abandoned Bradley's car in the 400 block of N. Armistead Street.
McClelland, of 5445 N. Morgan St., was accosted in the elevator in the same fashion as Bradley and Byrd and was forced to drive her car to Holmes Run Parkway.
Rissell forced McClelland to a secluded area and had sexual intercourse with her twice. He then told her to drive to the dead end of Knole Court in the Hamlet apartment complex and forced her to walk to Holmes Run Creek. From there they walked through a large culvert near the spot where they had been earlier. Rissell and McClelland retraced their steps and Rissell stabbed McClelland in the chest under the culvert, the papers said.
McClelland fell and Rissell continued to stab her in the back. He dragged her across the culvert, then stabbed her in the chest a total of 24 times.
After covering her body with rocks and debris. Rissell walked home and went to bed. He got up later, washed the steak knife and put it back in the kitchen drawer.
Also presented as evidence in court yesterday was a drawing made by Rissell of the culvert where he killed McClelland and a sketch made by a police officer where Rissell marked the scene of Byrd's death.
Prosecutors also agreed to a request that Rissell get psychiatric help while in prison.
During a pretrial hearing Thursday in Fairfax, Rissell testified the he had confessed to Alexandria and Fairfax County police May 17 and May 20 because they had promised him psychiatric treatment and had compared his situation to that of a lame dog or a sick old person.
By the time he was 16 Rissell had been convicted if robbery and rape, had been in and out of mental institutions and juvenile homes and was about to stand trial for attempting to rob a woman at knifepoint in an apartment near his home.The attempted robbery occurred in an elevator, in manner similar to that of three of the murders.
At age 12 Rissell was charged with "habits and behavior injurious to his welfare" in connection with an incident in which he allegedly broke into an apartment and took property worth $100.
On Sept. 9, 1973, Rissell was committed to the custody of the State Department of Walfare and Institutions, and later spent time in Variety Children's Hospital in Miami.
Rissell withdrew from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria last April.