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Virginia police say they are investigating man as possible serial killer after four victims found dead

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis discusses the bodies found on Dec. 15 in the county. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post)
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Virginia authorities said Friday they are investigating a possible serial killer, a man they allege sought out women on dating apps, lured them to hotels and then killed them, before using shopping carts to wheel their bodies to vacant lots and dump them.

Anthony Robinson, 35, of D.C., had already been charged in November with slaying two women in Harrisonburg, Va., before Fairfax County police announced Friday they had discovered the remains of what appear to be a missing D.C. woman and a second unidentified person in a trash can.

Robinson has not been charged in the killing of Cheyenne Brown, 29, or the other person, but he is being probed as a person of interest in both deaths after investigators said they found evidence linking him to Brown. Police said Robinson has no prior criminal record.

The pattern of the killings and the short time frame in which they all occurred — just a matter of months — have left authorities concerned that other victims have yet to be identified.

Fairfax County police and other departments across the area have begun scouring missing persons files to see if other cases fit the same profile. Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis dubbed Robinson the “Shopping Cart Killer.”

“He didn’t suddenly turn into who he is three months ago,” Davis said. “That’s why we are painstakingly going through his whereabouts, his relationships [and] employment history to figure out if in fact there are other victims.”

An attorney for Robinson in the Harrisonburg slayings declined to comment Friday and efforts by The Washington Post to reach his family were unsuccessful. Robinson is being held in a jail in Rockingham County, Va., without bond. Police described him as moving frequently, holding a number of jobs.

Fairfax County police said at a news conference Friday that surveillance video showed Brown and Robinson together at a Metro stop in D.C. on Sept. 30, the day she disappeared. Brown then took the Metro to the Huntington station in Fairfax County.

Cellphone data obtained by Fairfax County investigators showed Brown traveled to an area near the Moon Inn motel, close to the Huntington Metro, police said. Robinson was staying at the Moon Inn during that period, the manager said.

Authorities have charged Anthony Robinson with the murders of two women found in Harrisonburg. Va. (Video: Fairfax County Police)

D.C. police reached out to Fairfax County police for help finding Brown on Dec. 7. Fairfax County police searched the Moon Inn on that date, but did not find Brown. They got new information and returned on Wednesday to perform a wider search.

Police said a shopping cart in a vacant lot across the street from the hotel caught a homicide detective’s eye, since video from the Harrisonburg cases allegedly showed Robinson using a shopping cart to move the bodies there.

The cart was located next to a large black trash can. Authorities said they were stunned when they realized there was not one, but two bodies inside. The trash-strewn lot sits behind a shuttered loan business off the busy Route 1 corridor.

Brown’s remains were preliminarily identified Thursday after family members recognized distinctive tattoos on the body of the woman, Fairfax County police and the victim’s mother said. Investigators will use a DNA test to make a conclusive identification.

Authorities are also performing DNA tests to help identify the second body, but said they have leads they are pursuing, including the possibility the remains are of a missing person who was last seen in the area. There are fliers posted nearby for a missing Redding, Calif., woman named Stephanie Harrison. Her family said they have been contacted by Fairfax County police.

Cheyenne Brown’s mother, Nicadra Brown, said police told her the body they believe is Cheyenne Brown had a tattoo of the name “Cheyenne” and a lily on her right arm. Brown said her daughter has such a tattoo on her right arm.

She said police promised to expedite the DNA testing so final arrangements can be made.

“Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later,” said Nicadra Brown, noting authorities won’t release the body until the DNA test results come back. “It’s excruciating,” she said of the wait.

“My heart is broken,” she said. “Just the thought of my baby not being here is devastating. It’s like a bad dream I just want to wake up from.”

She had previously told The Washington Post that the family thinks her daughter had contact with Robinson days before her disappearance, but does not know for sure how they met.

The mother described Cheyenne as “very friendly” and said she “wouldn’t hurt a soul. … She was probably too nice.”

Nicadra Brown said her daughter was at least four months pregnant when she disappeared and has a 7-year-old son. The family shared a home in Southeast.

The mother said she thinks her daughter probably met Robinson in mid- to late- September, when Nicadra Brown was out of the country for work.

A cousin, Jonathan Willis, said he went to Nicadra Brown’s house during the period and found a man there. Willis said he confronted the man and told him he had to leave, since strangers were not allowed in the home.

Willis said the man left without incident.

Man charged in slayings under scrutiny in D.C. missing person case, police say

Nicadra Brown said she returned from her trip on Sept. 25 and asked her daughter about the man who had been there. Her daughter told her the man had “no place else to go.” Cheyenne Brown disappeared five days later.

Willis said that on Thanksgiving morning he saw a photo of Robinson that had been released by police in Harrisonburg and was reposted on Twitter by a local news site.

“I said, ‘He was just in our house,’ ” Willis said. “I remembered his face.”

Willis said he called Nicadra Brown, who called D.C. police.

Nusereldin Wagiealla, the manager of the Moon Inn, said Robinson checked in at the motel from Aug. 19 to Aug. 21 and again from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. Wagiealla said Robinson checked in by himself and didn’t cause any issues.

“He was very quiet,” Wagiealla said.

Wagiealla said he turned surveillance footage from the motel over to police from the period when Robinson was staying there.

The two victims in Harrisonburg, Va., which is about 130 miles south of D.C., were identified as Allene Elizabeth Redmon, 54, of Harrisonburg, and Tonita Lorice Smith, 39, of Charlottesville. Both women had been reported missing. Redmon was killed around Oct. 24 and Smith was slain around Nov. 14, police said.

Harrisonburg Police Chief Kelley Warner said Robinson was arrested on Nov. 23 after the women’s bodies were found in an open lot in a commercial district. Warner said video surveillance and cellphone records connected him to both of the victims.

Robinson had traveled to Harrisonburg for work and had only been there briefly, authorities there said.

Ann Farris, a sister-in-law of Redmon, called her “one of the sweetest people you would ever meet.”

She described Redmon as “hard-working, dedicated to her family.” Redmon had two daughters and multiple grandchildren. Redmon worked at various physically demanding jobs, at a hotel and a local poultry plant, Farris said.

“It’s hard to believe she let her guard down to meet up with somebody like that,” Farris said.

Farris said she believed Redmon met Robinson online, which was out of character for her. Redmon’s husband died a few years ago. Farris and her husband, who live in West Virginia, had visited Redmon and discussed her moving because it was painful to have constant reminders of the loss of her husband.

“That was the love of her life,” Farris said.

Authorities appear to be struggling to learn more about the suspect. Davis told reporters that detectives have been struck by “a remarkable absence of a criminal history.” Police said Robinson has declined to give a statement to them.

Police said they have uncovered addresses linked at one time to Robinson in the District, Prince George’s County and in New York. They described Robinson as being a transient and did not say what kinds of jobs he held.

Earlier this week, a woman who answered the phone at one possible residence linked to Robinson declined to comment. On Friday, a different woman, believed to be related, declined to comment.

D.C. police said officers from the District interacted with Robinson at least three times in 2012 and 2013, and that none of the cases ended with an arrest or criminal charges filed. They include a domestic dispute, unauthorized use of vehicle and an argument with an aunt. Police reports show none involved allegations of violence.

Relatives of Harrison, the missing California woman who might be the fourth unidentified victim, said she traveled to the D.C. area on Aug. 17 from her lifelong home in Redding and had been staying at the Moon Inn. Jane Harrison, Stephanie’s mother, said family members last heard from her on Aug. 19.

Harrison, 49, was schizophrenic and had been off her medication before the trip, her mother said. Jane Harrison said her daughter had also been communicating with people online. She has three children and three grandchildren.

“She was really a good person,” Jane Harrison said. “The mental illness took over. The whole family feels bad. She said she had friends back there.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.