The woman’s cries were “bloodcurdling” as the attacker grabbed her and dragged her into a wooded area in a Fairfax City park on a September night in 2005, a neighbor recalled Monday.
The 26-year-old aggressively fought the man, apparently for her life, but he overcame her and sexually assaulted her before he was startled by a passerby and fled, said police and authorities familiar with the investigation.
The full violence of that night was revealed only Monday, when police and prosecutors announced that the man suspected in the disappearance of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham had been indicted on a charge of attempted capital murder and two other counts in connection with the attack nine years ago.
Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 32, is being held in the Charlottesville area on a count of abduction with intent to defile in Graham’s case and on other charges.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh and Fairfax City Police Chief Carl Pardiny offered few new details about the Fairfax City case in a news conference Monday afternoon but said they hoped a victim who has waited so long for justice might now see a measure of it.
“The victim is grateful to the lead detective,” Morrogh said. “He promised her he would never give up, and he didn’t.”
The indictment comes just two days after law enforcement officials announced they had found remains believed to be those of Hannah Graham on an abandoned property in Albemarle County. They are waiting for forensic work before making a definitive identification.
The Fairfax City charges stem from an attack on the evening of Sept. 24, 2005. The woman was walking home from a Giant supermarket on Jermantown Road when she was grabbed from behind on Rock Garden Drive and dragged to the wooded area about 10 p.m., police said.
Stacey Remick-Simkins, who lives next to the park where the woman was assaulted, said she and her husband heard the woman’s desperate cries that night. Her husband glanced out a window and briefly saw a tussle, she said. The woman’s purse was left on the sidewalk in front of their row of townhouses.
She said they called police.
“The fact that people were watching and we had such good police response was responsible for saving that woman’s life,” Remick-Simkins said.
The woman was able to work with police to develop a composite sketch of her attacker, but police had no luck locating him. A break in the case came in 2010, when police announced a forensic link between the Fairfax City assault and the disappearance of a college student.
Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, vanished in 2009 while attending a Metallica concert on the U-Va. campus. Her body was later found on a 700-acre farm southwest of Charlottesville.
Matthew has not been charged in the case, but authorities close to the investigation say there is a DNA match between it and the Fairfax City assault.
At the Monday news conference, Morrogh said he would ask for a bench warrant to be issued on Matthew on Thursday so he could be tried in Fairfax County. Besides the attempted capital murder charge, Matthew is facing felony counts of abduction with intent to defile and sexual penetration with an object.
Morrogh declined to say whether the victim had seen a picture of Matthew or had identified him as her attacker.
Matthew’s attorney, James L. Camblos III, said he is aware that dozens of local police officials around Virginia and some news media organizations nationwide have questioned whether Matthew may be linked to cold cases that are many years old and would reach to Matthew’s teen years.
“I have heard a lot of speculation connecting him to events dating back to the 1990s, when he was an adolescent,” Camblos said. He declined to comment about the indictment or whether he will represent Matthew in the Fairfax case.
In the Charlottesville area Monday, police continued to search the area where human remains were found, on an abandoned property in a rural stretch of Albemarle County. The body was transported to the medical examiner’s office in Richmond, where forensics experts will determine the identity and a cause of death.
The property, 12 miles southwest of Charlottesville, is about five miles from where police found Harrington’s body, in a hayfield.
For Graham’s close friends, the news that a body had been discovered by police brought more waves of emotion. In recent weeks, ski club members Hallie Pence and Jenna Van Dyck have joined friends to share funny stories about Graham.
“We want answers, but the answers will not necessarily make us happy,” said Pence, 21, of McGaheysville, Va. “They will not fix what happened, but nonetheless, we need these answers.”
Van Dyck said Graham’s friends are eagerly awaiting reports from the medical examiner’s office to confirm that the remains found Saturday are hers. In the time since Graham’s disappearance, Van Dyck and other members of the ski team have experienced a range of emotions.
“It will take time for everyone to heal,” said Van Dyck, 20, of Fairfax County. “People are somber. They’ve been through a whirlwind of emotions, from fear, to anger, to frustration. If this is the news we’ve been all waiting for, and now that it’s come, there still isn’t closure.”
In September, the Virginia State Police announced that Matthew’s arrest in the Graham case had provided investigators with a “significant break” in the Harrington case and that a “forensic link” tied the two cases together.
Matthew was arrested Sept. 24 in Galveston, Tex., after a nationwide manhunt. He was charged with abduction with intent to defile in Graham’s disappearance, indicating that police believe he planned to sexually assault her.
Matthew’s arrest in the Graham disappearance also spurred far-flung and persistent speculation about whether he had a role in a host of unsolved cases throughout Virginia involving missing women.
Comparing a suspect’s DNA to other cases is commonplace in sexual assault and homicide investigations. Law enforcement officials look for possible matches to reported cases where evidence was collected and not degraded and where there were enough remains to test. Often, unsolved cases are linked through DNA evidence before a suspect is identified or apprehended.
Matthew’s arrest set off flurries of questions to local law enforcement agencies, asking whether the forensic evidence in the Graham case would prompt a fresh look at their cold cases in areas where Matthew went to school and worked or where there were cases of young women who had disappeared over many years.
The only old cases publicly linked to Matthew are the Fairfax attack and the Harrington investigation. No one has been charged in that case.
Matthew, who spent his childhood in the Charlottesville area and most recently lived there as an adult, also has lived in Newport News and Lynchburg, where he attended college.
Prosecutors in Lynchburg have said Matthew was accused of an on-campus rape at Liberty University in 2002. Officials at Christopher Newport University in Newport News said Matthew was accused of sexually assaulting a woman while he was a student there in 2003.
“There have been no DNA-hit notifications nor any other evidence reviewed that in any way links Jesse Matthew to any unresolved crimes in Newport News,” Police Chief Richard Myers said Friday.
He said that includes two open cases of women missing since 2003 that have drawn renewed attention from local and national news media as the Graham case has unfolded. Autumn Wind Day, 24, was last seen in July 2003 at a grocery store, and her abandoned car was later found in the store’s lot; Sophie May Rivera, 31, was last seen at her home in September 2003, according to local news reports.
In 2009, Cassandra Ann Morton, 23, was found dead on Candlers Mountain, just outside of Lynchburg.
“I am not aware of any evidence linking the gentleman held in Charlottesville to the case of Cassandra Morton,” Campbell County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul A. McAndrews said Monday, referring to Matthew.
The wake of Matthew’s arrest created “one of those situations where any law enforcement official is not going to tell you he wouldn’t look at new information that may help solve a crime, because he is going to look,” McAndrews said. But the “yeses spun up and just took off.”
Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report. Shapiro reported from Charlottesville.