Exploring Similarities: Three Unsolved Murders in Alexandria May Be Linked, Police Say

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby, Ruthanne Lodato

    Three murders in Alexandria, Va., span more than a decade, but have several things in common. In all three cases, a popular member of the community was killed in his or her home. In all three cases, there was no sign of forced entry and no obvious motive.

    And all three cases remain unsolved.

    Alexandria police announced Thursday that it's possible that all three cased are linked.

    RUTHANNE LODATO: Feb. 6, 2014

    Neighbors, Friends Mourn Ruthanne Lodato

    [DC] Neighbors, Friends Mourn Ruthanne Lodato
    News4's Julie Carey reports.

    Ruthanne Lodato, 59, was fatally shot around 11:30 a.m. Feb. 6 when she opened the door of her home in the 2400 block of Ridge Road Drive.

    Lodato was taken to a hospital in critical condition and later died. Her elderly mother's caregiver was also shot, but survived the incident. She described the gunman to police, who later released a sketch of a suspect described as an older, balding man with gray hair and a beard.

    Lodato's mother was also inside the home during the shooting, but was not injured.

    Lodato taught at Music Together Alexandria for 20 years and was the center's director.She also played the organ at a Del Ray-area church.

    Flowers and children's piano books were left in front of her home as a tribute to the woman who shared her love of music with thousands.

    "She was a lovely person," Amanda Altree said. "It's really a loss. My children took music classes from her when they were small and [she] pulled this community together."

    Neighbors have said they're rattled by the killing, and many have increased the security at their homes.

    "People are afraid to open their doors," R.C. Huffman with Executive Lock and Key said. "So people are calling to install peepholes."

    RONALD KIRBY: Nov. 11, 2013

    Ronald Kirby, 69, had most likely been working from home the day he was killed.

    A relative found him early on the afternoon of Nov. 11 at the home in the 200 block of Elm Street where Kirby lived with his wife, not far from the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.

    Kirby, the director of the department of transportation planning for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, had been shot multiple times.

    His widow, Anne Gray Haynes, told News4 that she thought a door may have been left unlocked, and her husband's killer may have been attempting a robbery.

    "Ron had no enemies," she said. "The only reason somebody would have come in here is they thought they could get cash or something of value and they thought the house was empty and unfortunately it wasn't."

    The two had been married for only a little more than a year. He had two children from a previous marriage.

    "I can't imagine that anyone would have hurt my sweetheart in our home," Gray Haynes said.

    Kirby was considered something of a visionary when it came to local transportation planning, working with local leaders like former Fairfax County board chair Kate Hanley.

    "He really had a lot of knowledge," Hanley said. "And this is going to be a real big hole for the regional planning."

    Police were considering the possibility that Kirby may have encountered someone in his travels during the last weeks of his life who could be linked to the killing.

    "Mr. Kirby had such a big footprint in this field, across the country and nationally, that he may have been in contact with people in his travels that we are not aware of," said Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook.

    In the wake of Kirby's death, officials said the community was safe, and there was no reason for citizens to be overly concerned about continuing violence.

    "We all loved Ron," said a neighbor. "He and Anne were out in [their] yard all the time. They were wonderful master gardeners. They couldn't have been better neighbors, and he's going to be terribly missed."

    NANCY DUNNING: Dec. 5, 2003

    It's been more 10 years since Nancy Dunning's murder rocked her Alexandria community. The wife of then-Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning, Nancy was a real estate agent and community booster, nicknamed the "Queen of Del Ray."

    On Dec. 5, 2003, her husband and her 23-year-old son, Chris, found her dead in the foyer of their home when she didn't show up for lunch at a local restaurant.

    Like Ronald Kirby, Nancy Dunning had been shot several times.

    Investigators considered the theory that someone with a grudge against the sheriff had killed Nancy, or that it may have been a contract killing. Jim Dunning, who died in 2012, also had not been ruled out as a possible suspect, police said.

    "She was well-known and very well-liked," former neighbor Holly Hartnell told News4 in 2008, five years after Nancy's death. "And people still comment on how much she had done for the neighborhood."

    Authorities tried a website, an outside investigative think tank and a $100,000 reward to identify a suspect, all to no avail. Police recently said they hope advances in forensic science will help them solve the case.

    Chris Dunning spoke on camera for the first time since his mother's death in December 2013.

    He said in the first months after the murder, relatives experienced fear as well as grief, wondering if other family members were in danger.

    "I think she was targeted but nothing has happened to me," he said. "It's been 10 years. You can't sit around and be afraid to go out of the house."

    Chris Dunning's cousin, Kate Moran, said in December she still hopes her aunt's killer will be found.

    "I think every year we hope something is going to break, somebody going to step forward that might know something," Moran said. "Somebody is going to have some new information that might just break this case but it just hasn't happened."

    Moran said she noticed similarities between her aunt's murder and Kirby's death.

    "You can't help but notice that, it's the same time of year, it's 10 years later and we're looking at very similar facts," she said. 

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