Alexandria Woman's Death Remains Unsolved a Decade Later

For friends and family of a well-known Alexandria woman, this week brought both a grim milestone and a chance to refocus attention on a murder mystery.

Thursday marks 10 years since Nancy Dunning was shot to death in her Del Ray area home. The real estate agent and wife of Sheriff Jim Dunning was known as the "Queen of Del Ray," and her murder sent shock waves through Alexandria.

Then 23, son Chris Dunning discovered her body when she failed to show up for a lunch date with him and his father.

"This time of year, I just seem to be in a more funky mood for a couple of months at a time maybe, " said Dunning, speaking for the first on camera since his mother's death.

He said in the early months, there was fear along with the grief as relatives wondered if other family members were in danger.

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

Joined by his cousin Kate Moran at a Del Ray restaurant, both say the family has been forced to move on with their lives but they hope by keeping a spotlight on the unsolved murder an arrest might still come someday.

"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."

One theory was that maybe someone with a grudge against the sheriff had was responsible, and the FBI uncovered a letter in which someone who had been an inmate in Alexandria made a threat, but that didn't lead anywhere.

Not long after the murder, Nancy's widower Jim Dunning moved away. He died in 2012 at his home in Hilton Head, N.C., and has not been ruled out as a possible suspect, police said Wednesday.

A new lead  investigator and team of detectives is taking a look at Nancy's case, giving it a top to bottom review.

“And I promise to the Dunning family, to the survivors, that we will never put this case on the shelf,” Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cooke. “It will not become what is traditionally called a cold case. The viability here is still existing for us. So we continue to try and investigate and ferret out leads where we can get them.”

Police hope advances in forensic science will help them solve the case.

"I really do hope they cast the net wide and they keep an open mind this time when they are looking at all the facts of the case," Moran said.

Moran said she's struck by similarities between her aunt's death and the recent murder of another high profile Alexandria resident, transportation official Ron Kirby.

He was shot to death in his home Nov. 11, not far from where Dunning lived. In both cases, there was no sign of forced entry.

"You can't help but notice that, its the same time of year, it's 10 years later and we're looking at very similar facts," said Moran. "I very much felt for his family and I think we all did as a family to see what they were going through."

Chris Dunning agrees.

"The similarities ... it's just kind of eerie for me," Dunning said. "I very much hope they solve that case and my mom's case."

Saturday they will remember Nancy Dunning as they've done each year since her death -- placing glowing luminaries along the Del Ray streets she worked to revitalize.

They'll sing her favorite Christmas carols.

"I used to joke with her, 'You're turning Del Ray into a little Christmas Village!'" Dunning said. "But it's a great place."

Moran said the ceremony both honors her aunt and keeps the community aware of the unsolved case.

"I think it's important to remember her and that's why I do these things -- so we do remember her," Moran said.

The family still longs for the closure an arrest could bring.

"It's just unnerving having this occur and not knowing who's done this," Moran said. "That's the part that makes me uneasy. There is somebody out there that has murdered somebody and they're still out there and we don't know who that person is."

The remembrance for Nancy Dunning was rescheduled due to the weather forecast from Friday to Saturday at 6 p.m. along Mt. Vernon Avenue in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.

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