A Loudoun County man has been indicted in the murders of three Alexandria, Virginia, residents whose shocking deaths spanned a decade and sent waves of fear through a quiet neighborhood.
Authorities announced the indictment of Charles Severance on Monday in the murders of Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning.
"It's with some pleasure we have ability to say we have this particular killer arrested," said Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook during a press conference Monday.
Cook said he is confident that Severance is the suspect they've been looking for since the murder of Nancy Dunning in her home almost 11 years ago.
Dunning's relatives hugged and cried Monday, a day they've awaited for more than a decade. Severance is now charged with first-degree murder for the death of the popular real estate agent, as well as two counts of capital murder for the two more recent killings.
“Our family is grateful to the police and investigators who continue to pursue our mother’s case over these nearly 11 years,” Nancy Dunning’s daughter Liz Dunning said. “While nothing can bring her back, we’re hopeful that today’s indictment is the beginning of a process that will offer our family and the other affected families some small amount of closure.”
“For the family, I think it’s another painful reminder of the loss of Ruthanne, and they miss her every day in so many ways,” said John Kelly, spokesman for the Lodato family. “It’s also now a painful reminder for other families in our community, and I know the Lodatos’ thoughts and prayers go out to the Kirby and Dunning families.”
Severance is facing a total of 10 charges relating to the deaths of the three prominent community members:
- First-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the Dec. 5, 2003, death of Nancy Dunning, the wife of then-Alexandria Sheriff Jim Dunning.
- Capital murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a felon in the Nov. 11, 2013, death of 69-year-old Ronald Kirby, an official with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments
- Capital murder, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a felon, and malicious wounding in the Feb. 6, 2014, death of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, 59.
Lodato's mother's caregiver was also shot in the February 2014 incident. She survived the shooting and was able to provide authorities a description of the suspect.
"Obviously, practically speaking, any live witness that you have has moved us that much [more] forward in our case," Cook said.
However, he said there was no breakthrough leading to murder charges against Severance, just continuing evidence collection. "I assure you, the last five months have been very intensive...." he said.
Dunning's death came nearly a decade before the two subsequent murders. Cook thanked the investigators who worked throughout the years on her case, including detectives who have since retired.
"As we have stated for years, the Nancy Dunning investigation has never been a cold case," he said.
Almost exactly 10 years after Dunning's murder, Ronald Kirby was found fatally shot in his Alexandria home. Residents speculated that the murder seemed similar to Dunning's. Just three months later, a third similar crime rocked the community. Like the others, Lodato was shot in her own home during daylight hours.
A month later, police said all three killings might be linked.
On Monday, Cook was unable to speculate on a motive, saying he would leave that to the court system.
"I don't know if it was targeted or not, because I can't get into the mentality of Mr. Severance," he said. "The evidence in itself, though, may show something different when we get to court."
Severance faces up to life in prison. The commonwealth does not intend to seek the death penalty.
Why charge with capital murder if not seeking death penalty? Chief Cook says that's a question for the prosecutor who declines comment — Julie Carey (@JulieCareyNBC) September 8, 2014
Severance has been in custody since his arrest at a West Virginia library in March, when he was arrested on an unrelated weapons charge for a warrant out of Loudoun County. He was later extradited to Virginia. He is expected to be transported from Loudoun County to Alexandria within a week.
His lawyer unsuccessfully argued that the weapons charge, being a felon in possession of a firearm, was a "sham" charge intended to be used to allow Alexandria authorities more time for their murder investigation.
Severance was indicted in July on one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. His trial date on that charge was set for Oct. 27.
Cook said it's unclear whether authorities will continue to pursue those charges now that Severance has been indicted for murder.
He also said that no weapon has been recovered in any of the cases.
Alexandria police were hesitant to call Severance a suspect in the killings for months after his arrest. They confirmed for the first time they were narrowing their scope to Severance in July. At that point, a judge ruled that Severance would remain in custody.
Former neighbors in both Maryland and Virginia remembered Severance for odd behavior.
Neighbors in the Ashburn townhome community where Severance had lived most recently said he would build bonfires on his patio right below his deck and rearrange the rocks in his front yard. They said he rarely drove anywhere, instead riding his bike around the neighborhood.
Severance also ran for mayor of Alexandria twice against former mayor Kerry Donley in 1996 and 2000. Donley recalled some unsettling interactions with him.
"I mean, he was a strange fellow, an odd guy," Donley told News4 earlier this year. "He would come totally dressed in black. He had a black cloak, and a black hat, sunglasses and black gloves. He would come to the campaign events, and whether you asked... a local community question, or a local neighborhood question, he would launch into a diatribe about mental health services to juveniles and the prescription of psychotropic drugs...."
A week before his arrest, Severance visited the Russian Embassy in D.C. to request asylum. The visit came about 24 hours after Cook held a press conference on the possble links between the murders.