Authorities are taking a fresh look at unsolved rape, murder and missing persons cases after a man was charged in the abduction of a University of Virginia student who vanished about three weeks ago.
One police chief said he and his officers would be "derelict in our duties'' if they didn't dust off their cold cases, even if there was only a remote possibility of being connected to Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. Another agency said it had a responsibility to review the open cases now that Matthew has been linked to the 2009 disappearance and death of a Virginia Tech student and three sexual assault allegations.
Matthew has been charged with abduction with intent to defile 18-year-old Hannah Graham, who disappeared after a night out with friends. He has not been charged in the other four cases.
"I would say this is somebody who has been out and about and has been active,'' former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt said.
While Matthew is entitled to a presumption of innocence, "he's as good a suspect as they have in a number of these offenses.''
Matthew was scheduled to appear in court Thursday on the abduction charge and reckless driving charges after authorities said he sped away from a police station Sept. 20. The cases were postponed until December.
The FBI said in 2012 that DNA evidence in the slaying of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington and the 2005 rape of a 26-year-old woman in Fairfax City matched. However, police have disclosed little of their evidence against Matthew and have cited only a "forensic'' link, without saying what that was in the Graham and Harrington cases.
Matthew was accused of rape at Liberty University in 2002, and another sexual assault the following year at Christopher Newport University, according to school officials and a prosecutor. In each case, Matthew's accuser, a fellow student, decided not to pursue the case. Matthew, a football player at both colleges, left each school shortly after the complaints.
In a county near Liberty University, Sheriff Steve Hutcherson said his office was examining whether Matthew could have been involved in the 2009 death of 23-year-old Cassandra Morton, whose body was found a few miles from campus.
"We had a conversation about that early on when we found out that he went to Liberty and was familiar with the area,'' Hutcherson told the News & Advance of Lynchburg.
Police in Newport News, where Christopher New University is located, are looking at the cases of two women who disappeared there in 2003, when Matthew was attending the school there, police spokeswoman Holly McPherson told The Daily Progress of Charlottesville. She said no evidence thus far has connected Matthew to those cases.
James Fenwick, police chief in the town of Orange, said his department is looking into whether Graham could be involved in the September 2010 disappearance of Samantha Clarke. Orange is about 30 miles northeast of Charlottesville, where the University of Virginia is located.
"We're obviously going to follow up on it,'' Fenwick said, adding that police would be "derelict in our duties'' if they didn't.
He emphasized that police have always focused on people who were with Clarke the weekend before she disappeared, which didn't include Matthew.
Montgomery County Sheriff's Capt. Brian Wright said investigators there were "going to do our due diligence'' to follow up on the August 2009 slayings of two Virginia Tech students who were shot to death with a rifle in the Jefferson National Forest.
"There's nothing right now to lead us to believe there's a connection,'' he said.