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30 Years Ago in Arlington: Serial Killer Convicted With DNA Evidence

On a summer day in 1988, prosecutor Helen Fahey addressed an Arlington jury. It was the sentencing phase in a six-day long capital murder trial.

“Something is terribly, terribly wrong with Timothy Spencer,” she said.

That trial opened 30 years ago this month, on July 11, 1988. It ended with a death sentence.

Spencer, sometimes known as the “South Side Strangler,” was convicted for the brutal rape and murder of Susan Tucker, a 44-year-old Fairlington resident. He would eventually accumulate three more death sentences for similar killings in and around Richmond.

The story is significant in American legal and scientific history because it represents the nation’s first capital murder conviction based on DNA evidence. No serial killer in any country had previously been convicted with DNA.

Richmond-based writer Richard Foster is chronicling the story in painstaking detail through a 10-episode podcast, entitled Southern Nightmare.

“The fact is there was no other evidence directly linking Spencer to the scene besides the DNA,” Foster said. “That’s what’s really so groundbreaking about this case.”

Foster spoke with sources including homicide detectives, FBI profilers and friends and family of Spencer’s victims to outline a chilling tale of escalating criminal behavior, tragedy and the struggle for justice.

Years earlier, from summer 1983 through January 1984, investigators believe Spencer committed a series of crimes including eight rapes in and near Arlington in what Foster describes as a “seven-month terroristic campaign.”

Those crimes culminated in Spencer’s first murder, in the 23rd Street S. home of lawyer Carolyn Hamm.

That January, the attacks abruptly stopped, only to resume in September 1987 with the rape and murder of Debbie Davis, a 35-year-old Richmond resident.

As Foster relays in the podcast, Arlington County detective Joe Horgas discovered that this timeline lined up with a prison stint for Spencer — he was arrested for an Alexandria burglary in January 1984, and released to a halfway house in Richmond in September 1987.

When Horgas visited the halfway house in Richmond, he found something else. Spencer had been signed out of the house when each of the murders occurred, and he had furlough to visit his mother in Arlington when Susan Tucker was killed.

Arlington detectives arrested Spencer in Richmond on Jan. 20, 1988 with a grand jury indictment for burglary, rape and murder.

Spencer was never tried for the 1983-84 crimes or for Hamm’s murder. The DNA left behind at the Hamm murder scene had degraded beyond usefulness, and he had received death sentences for the other murders.

But Spencer’s implication in the Hamm case led Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles to pardon David Vasquez, who had been sentenced to 35 years in prison for Hamm’s murder after submitting an Alford plea — not admitting guilt, but conceding that there was enough evidence to convict him.

Vasquez’s sentence “was an obvious miscarriage of justice and it’s very sad,” Foster said. “[Vasquez] was a man who functioned at about the level of a 10-year-old depending on the situation.”

The Spencer case, in spite of its significance, seems to be “one of those cases that kind that fell through the cracks, historically,” Foster said.

At the time, DNA evidence was quite new to the courtroom, and there was uncertainty over whether juries would accept it. This case “made it so it wasn’t as difficult to put on DNA cases… in the future,” Foster said.

Without DNA evidence in Spencer’s trials, “I definitely don’t think they would’ve gotten the four convictions they got,” Foster said. “I think that would’ve been a lot tougher.”

Spencer was executed April 27, 1994 — the last person in Virginia to be put to death with the electric chair.

Photo via Facebook

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APS Unveils New Designs for Reed Elementary School

Plans for a new elementary school on the Reed School property in Westover are coming into focus.

The School Board got its first look at new design renderings for the building Tuesday (July 17), which is set to open in time for the 2021 school year and serve at least 725 students in all.

The $55 million project will involve the construction of a four-story structure alongside the existing Reed building, located at 1644 N. McKinley Road, and the renovation of the rest of the old building. Ultimately, the school will have 32 classrooms, 133 parking spaces and several new athletic fields and playgrounds for students.

Wyck Knox, a principal with the design firm VMDO Architects, told the Board that his team is also working to working to make classrooms in the building “adaptable.” Should school leaders ultimately want to open up more common space for group lessons, he says designers are “working really hard to keep columns and pipes out of the walls, so you can take those walls down” if need be.

Knox added that designers envision a fully accessible walkway stretching around the perimeter of the school, and he even plans to include space for an “outdoor classroom” alongside the building’s new fields and playgrounds.

But throughout all of the planning process, Knox stressed that the school’s designers have examined “cost control measures,” considering that the project’s price tag has been a subject of some controversy in the past, and the cost of all school construction in the county is a frequent sore spot for Arlington officials.

Cost estimates for the Reed project remain about $5.5 million higher than the $49.5 million in bond funding the school system secured for the effort. The county and Arlington Public Schools are planning to split the burden for that remaining amount, though designers are still hoping to bring the cost down to the original figure, as the School Board asked this spring.

Ben Burgin, the school system’s assistant director of design and construction, assured the Board that the remaining design work would involve the additional study of costs of things like emergency electrical systems, roofing or site amenities. He ultimately hopes to “deliver a new cost estimate by the fall.

The school system will ultimately need a use permit from the County Board before proceeding with construction, which they’re aiming to request in time for the Board’s Nov. 17 meeting.

But first, the School Board will need to sign off on the updated designs for the school, and will likely do so at its Aug. 2 meeting. The Board was broadly pleased with the newest sketches laid out, though Chair Reid Goldstein did reiterate his interest in seeing costs come down, considering the school system’s construction funding squeeze.

Audrey Clement, a frequent independent candidate for public office who is challenging Board member Barbara Kanninen this fall, wasn’t so optimistic.

“It will force 9- and 10-year-olds to march up three flights of stairs several times a day,” Clement told the Board. “While this scheme furthers APS’ commitment to a more-car diet, it will impose physical hardship on students and drive up costs.”

In related news, The Children’s School, a co-op daycare for the kids of APS employees displaced by the Reed school redevelopment, earned county approval Tuesday to build a new facility at the site of the old Alpine Restaurant on Lee Highway.

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Morning Notes

Metro Workers’ Strike Threat Fizzles — After two straight days of talks, tensions between Metro and its largest workers’ union seem to be subsiding. The two sides are planning a “cooling off period” through Monday, and the union is starting to circulate a list of demands to elected officials. [Washington Post]

New Metro Railcars are on Hold — Don’t expect to see more 7000-series railcars on the tracks anytime soon. Metro says wiring problems with the cars have forced the rail service to commission a new round of inspections before putting them in service. [Greater Greater Washington]

County Board Wants to Name Bridge for Veterans — Arlington officials are asking the state to christen the Washington Blvd bridge over Jefferson Davis Highway, just near the Pentagon, as “Arlington Veterans Bridge” by the time its fully rebuilt later this year. [InsideNova]

Kaine Pouring Lemonade in Arlington Tonight — U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) plans to stump in Arlington and lend a hand as a “guest pourer” at a lemonade stand managed by Bridges to Independence, his campaign says. The event, designed to benefit the homelessness-focused nonprofit, starts at 6 p.m. at the Arlington Community Federal Credit Union (4121 Wilson Blvd).

Flickr pool photo via Erinn Shirley

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Ensure College Success with Strong Time Management and Academic Study Skills

1 in 4 college students don’t return to school after their first year according to research just released by the National Student Clearinghouse.

Many new college students struggle to adapt to the increased demands and pressures on their time, focus and productivity. Strong time management and smart study habits ensure academic success and set up a lifetime of accomplishment.

Completing college is the single most important factor for job security, increased earnings and overall career satisfaction.

Rising college students who attend the August 2018 Academic Success Lab offered by Anchored Focus Consulting master just-in-time, totally-practical tips and tools to defeat distraction, increase productivity and ensure success.

Over the course of three 90-minute sessions participants will examine the differences between high school and college environments, learn the secrets of the course syllabus, set up a calendar system and review useful productivity apps, discover personal energy drivers, and practice important academic skills for note taking, studying, organizing projects and writing assignments and acing tests.

Click here to learn more about Anchored Focus Consulting and get on the right track to college success!

Lead Your Healthiest Life with Complete Nutrition in Clarendon

Regardless of your fitness goals (slimming down, bulking up or maintaining your best health), Complete Nutrition offers great solutions for everyone, no matter where you are in your fitness journey.

Offering free services, Complete Nutrition isn’t your traditional nutritional supplement company. Based on the ideals of hydration, recovery, balanced nutrition and exercise, their success coaches can provide you with advice on these areas in addition to a supplementation plan that will help boost your results.

To begin, customers receive a free body composition analysis (BodyComp) to measure not only your weight, but muscle mass, body fat and water. It can even calculate the number of calories your body burns at rest in one day. Using this technology can tell you exactly what you need to do to achieve your desired goal.

After this baseline measurement, customers can continue with free BodyComps to see exactly how diet, exercise and supplementation plans are working. The accountability helps beginners stick to a new routine and helps seasoned athletes fine-tune their existing routines.

Come and enjoy a delicious smoothie while you take a look at what Complete Nutrition has to offer. All of their products are cGMP certified in a FDA registered facility and tested for quality and purity to meet the industry standard Certificate of Analysis (COA). The company even goes a step further to verify the COA against an independent 3rd party lab.

Complete Nutrition is located along Washington Boulevard and 10th Street. Check out the company’s website for details on a wide assortment of sports nutrition, weight management and general health supplements.

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BREAKING: Fire Breaks Out in Pentagon City Apartment Building

Arlington firefighters are working to extinguish a blaze at a Pentagon City apartment complex.

First responders were called to a building along the 800 block of 15th Street S., adjacent to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, around 5 p.m. today (Wednesday).

Firefighters believe the blaze started on the eighth floor of the building, according to a tweet from the department, and they were able to quickly extinguish it.

There’s no word yet on any traffic impact or injuries.

Photo via Google Maps

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Signature Theatre Cabaret Series to Return With 16-Act Lineup

Signature Theatre’s annual Sizzlin’ Summer Nights cabaret series will return tomorrow (Thursday) in Shirlington with a performance from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C.

Cabarets run for approximately one hour. Tickets for individual performances are $35 and all-access passes are available for $175.

The first ten cabarets are listed below. The full schedule may be found on Signature Theatre’s website, and performances run through Aug. 4.

  • July 19 (8 p.m.) — The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C.: It Takes Two
  • July 20 (7 p.m.) — Rochelle Rice: American Remix
  • July 20 (9 p.m.) — Mason Cabaret: An Evening with Stephen Sondheim
  • July 21 (7 p.m. and 9 p.m.) — Bob McDonald: Best of Bob
  • July 22 (5 p.m.) — Monumental Theatre: Flip Flop, A Miscast Cabaret
  • July 22 (7 p.m.) — Nova Y. Payton and Mark G. Meadows: Hotter than July
  • July 24 (8 p.m.) — Awa Sal Secka: Soul Divas
  • July 25 (8 p.m.) — Nova Y. Payton and Mark G. Meadows: Hotter than July
  • July 26 (8 p.m.) — Erin Driscoll: Ladies’ Night

The Washington Post has noted Signature Theatre’s cabaret series for lending the stage to out-of-town performers and promoting cabaret in the D.C. area. The Signature Theatre’s productions are routinely recognized as among the region’s best — they have won 107 Helen Hayes Awards and received 411 nominations.

Photos courtesy Signature Theatre

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Crime Report: Two Men Assault Rideshare Driver Following Destination Dispute

Arlington police are searching for two men who they believe attacked their rideshare driver in an Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

Police say the confrontation began yesterday afternoon (Tuesday) around the 700 block of 15th Street S., near the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, when the driver got into an argument with three passengers about where to drop them off.

The driver then ended the ride, and as the three men left the car, police believe one man “threw a glass bottle at the vehicle, shattering the window” while another spit on the driver. The three men fled before police arrived.

More details from this week’s Arlington County Police Department crime report:

MISSILE INTO OCCUPIED VEHICLE, 2018-07170218, 700 block of 15th Street S. at approximately 4:40 p.m. on July 17, police were dispatched to the report of a dispute. Upon arrival, it was determined that following a dispute over drop-off location between a rideshare driver and passengers, the driver ended the trip. While the three passengers were exiting the vehicle, one suspect threw a glass bottle at the vehicle, shattering the window, and a second suspect spit on the driver. The suspects fled on foot prior to police arrival. Suspect One is described as a black male, 16-17 years old, approximately 5’5″ and 100 lbs., with black hair and brown eyes, wearing a white tank top, blue jeans, a green and yellow bracelet. Suspect Two is described as a black male, 16-17 years old, approximately 5’5″ and 100 lbs., with long hair sticking out of the top of a black bandanna, brown eyes, wearing blue jeans and a white tank top, with a tattoo on his arm. Suspect Three is described as a black male, 16-17 years old, approximately 5’7″ and 120 lbs., with black hair and brown eyes, wearing a skull cap, white tank top, black jeans and diamond earrings. The investigation is ongoing.

Here are more highlights from the crime report, including some that we’ve already reported:

ATTEMPTED BURGLARY, 2018-07170184, 600 block of N. Vermont Street. At approximately 3:15 p.m. on July 17, police were dispatched to the late report of breaking and entering. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 12:00 p.m. and 2:45 p.m., a known suspect attempted to force entry to the victim’s residence, causing damage. The investigation is ongoing.

BURGLARY (late), 2018-07160111, 1800 block of Columbia Pike. At approximately 12:34 p.m. on July 16, police were dispatched to the report of a late burglary. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 12:00 a.m. on July 15 and 11:30 a.m. on July 16, an unknown suspect forced entry into an unoccupied residence. Personal belongings of the suspect were left behind but no items were reported stolen from the residence. The investigation is ongoing.

UNLAWFUL ENTRY, 2018-07160266, Columbia Pike at S. George Mason Drive. At approximately 12:15 a.m. on July 17, police were dispatched to the report of trouble unknown. Upon arrival, it was determined that an unknown suspect was observed attempting to enter multiple vehicles and a business. A lookout was broadcast and arriving officers located a suspect matching the description provided by witnesses. Jonathan Diaz Cruz, 19, of Arlington, VA was arrested and charged with unlawful entry. He was held on a secured bond.

BURGLARY, 2018-07140131, 1800 block of Rhode Street. At approximately 2:22 p.m. on July 14, police were dispatched to the report of a burglary in progress. Upon arrival, it was determined that a witness observed two unknown males force entry into a residence. The suspects fled the scene with the victim’s personal belongings prior to police arrival. Arriving officers established a perimeter and the area was searched with negative results. Suspect One is described as a light skinned black male, in his 20’s, 5’10” tall, approximately 150 pounds with a slim build, with black dreadlocks. He was wearing a dark t-shirt and dark cargo pants. Suspect Two is described as a dark skinned black male, in his 20’s, 5’11” tall, approximately 160 pounds with a slim build, with black dreadlocks. He was wearing no shirt, green pants and carry a dark colored bag. The investigation is ongoing.

DESTRUCTION OF PROPERTY (Significant), 2018-07140101, 900 block of N. Pollard Street. At approximately 11:58 a.m. on July 14, police were dispatched to the report of a destruction of property. Upon arrival, it was determined the victim returned to their residence and found their window shattered by a bullet fired by an unknown suspect. No one was home at the time of the incident and no injuries were reported. The investigation is ongoing.

INDECENT EXPOSURE, 2018-07110262, 2200 block of Fairfax Drive. At approximately 9:32 p.m. on July 11, police were dispatched to the report of an indecent exposure. Upon arrival, it was determined that the female victim was walking in the area when she observed a male suspect masturbating. Police responded to the scene, established a perimeter and conducted a search of the area. The search was assisted by the Fairfax Police Department helicopter unit and returned with negative results. The suspect is described as a white male with dark curly hair, approximately 5’9″ with an average build. The investigation is ongoing.

LARCENY FROM AUTO (series), 2018-07070087/07070100/07070106, 1600 block of S. Joyce Street/1600 block of S. Eads Street/2000 block of S. Eads Street. Between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m. on July 7, police responded to multiple reports of larcenies from auto. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 8:00 p.m. on July 6 and 7:54 a.m. on July 7, the windows of approximately 35 vehicles were smashed and airbags stolen. There is no suspect(s) description. The investigation is ongoing.

BURGLARY (late), 2018-07110047, 4800 block of 1st Street N. At approximately 7:28 a.m. on July 11, police were dispatched to the report of a late commercial burglary. Upon arrival, it was determined that between 5:00 p.m. on July 10 and 6:30 a.m. on July 11, an unknown suspect(s) forced entry to a business, causing damage, and stole cash and items of value. There is no suspect(s) description(s). The investigation is ongoing.

ROBBERY, 2018-07110214, 2200 block of Wilson Boulevard. At approximately 5:30 p.m. on July 11, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery. Upon arrival, it was determined that two male suspects entered a business, approached the cash register, and passed the employee a note demanding money. The employee initially questioned the suspects’ request, but was threatened by one of the suspects. The suspects then fled the scene on foot with an undisclosed amount of cash. Suspect One is described as a black male, with dreadlocks, wearing sunglasses, a black hat, grey jacket, light blue jeans, and white and black shoes, carrying a grocery bag. Suspect Two is described as a black male, wearing white sunglasses with a dark hood covering his face, a white shirt, sweatpants and black shoes. The investigation is ongoing.

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Arlington’s Sewage Could One Day Fertilize Local Lawns and Fuel ART Buses

People tend to flush and forget, but a plan approved by the County Board yesterday (Tuesday) could eventually result in the solid waste generated by Arlingtonians being deposited right back onto their lawns.

Fifteen years ago Arlington began a massive upgrade of the liquid side of its wastewater treatment facility — work that was finally completed several years ago at a cost of over a half billion dollars. Since then the solid side of the sewage plant has continue to degrade. Solid wastes are currently trucked away from the site five to six times each day. Instead, a new Solids Master Plan could transform that waste into soil enhancement for local yards and collect methane gas to be used in Arlington’s bus network.

“The solid site is now reaching the end of its natural life,” said Sarah McKinley, the president of the Columbia Heights Civic Association, who served as a community representative on the stakeholder committee. “We could replace it with current equipment or go to new technology that would really move us into the future.”

The new treatment is a three-phase process that will gradually replace equipment at the treatment center, with a total cost of $154.8 million spread out across those phases. The plan would require additional staff, but the cost is offset by reducing the number of truck trips from the site.

The new cleaning process would create two byproducts, a fertilizer-like biosolid that the plan says could be used by the public, the county, or commercial entities for soil treatment. Further processing — such as blending with soil or a “bulking agent” — would be required if the biosolid is to be locally distributed.

The other byproduct, a biogas compound, could be converted into compressed natural gas. The plan identifies the Arlington Transit bus fleet, conveniently parked across the street from the treatment facility, as a potential customer.

McKinley noted that there were concerns from residents living near the treatment site about pollution from the methane creation process and the routine gas flares from the treatment plant. However, she said added that committee believed the environmental and community benefits outweighed the concerns.

“I think it really moves us into the future,” said McKinley. “It makes sense. It’s a clean plan.”

The county is set to implement the new solid waste handling method in 2027.

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Arlington Libraries Abandon Some Digital Offerings to Cut Costs

Arlington’s public library system is rolling back some of its digital offerings as it seeks to cope with deep budget cuts.

Library officials announced Monday (July 16) that patrons soon won’t be able to access both Standard & Poor’s Capital IQ Netadvantage, an investment research tool, and Hoopla, a system for streaming music or audiobooks. Both services were previously available free of charge for library users.

This move comes after the library system spent the last few weeks collecting feedback on what services patrons value, in order to prepare for the loss of $250,000 in funding that took effect with the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. Library officials say they received more than 19,500 responses to that survey, which helped inform these cuts.

“Cutting these online services was not an easy decision,” Library Director Diane Kresh wrote in a blog post. “As the recent survey demonstrated, all of our collections are used and valued by members of our community.”

However, Kresh noted that the library does still give users access to Morningstar and Valueline, a pair of services similar to Netadvantage.

She called the loss of Hoopla “regrettable,” as the library doesn’t offer any similar streaming music service. But the county does offer several other downloadable audiobook subscriptions for patrons.

“I am so disappointed to hear you are cutting Hoopla,” Christine Lewicki wrote in a comment on the post. “My daughter and I use its audiobook collection several times a week. The beauty of Hoopla is there is no wait list… Because my daughter has a Milan dyslexia, she is a reluctant reader. Consequently, access to digital audiobooks through Hoopla has exposed her to far more books than she would have otherwise been.”

These cuts are likely not the last for the library system, considering the loss in funding was the equivalent of 17 percent of its total collection budget. Officials say they will “make further decisions throughout the coming year regarding what to reduce or eliminate entirely,” but they don’t expect to make any cuts to their physical book offerings.

Photo via Arlington County

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Arlington Pet of the Week: Dorian

This week’s Arlington Pet of the Week is Dorian, an attention-loving cat approaching his tenth birthday.

Here’s what Dorian’s owner, Laura, had to say about him:

As Oscar Wilde wrote of his namesake, Dorian lives his life according to the motto: “The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” As with that famous fictional character, our own Dorian Gray has a commissioned portrait except his only captures his sweet expression rather than reflecting his life of debauchery (aka the obscene number of treats he can eat in a day).

Our dapper boy was adopted from the DC Humane Rescue Alliance in 2014 at the mature age of 5 ½ years old and made himself right at home leaving tufts of fur all over the apartment, claiming the couch as well as the highest level of the cat tower as his favorite spots, and playing hide and seek with his owner by mostly hiding on top of or inside the kitchen cabinets.

Now belonging to a couple and living large in the Courthouse area of Arlington, Dorian serenely looks forward to his 10th birthday in November. Having adopted his owner’s better half, Dorian has a new favorite human to headbutt, request chin and tummy scratches, and squawk at for attention. Due to his chill personality, Dorian is always a big hit at social functions where he can get all the attention he’s ever desired!

Want your pet to be considered for the Arlington Pet of the Week? Email [email protected] with a 2-3 paragraph bio and at least 3-4 horizontally-oriented photos of your pet. Please don’t send vertical photos, they don’t fit in our photo galleries!

Each week’s winner receives a sample of dog or cat treats from our sponsor, Becky’s Pet Care, along with $100 in Becky’s Bucks. Becky’s Pet Care is the winner of six consecutive Angie’s List Super Service Awards, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters’ 2013 Business of the Year and a proud supporter of the Arlington County Pawsitively Prepared Campaign.

Becky’s Pet Care provides professional dog walking and pet sitting in Arlington and all of Northern Virginia, as well as PetPrep training courses for Pet Care, CPR and emergency preparedness.

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