Sunday, March 16, 2008

What is the FBI Hiding?

by Diane Fanning

It makes a lot of sense when the FBI or any law enforcement agency withholds information when they are trying to build a case against a perpetrator still on the loose. But when the suspect in question is dead and the crimes are more than a decade old, what’s the point?

For months, the Fredericksburg Free Lance Star has struggled with the FBI over the seemingly simple matter of forensic testing. At one point, the FBI promised to process in evidence. But last month, the FBI told the newspaper that they were not going to perform additional tests out of deference to the families of the victims.

Funny thing, though, family members tell the newspaper that they want the testing done. They want answers.

In question are the abduction and murder of Alicia Showalter Reynolds on Route 29 in Virginia and the double homicide of Julianne Williams and Laura “Lollie” Winans (pictured above) in the Shenandoah National Park—all in 1996. The FBI vigorously pursued Darrell Rice as a suspect in the death of Alicia and charged him with the slaying of Julianne and Lollie. That case was thrown out by the court, in part, because preliminary results of DNA tests on two head hairs found at the crime scene of the double murder did not match Rice.

Those same results, however, could not eliminate another predator operating in the area at that time, Richard Marc Evonitz. In 2002 and 2003, I researched and wrote a book about this serial killer. I noted the possible connection to those three murders.

The book’s focus, though, was on three other deaths in Spotsylvania that authorities tied to Evonitz: the murder of Sofia Silva in 1996, and the double homicide of sisters Kati and Kristin Lisk in 1997. He was never arrested or charged in those crimes because when he was cornered in a coastal community after a high speed chase, he put a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

But the FBI was secretive even then.

I filed a Freedom of Information Act request. It was denied—the office claimed an ongoing investigation. It made no sense. The perpetrator was dead. No evidence needed to be protected before a trial.

I appealed to the Attorney General. I won that appeal. The FBI was ordered to release documents to me. Following that decision, I contacted the local office, in the spring of 2003. I was informed that it normally takes two to three years to process and provide material. So I waited.

Sure enough, I received a letter in 2006 informing me that I needed to pay thousands of dollars to obtain a complete copy of the file. As offered in the correspondence, I wrote requesting someone to assist me in narrowing down the file to pertinent documents. I am still waiting for that assistance.

The veil of secrecy from the lack of cooperation shown to me to the indifference to finding answers to the murders of Alicia, Julianne, and Lollie, casts doubt on the FBI’s conclusions in the deaths of Kati, Kristin, and Sofia. Does the FBI fear that transparency would reveal problems in the Lisk-Silva investigation or more generically with the FBI lab itself? What secret is the FBI hiding?


Rhiannon said...

Great Piece, Diane!

It always amazes me when the FBI puts up road blocks to investigations. It bothers me as much as when a state refuses to allow an inmate to have their evidence DNA tested.

Neither makes much sense to me since our legal system, including the FBI, is supposed to be about justice and making sure that justice has been served.

Seems to me that justice can't be served if we don't have transparency.

Leah said...

Another irony in all this is that the Government can lie to us for no reason at all but they demand and expect complete honesty from us. I totally understand the need for not revealing everything to the public at particular times but why the hell do they have the right to lie and withhold info from us whenever they feel like it and beyond the poine that it is necessary?? There has to be a better way, a more juducial way to handle situations like this.

Kathryn Casey said...

I have, of course, run into this quite often, too, Diane. It's so d... frustrating. There's so much we're legally entitled to that we have to fight and even hire That wasn't the intent of the laws. Really good post, Diane.

dianefanning said...

You're right, Rhiannon, justice does require transparency. Leah, one thing that has always baffled me is why it is a crime to lie to congress when politicians lie so often.
Thanks, Kathryn!

Pat Brown said...

I think the key is in the word, "suspect." You know that I have always questioned Evonitz's guilt in the Lisk-Silva homicides. There is a claim that a fingerprint of one of the girls was "cooked" into the hood of the car, something I have found no incidents of in history. There is also that claim of a map he made showing the way to the Lisk home, and a bit of similar material. Only the fingerprint would be conclusive evidence and, as you have pointed out, if it exists, why is the FBI refusing to release the info?

I have the same issue with the BTK case. None of the evidence that supposedly link Dennis Rader to all the crimes he claims he committed has been shown to the public. I made an issue of this and got a very heated email from the prosecutor attacking me, but, of course, she did not deal with the issue.

Closing cases is the name of the game....not necessarily solving them.

Jan said...

Pat, do you have doubts that Rader is/was BTK? Would love to see a blog on here from you on that subject.

Felicia Donovan said...

Pat, I'll second that. I've had a great deal of interest in the BTK case because of the forensic component of the floppy disk. In fact, I've highlighted it several times during seminars to explain the role computer forensics has in gathering evidence, so I'd love to hear your perspective on it.

I also want to say you're all doing a bang-up job here with topical, interesting posts.

Felicia Donovan

Diane Fanning said...

The biggest question in my mind with Evonitz's guilt goes back to the method of the Lisk-Silva murders. If he committed those, he must have committed others before and after them.
Law enforcement has produced nothing.

Diane Fanning said...

Glad to hear you are enjoying our blog. I'm thrilled to be involved in this project with all these terrific women.

trucrym15 said...

Jan, I just finished reading John Douglas' book, "Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the 30-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer." If you would like more (lots more) information about Dennis Rader, I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down.

trucrym15 said...

Jan, I just finished reading John Douglas' book, "Inside the Mind of BTK: The True Story Behind the 30-Year Hunt for the Notorious Wichita Serial Killer." If you would like more (lots more) information about Dennis Rader, I highly recommend this book. I couldn't put it down.

Leah said...

Excellent point Diane.

Sadiesho said...

Thanks for writing about your frustrations with trying to get straight information from the investigaters when writing your book, and furhter info regarding my daughter Alicia Showalter Reynolds as well as Julienne and Laurie. As Alicia's mother, I have become very frustrated with the fact that they have not seemed to want to look carefully at Evonitz and at least eliminate him if there is nothing to connect him. For them to refuse to speak with reporters out of respect for the families is ridiculous!! If they are concerned about us, then please ask us whether we would mind if they talk about the ongoing cases.

Diane Fanning said...

Thanks so much for leaving your comment. As a mother I can understand your pain at the loss of your daughter and your frustration with the FBI. My hope is that if enough people write about these cases, the agency will be forced to take action. You deserve that and Alicia deserves justice.

BuQue Lady said...

Does it really cost thousands of $$ for a FBI file or was that a stall tactic??

Govt agencies sure know how to cover their butts at our expenses.

Sorry to go off topic, RE: BTK: Saw some photos of him in some bizarro bondage S+M gitup, even tied up in a tree. Not likely that he took those photos by himself, even with a remote lead from the camera {as we're talking '60s - '70s era photography, when 35mm cameras had a lead from the remote to the camera, it would have been obvious in the photos. Some of his poses, it would have been totally obvious. In one photo, he was completely wrapped in plastic and photographed.}

Diane Fanning said...

Buque Lady,
I believe they were quoting an accurage cost on a per page basis. However, in all likelihood, there were many, many duplicate pages and other pages that really had nothing relevant on them. So, in a way, it was another layer of difficulty created on the path to getting documentation.

Shea Kang said...

Either your run the day, or the day runs you.