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Police finally solve shocking, mysterious double murder of lesbian couple

Police finally solve shocking, mysterious double murder of lesbian couple
Julianne Williams and Laura Winans Photo: FBI

A lesbian couple’s shocking double murder has finally been solved.

On Thursday, the FBI revealed that one of the nation’s most infamous serial rapists was the killer in the case of Julianne Williams and her partner, Laura Winans. The couple were found in 1996 with their hands bound and their throats slit inside Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Both women had been raped.

Investigators said that convicted rapist Walter “Leo” Jackson had tracked and ambushed the women, bound their hands with duct tape, and sexually assaulted them before slashing their throats and hiding their bodies.

Jackson died in 2018 in an Ohio prison where he was serving concurrent prison terms for kidnappings, rapes, and assaults.

The brutality of the couple’s murders indicated to FBI investigators at the time that the killings were a hate crime.

News of the grisly murders had hikers canceling their trips to the park, with LGBTQ+ people in particular fearing for their lives. Investigators chased down hundreds of tips that led nowhere. The case was closed and left unsolved a year later.

In 2002, circumstantial evidence led the FBI to arrest Darrell D. Rice on capital murder charges. Rice entered the park twice around the time of the killings and attacked a woman there a year after Williams’ and Winans’ murders. Rice denied the allegations and, a year later, the charges were dropped.

Then in 2021, the FBI reopened the case. Authorities credited forensic testing and DNA advancements with solving the nearly 30-year-old mystery.

Kathryn Miles, author of a 2022 book on the slayings, lamented the long delay in closing the case.

“For an entire generation of hikers and backpackers, particularly women and people who identify as queer, the impact of this crime was such that it sort of fundamentally removed the wilderness for them and made them very afraid,” Miles told The Washington Post.

At a news conference Thursday, Christopher Kavanaugh, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia, characterized the murders as “brutal,” but said there was no evidence to suggest the double slaying was a hate crime.

“In the FBI, we work to find ways to push all cases forward and bring justice for victims,” said Special Agent in Charge Stanley M. Meador. “It doesn’t matter how long it has been or the challenges we face, our investigation will not stop.”

“I want to again extend my condolences to the Winans and Williams families and hope today’s announcement provides some small measure of solace,” U.S. Attorney Kavanaugh said in a statement.

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