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Missing woman's body found JHU graduate student last seen entering man's pickup in Va.; Positive ID likely today; Remains found in makeshift grave outside Culpeper


A body found yesterday in a makeshift grave off a rural dead-end road near Culpeper, Va., apparently is that of Johns Hopkins University doctoral student Alicia Showalter Reynolds, who vanished two months ago while driving in the area.

Virginia State Police notified her family last night that jewelry, boots and clothing with the remains matched those worn by Reynolds, 25, who was last seen March 2 along U.S. 29, talking to the driver of a black pickup truck.

"They have called us and told us that the body had Alicia's rings on," said her uncle, Carl Harman, who was taking calls at her parents' home in Harrisonburg, Va. "She was wearing the boots that were described and they identified her clothing."

Mr. Harman said that a "legal, positive identification" would not be made until today, but "the family is satisfied that the body is Alicia's.

According to varying police accounts, a worker or area resident inspecting his property found the body in midafternoon, off Jacobs Ford Road near the tiny community of Lignum and Virginia Route 3, about 12 miles east of Culpeper.

"There had been some clear-cutting down in the area and one of the neighbors was walking and noticed the grave," Mr. Harman said. Police said the body was lying in a depression and covered with branches.

The uncle said Reynolds' husband, University of Maryland dental student Mark Reynolds, traveled from Baltimore to Culpeper in the afternoon, as soon as he learned of the body being found. The family was notified about 3: 30 p.m., but did not learn until late last night that the jewelry and clothing matched those worn by the missing student.

"Shortly after the Reynolds woman disappeared," said Culpeper police Officer Scott Buchanan, "her family asked people down here to inspect their property once in a while in case the woman had been killed and left in a field or a woods around here."

Reynolds, a fourth-year doctoral student in pharmacology, was involved with research on the verge of unlocking mysteries of a tropical disease afflicting 250 million people.

She left her home in the 600 block of Portland St. in the Ridgely's Delight neighborhood, near the University of Maryland professional schools and the Camden Yards stadium, shortly after 7: 30 a.m. the Saturday she disappeared.

She was driving to Charlottesville, where she and her mother planned to shop for a dress for the June wedding of her twin brother, Patrick.

She had just passed through Culpeper, a quaint, historic town that has been the site of numerous elegant horse shows, when she pulled over on the shoulder of U.S. 29 about two miles south of the town center.

Passing motorists said they saw a clean-cut man in blue jeans and a flannel shirt talking to her by the roadside. One witness reported seeing Reynolds getting into a dark pickup truck with the man. The two drove off together, and she was not seen again.

One of her credit cards was found that afternoon in the middle of a residential street in Culpeper, as though it had been thrown from a vehicle. Her car, a white Mercury Tracer, was found abandoned and locked along U.S. 29, with a white napkin under the windshield wiper -- apparently as a sign of a disabled vehicle.

But the car was in working order and had no mechanical problems, according to police.

Her black parka was found about 15 miles away next to a rural pond in Madison County, southwest of Culpeper. Police searched the pond and area nearby, but they found nothing.

Police believe that the man at the roadside was the same person who has stopped other female motorists over a long period of time in the Culpeper area after telling them their cars were smoking.

Since then, publicity about the case, radio and TV appeals for help from her father, Harley Showalter of Harrisonburg, Va., and offers of $35,000 in reward money had failed to turn up Reynolds or a suspect.

A Virginia State Police spokeswoman said a month ago that 30 officers and FBI agents "have been consumed by this case," and "feel like they have some good leads." But no major development was reported until the discovery of the body yesterday.

The remains were taken to the Virginia medical examiner's office in Fairfax for an autopsy.

Pub Date: 5/08/96

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