LIGNUM, Va. -- As Virginia state troopers hunt for a mysterious motorist they believe is a psychopathic killer, ttTC decomposed body found in a secluded makeshift grave was identified officially yesterday as that of a missing Johns Hopkins University graduate student abducted from the highway.
The nine-week search for Alicia Showalter Reynolds ended Tuesday afternoon when a worker for a logging company spotted buzzards circling above a section of deep forest in this tiny rural town, about 15 miles southeast of where Reynolds was last seen.
"He went to investigate and found her," said a state police spokeswoman, Lucy Caldwell, as dozens of troopers were brought in by the truckload to comb the scene for evidence. "We have 50 state police looking for clues as to who put Ms. Reynolds here."
Investigators, who have been stumped since the 25-year-old Baltimore resident disappeared March 2, said the killer covered her body with sticks and pine tree branches about 30 feet off a lonely gravel road used primarily by woodcutters.
Reynolds' clothes, boots and rings were found with her, a relative was told by the police.
Authorities would not disclose how Reynolds died or how long they think she had been dead, although they said they had received dozens of phone tips since announcing the body's discovery.
"Hopefully, we'll make an arrest soon," Caldwell said. "We have more information today, more leads to work on."
Mark Reynolds, the victim's husband, who drove to Virginia Tuesday from their Baltimore home on learning that a body had been found, said yesterday that he thanked God for finally putting an end to one part of the mystery: his wife's fate.
"It's an end to wondering where she is. I still hadn't unpacked the bag of her clothes I had waiting for her by the door in case she was found alive," he said. "It's a horrible, terrible tragedy, but it's not something God did. It's something this terrible person did."
Closure at last
Her father, Harley Showalter of Harrisonburg, Va., a devout Mennonite, said the family had been praying for some sort of closure. The discovery of the body is an answer to those prayers, he said.
"Thank God for buzzards," Showalter said. "Were it not for the vultures, perhaps we would have never found Alicia."
Reynolds, a gifted fourth-year doctoral student in the Hopkins pharmacology program, was last seen on the roadside of U.S. 29 near Culpeper. She had been traveling alone to Charlottesville to meet her mother when a man in a pickup is believed to have waved her to the side of the road and convinced her something was wrong with her car.
Passing motorists later reported seeing her get into a dark-colored or dark green pickup with the man, who has been dubbed "the Route 29 stalker" by local residents. Police say the same man is suspected of using a Good Samaritan ploy with about 20 other women in the Culpeper area, some of whom accepted rides to garages with him.
But nothing was wrong with their cars, the women later found. Curiously, the man made no advances toward those women, leading investigators to surmise that he may have been building up his nerve or looking for a specific type of woman to take his scenario a menacing step further.
Other women who got into the man's truck described him as polite and gentlemanly in his approach, police said. Typically, he flashed his lights or yelled from a nearby lane, claiming to see sparks or smoke coming from their cars.
Once the women pulled over, he told them their cars were unsafe to drive and offered them rides. But his demeanor apparently changed when he got a woman to agree to go with him.
Change in demeanor
A woman who works at a local motel and accepted a ride with him told investigators that the stranger became "nervous and fidgety" in the truck and seemed intent on getting her to lean forward in the seat, asking her to locate a map he had lost somewhere on the floor. He also asked her numerous personal questions about herself, she said.
In her case, She was dropped off at a garage unharmed. The man's nature remains a puzzle to investigators, according to Caldwell, who said the FBI is assisting the police in drawing a psychological profile of him.
Since March 2, however, neither the killer nor the truck has been spotted.
"Everybody in town has been keeping an eye out for that dark green truck. It's like he just vanished," said Andy Whitacre, a Culpeper resident who was talking with several other townsfolk at a local convenience store about the murder.
Choice of road
The killer's selection of the remote logging road, where acres of woodland are harvested for pulp, would seem to suggest some familiarity with the area. The only building along the road is a home for abused children, that has been in operation three years. The body was found less than half a mile from it.
But Caldwell said police are not convinced the man is a local resident. "He could have been just driving around looking for an isolated road. You could find it, whether you knew it was here or not," she said.
Alicia Reynolds' mother, Sadie Showalter, said the discovery of the body comes at a time when the family is preparing for some important milestones. Alicia's twin brother, Patrick, is to be married next month, and is graduating from Vanderbilt University Medical School next week.
Alicia's younger sister, Barbara Showalter, is graduating from Goshen College in Indiana.
"I hoped for some type of word on what happened. The whole family didn't know whether to mourn or hope that she might be coming back to us," her mother said. "At least now we know where she is."
Pub Date: 5/09/96