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The Missing or Murdered Young Women in the Commonwealth of Virginia

Updated on December 21, 2014

It is a pain one cannot understand until one has lived it. It is the pain of a missing child found murdered. It is the pain of gut-wrenching fear, profound loss and unfulfilled dreams.

Source

Update October 19. 2014

This article was originally written in early 2014 after another young woman disappeared here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. She wasn't the first to disappear along the Route 29 corridor and as you will discover, she wasn't the last. What you are about to read tells the story of the missing and/or murdered young women, the unsolved cases that still haunt those of us who live here. It is what we think about when our children don't come home on time. It is sometimes the last think we think about when we go to sleep at night. It is a horror story that no parent deserves.

Sadly, this update is necessary because it has happened again. The missing is now the murdered. Another young woman, missing for five weeks, has been found. Her skeletal remains lay dumped on an abandoned property less than 12 miles from where she was last seen alive. The remains are believed to be Hannah Elizabeth Graham, a University of Virginia student who disappeared around midnight on Friday, September 12, 2014. If you have any information on Hannah Graham, please contact law enforcement.

Watch the Press Conference

Hannah Elizabeth Graham

It's been five weeks to the day since Hannah Graham was last seen alive. Jesse Matthew has been arrested in Texas for abduction with intent to defile. Previously identified as a person of interest, Jesse Matthew, an employee of the University of Virginia Medical Center was the last person seen with Hannah on the Charlottesville Downtown Mall. Jesse Matthew walked into the police station a few days ago and asked for a lawyer. He was provided a list of attorneys and after meeting briefly with an attorney, Jesse left the police station and sped away recklessly. Law enforcement called off pursuit for the safety of other motorists. .Police obtained a warrant for his arrest.

For 35 consecutive days hundreds of people searched for Hannah Graham. They covered the city of Charlottesville and the surrounding area. Realtors were asked to search their vacant properties and land owners were asked to search their properties. Helicopters, drones, dogs, airplanes with enhanced digital recorders, and all terrain vehicles were used to cover the area. From sunrise to sunset, volunteers searched on foot through thick brush and mountainous terrain for signs of Hannah Graham. At 5:30 P.M. on October 18, 2014, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo held a press conference. With tears in his eyes and a voice that cracked with emotion, he announced the discovery of skeletal remains. Without confirming that the remains belonged to Hannah, we knew. For a time it seemed that the world stood still. Prayers had been answered. Hannah had been found. Her family would have closure. But, we are angry. A monster took Hannah's life and it has left us wondering about the others. Did Jesse Mathhew take the others too?

We believe Hannah has been found. The pain for her family and friends must be unbearable. The story doesn't end here though. In fact it may only be the beginning. DNA evidence has connected Jesse Matthew to another case; the case of Morgan Harrington whose skeletal remains were found just a few short miles from Hannah's after she disappeared exactly five years ago on October 17, 2009.

Have we identified the monster? Is there more than one? The parents of the other missing young women deserve answers too. So, now let's look at the original article for the rest of the story.

The Missing and/or Murdered Young Women in Virginia

Another young woman has been murdered in my area. Only 18 years old, Jamisha Gilbert had her whole life ahead of her. What could she have done to deserve such a brutal end? You see, Jamisha was murdered and her body dumped like a bag of trash in a wooded area near a cemetery.

For the past week the news has reported on the search for Jamisha Gilbert. Images of law enforcement and volunteer searchers flashed across our television screens. Helicopters and dogs assisted in the search. A family and community grieved but held on to the hope that this eighteen year old honor student would be found alive. They fought back tears and struggled to believe this wasn’t happening again, not here, not now.

You see, Jamisha isn’t the first. Only five months ago, there was another face on our television screens. Alexis Murphy, age 17, went missing on August 3, 2013. Beautiful and smart, Alexis disappeared after filling her car up with gas in Lovingston, Virginia. An arrest was made in her murder and Randy Taylor has been convicted but, Alexis Murphy has still not been found. Her family waits for answers (and justice) and a community grieves with them.

Learn more about missing women along the Route 29 corridor

The faces of the missing or murdered

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Alicia Reynolds - murdered Mar. 1996Hattie Brown - missing since May 2009Cassandra Morton - murdered Oct. 2009Morgan Harrington - murdered Oct. 2009Samantha Clarke - missing since Sept. 2010Bethany Decker - missing since January 2011Heather Hodges - missing since April 2012Wendy Francis - missing since June 2012Pherbia Tinsley - murdered July 2012Dashad Smith - missing since November 2012Alexis Murphy - missing since Aug. 2013Jamisha Gilbert - murdered Nov. 2013Bonnie Santiago - missing since July 2014Janet Field - missing since July 2014Hannah Graham - murdered Sept 2014
Alicia Reynolds - murdered Mar. 1996
Alicia Reynolds - murdered Mar. 1996 | Source
Hattie Brown - missing since May 2009
Hattie Brown - missing since May 2009 | Source
Cassandra Morton - murdered Oct. 2009
Cassandra Morton - murdered Oct. 2009 | Source
Morgan Harrington - murdered Oct. 2009
Morgan Harrington - murdered Oct. 2009 | Source
Samantha Clarke - missing since Sept. 2010
Samantha Clarke - missing since Sept. 2010 | Source
Bethany Decker - missing since January 2011
Bethany Decker - missing since January 2011 | Source
Heather Hodges - missing since April 2012
Heather Hodges - missing since April 2012 | Source
Wendy Francis - missing since June 2012
Wendy Francis - missing since June 2012 | Source
Pherbia Tinsley - murdered July 2012
Pherbia Tinsley - murdered July 2012 | Source
Dashad Smith - missing since November 2012
Dashad Smith - missing since November 2012 | Source
Alexis Murphy - missing since Aug. 2013
Alexis Murphy - missing since Aug. 2013 | Source
Jamisha Gilbert - murdered Nov. 2013
Jamisha Gilbert - murdered Nov. 2013 | Source
Bonnie Santiago - missing since July 2014
Bonnie Santiago - missing since July 2014 | Source
Janet Field - missing since July 2014
Janet Field - missing since July 2014 | Source
Hannah Graham - murdered Sept 2014
Hannah Graham - murdered Sept 2014 | Source

A Harsh Reminder

The stories of Jamisha Gilbert and Alexis Murphy remind us of other tragic crimes against young women in Virginia. We are reminded of Morgan Harrington, a beautiful young woman who disappeared from a Metallica concert in Charlottesville, Virginia on October 17, 2009. Skeletal remains were found on a farm in nearby Albemarle County on January 26, 2910 and identified as the remains of Morgan Harrington. Morgan was 20 years old when she was abducted and murdered. Her killer remains unidentified and, free.

As our hearts ache for the families of these three young women, our thoughts turn to the others; the dozens of young women who have vanished along the Route 29 corridor in Virginia. And the questions remain. Who murdered 25 year old Alicia Reynolds and left her body to be found two months later on the side of the road? Did the same monster kill 24 year old Julianne Williams and 26 year old Laura Winans whose bodies were discovered in their Shenandoah National Park camp site? And there is 20 year old Anne McDaniel. He burned body was found four days after she disappeared. We ask ourselves what happened to 19 year old Samantha Clark who vanished in September of 2010. She told her brother she would be right back. He is still waiting for answers.

These stories of pain have become too familiar. The names change, the circumstances vary, and the points on a map represent different geographic locations but the outcome doesn’t change. Our children are dying alone and scared and we don’t know why.

The Numbers

  • The numbers are shocking. In the Commonwealth of Virginia there are currently 240 children listed as missing on the Virginia State Police web site.
  • On the web site for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a search reveals the faces of 184 children missing in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This same web site shows 665 children listed as missing in the United States.
  • Since 2009, fifteen young women have vanished along the Route 29 corridor in Virginia.

Qyestions and Answers

It is only natural that we want answers when a child goes missing and/or is found murdered. Sadly, we often find ourselves with more questions than answers. I realize that once a child reaches puberty, it is all but impossible to watch them every minute. I also understand that some of the statistics I’ve shared may represent parental or familial abductions. But in many cases, these children just vanished at the hands of an acquaintance or, a total stranger.

Both of the young women whose faces are still prevalent on the local news were alone. Both had been in touch with family just hours before they disappeared. One was approximately 40 miles from home and the other less than 10 miles from home. Both had cell phones. Family and friends tell us that both were bright, well rounded teens. Both were pretty, out-gping, and, popular. These were not the kind of girls who run away from home. These were not the girls who ran with the wrong crowd. These were good girls according to friends and family. So why have these beautiful young women become part of a growing statistic?

  • Were they taught to fight off an abductor?
  • Did they scream for help?
  • Did they know and trust their abductor?
  • Did someone see something suspicious and choose to ignore it?

There are many more questions to be answered but unfortunately, most will go unanswered. What we will come to know about these abductions and murders will largely reply on forensic evidence collected by law enforcement and, stories told by friends and family. In time an investigation will put the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle but we may never know the truth/. The person(s) responsible for the deaths of these young women may never be punished.

An Epidemic

History tells us that the murder of innocents is not new but the increasing number of young people dying is becoming an epidemic in our society. What has happened in our society that makes murder seem like the answer to a problem? Have we become so disconnected from those around us that we can kill without caring? Did we push too hard for perfection in academics or sports that our young youth are so afraid of failure that they take their frustration out on those that cannot or are afraid to fight back? What about respect and decency? Have we made it seem okay for a man to take what he wants from a young woman and then cut her throat and leave her to die alone on the cold, hard ground? If these things are true then we have created a world where no one is safe and the consequences will make this current epidemic seem like a day in the park. If these things are true, this epidemic will touch each one us eventually. Are we willing to lose someone we love because we felt it was someone elses problem?

Choices

Life is about choices and the choices we make have consequences on the present and for future generations. As a society, we have to stop wasting time. If we do nothing else we can become examples for each other. We can take better care of ourselves and treat the members of our families with respect. We can demonstrate the value of trust and honesty with out spouse and children, and strive to provide an environment of love and protection for them to grow in. We can become the place our children turn to for answers because we have demonstrated our trust and belief in them. We can mentor the youth in our community who are at risk and force ourselves to look deeply when it would be easier to look away. We can get to know our neighbors in spite of our apparent differences. We can be the architects of bridges among people by offering a helping hand or a concerned ear to those who have neither. And, we can stop turning a blind eye when we see others facing adversity. Like it or not, we are not separate from the world around us. The things that affect one of us, can affect all of us.

Change

Nothing we do will stop the senseless killing overnight. The young women who die at the hands of their abductors will continue to be headlines in our newspapers. Families will continue to seek answers and justice and find neither in many cases. One thing is certain though. If we do nothing, nothing will change.

The young women mentioned here should not die in vain. It is up to all of us to make their lives count for something. Will you become an advocate against violence? Will you mentor a young woman and help her learn how to protect herself against predators? Will you educate yourself and become a resource for a young woman who is scared and doesn’t know where to go? Will you demonstrate love and help eradicate the prevailing anger in our society? Will you? Or, will you wait until violence touches your child or your grandchild and then blame it on everyone else? Think about it. Do it now, before another young woman goes from “missing” to “murdered”.

© 2013 Linda Crist

Comments

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  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Good morning Kindred!

    I have written about this until I'm blue in the face. Unfortunately, most people will declare outrage but do nothing until it affects them on a deeply personal level. Society does not want to hear about this type of ugliness. It is something that happens to someone else, so they close the shutters and watch a comedy sitcom on tv and pray to whatever god they pray to that this will never breech their walls and ruin their lives.

    Evil will always exist in this world. That does not mean we just turn our heads and pretend it does not exist. We must raise awareness, and that is why articles like this one are so important.

    Well done my dear. Sending hugs your way.

    bill

  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

    I commented....where is it?

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    Bill, my dear friend, we will continue to talk and write and advocate on behalf of those who have no voice above a whisper. It's who we are and what we do. I thought of you and your writing as I did this one, knowing it was a bit redundant. But, I also hoped to demonstrate that it happens EVERYWHERE. These are not isolated incidents as you well know. Each time we write we hope that a word or a phrase reaches the heart of just one. And so onward we go. I appreciate you and your efforts and also that you are always here cheering me on. You are priceless. Hugs to you and yours.

  • marcoujor profile image

    Maria Jordan 3 years ago from Jeffersonville PA

    Dear Linda,

    Your message is so vital regarding an issue that is epidemic in proportion.

    Nurses are a wonderful resource for our children today, in the roles of community and school nursing especially. If we all keep our eyes open and share freely with our youth, that can serve as beginning steps to assure safety for all.

    Always inspired by your writing, dear friend and hope all is well with you. Hugs, Maria

  • Jackie Lynnley profile image

    Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

    It has always seemed to me this would be a very worthwhile thing to do in PhysEd, teach girls, and boys for that matter; how to defend themselves. Wouldn't that be a terrific surprise for these creeps that sneak up from behind and someone taught would have the instinct to immediately go into action and put his lights out? ! What a different world this would be.

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

    Linda, although my son is 21, I worry about him when he's not home or at work. I often have nightmare conversations with myself fearing the worst. He's a very trusting soul and is always willing to help the underdog and for that I am very proud. But at the same time, I wonder what's really going on in the minds of those he tries to help.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    Maria, I'm always happy to find you in my comments. :-) You're so right about nurses doing such great service. They are often the only professional to be trusted with the truth of bad situations. Thank God for nurses!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    Jackie, your idea is wonderful and I don't know why Phys Ed isn't used for more useful purposes. Maybe someone with a brain will read your comment and start a chain reaction. We can hope, right?

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    Shauna, I am so glad I don't have kids. I would worry myself into an early grave. I guess you do your best to instill some sense of logic in your child and then turn them loose and trust you did your job. I have no doubt that you've done it well.

  • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

    Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

    This is so thoughtful of you to bring to attention of everyone about these tragic incidences. It is a matter of great concern, in whichever part of the world this happens. I hope the concerned authorities to prevent and control such incidents are listening.

    Nice and useful information shared by you!

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 3 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello ChitrangadaSharan. Thank you for your kind words. I strongly believe we have to keep the issue in the forefront. These families deserve answers and other young girls deserve to live. We do what we can.

  • Sami Hanson profile image

    Sami 2 years ago from Kansas

    Amazing hub. Beautifully written and full of truth. Women go missing everyday in this country, and luckily for me, it hasn't been so prevalent here in Kansas than it has in your state. It is troubling, and it is hard to feel safe in your own town when things like this become so common. It is not fair that women are so commonly the targets (as if implying we are weak and cannot take care of ourselves). Unfortunately, it is important that girls that live in those type of areas (and all areas for that matter) are taught the proper skills to handle themselves in situations like that. Those young women had so much to live for and should not have had to endure the horrible fate that they did. I think it also should be important to note that there should not be a time limit on when you can report your child missing.

    For teenagers, police officers always seem to treat each case the same. These girls not coming home, not associating with bad crowds---- that's a sign that the police should have been on it as soon as possible. The most crucial time is in that 24-48 hour period, and sometimes there are rules to how long someone has to be missing before the police get involved. That needs to change.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 2 years ago from Central Virginia

    Sami, thank you for taking time to read this hub and leave such an insightful comment. You have added a lot to this conversation. It is appreciated.

  • word55 profile image

    Word 2 years ago from Chicago

    Hi Irc7815, I hate seeing this bad news as well. I think these teens are too naïve today. They want their freedom in such a very dangerous society. They should be taught to live as if they are living in a jungle of dangerous animals and evil minds. There are sick demons out here on the prey among us looking for the perfect opportunity to rip off these young ladies and men. The ladies are not free to go anywhere alone and without protection. All girls and women should be escorted to and from, never alone. Now, this is another child the parents won't see to grow up. The parents need to be more attentive to the youngsters, girls, boys, and young adults too. We know the kids want their freedom to go with whom and where they want but the parents need to know with whom their children are with at all times. Like the older days, parents should meet with parents of their children's friends before allowing them to go out with their friends alone.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 2 years ago from Central Virginia

    Hello word55. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading my article on the missing and murdered young women in Virginia. It is so horribly sad to think of the lost futures. I completely agree with you in that parents have failed their children by not enforcing more strict scrutiny and rules. We have become a society that has taken parenting from being a skill to being a popularity contest. Adults are more concerned with being friends with their child than they are teaching them. And then there are those who can't or don't parent at all. Until these things change, the numbers of teens lost to predators will continue to rise. It's a real tragedy.

  • janshares profile image

    Janis Leslie Evans 2 years ago from Washington, DC

    Hi Linda. Thank you for shedding more light on the epidemic of missing and murdered young women. It is a sickening tragedy that touches the hearts of those of us who live in the DC/MD/VA area. There are so, so many who are either raped, abducted, murdered or a combination of all of the above. Thank you for mentioning Alexis Murphy. I know her cousin and have been thinking about her a lot as we take in the current news about Hannah. I could barely watch the news conference as her father spoke with such dignity and grace, as her mother sobbed. I cried with her and for her.

    I try my best to do something as I write articles about abuse and violence, providing resources to victims and families in my hubs. I appreciate the call to action you present in this article. You've done an excellent job on this tragic topic, Linda. It is thought-provoking and very moving. Thanks for updating it, so timely. Voted up, useful, and awesome.

  • lrc7815 profile image
    Author

    Linda Crist 2 years ago from Central Virginia

    Janis....thank you. Your comment moved me to tears. This is a subject that I wish none of us needed to write about. It is heartbreaking. I do not understand what is happening in this area of Virginia but it is beginning to feel like an epidemic of evil. I had intended for this to be a generic article on the issue but with each case it just gets more personal. These are lovely young women who had such potential. Their families are ripped apart and left in limbo in many cases. It is so tragic and I now feel like each of these young women deserves an article of their own. Alexis, Murphy was the face that inspired me to write. Something about her just would not let go of me. What a beauty. Her family was so brave during the days and weeks and months after her disappearance. I cannot comprehend how they did it. They have endured the unimaginable and still have no answers.

    Thank you again for reading my article and sharing with me. Like you, I want to do something and this was all I knew to do. I woke this morning to the news that the person of interest in Hannah's disappearance (Jessse Matthew) has been arrested. My prayer is that he will do the right thing now and provide answers for Hanna's parents and that someone who knows where Alexis is will do the same..

  • janshares profile image

    Janis Leslie Evans 2 years ago from Washington, DC

    I agree, Linda. I hope this latest arrest gives the family answers and some resolve, one way or another. You have definitely done your part with this article. All we can do now is pray and wait. Thanks for the fanmail and follow.

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