On Saturday, five weeks to the day from when Hannah Graham, 18, disappeared from Charlottesville, human remains were found outside Charlottesville. A press conference was held that afternoon by Charlottesville police chief Tim Longo with the grim news that all had been fearing … that Hannah had probably been found pending positive identification after lab results (see Police notify Graham parents that body found in Albemarle County is likely hers by Bryan McKenzie).
The skeletal remains were found by a team from the Chesterfield County sheriff’s office who were among the thousands who have volunteered during the five-week search for Hannah (see Hannah Graham searcher says ‘God wanted’ them to find what they found).
The isolated house at 3193 Old Lynchburg Road had been noticed by someone who saw a large number of buzzards around the property so called in to the tip line with the address and his observations (see Where Hannah was found by Coy Barefoot). That was on October 6. Police have been working non-stop on the overwhelming number of tips. Of particular interest in Barefoot’s article was this:
“Morgan’s [Harrington] skeletal remains were found 100 days later, on a farm south of Charlottesville— just about five miles from 3193 Old Lynchburg Road. Jesse Matthew grew up in this rural part of Albemarle County south of Charlottesville. His mom’s house is just up the road, about 4 miles from where the remains of Hannah Graham are believed to have been found.”
Reading the news about the discovery of the human remains made me think back again to the photo of a smiling Hannah that has been widely circulated, and the anguish of her parents after weeks of not knowing, and now possibly having that closure but certainly not peace.
I thought back again to June 23, 2012, when a group of rising high school juniors and seniors from throughout Virginia made their way to the campus of Washington and Lee University in the small western Virginia town of Lexington, where they would spend the next three weeks away from home at the Governor’s School French Academy, or as they knew it, L’Academie Francaise 2012. These were some of the brightest and best who were immersed that entire time in everything French — speaking, corresponding, reading, activities (see 2012 Governor’s School French Academy leaves positive impression on students).
It was a group that bonded during their three weeks together, and they continued that bond after returning to their respective areas of Virginia by forming their own Facebook page, meeting for French movie nights and at restaurants and generally staying in touch.
My Richmond niece, known here as SWAC Niece, was one of the juniors who attended French Academy and among the seniors she met was Hannah Graham, a freckle-faced young lady who had a musical talent to match her expert French language capabilities and who would land in 2013, along with several others from the Academy, as freshmen at the University of Virginia.
The following year a half dozen of the juniors from French Academy, including SWAC Niece, began their freshman year at UVa. That was the end of August 2014. Hannah already had a year under her belt and was beginning her sophomore year living off campus. The group made plans to meet and continue the friendships begun two years prior to UVa.
The story of Hannah’s disappearance is well known to anyone following the news, and rattled students on UVa’s campus who were only two weeks into the academic year including SWAC Niece. No one lost hope at first but as the days went by, police began to publish surveillance videos from Charlottesville businesses located along the Downtown Mall that showed a stumbling Hannah making her way down the street. As police continued to obtain and study the videos, they noticed 6’2″ Jesse Matthew, 32 — the name was unknown to them at the time — walking with his arm around Hannah. Witnesses said she appeared to be inebriated and was slumped into his side. The last video shows her getting into Matthew’s car and he became a person of interest. His identity became known to police who then search his car and apartment, and then he stopped by police headquarters a week after Hannah disappeared.
But Matthew’s appearance at the police station was brief, and he left before talking with police. He was observed by federal investigators driving in a reckless way when leaving and an arrest warrant was issued … and then he ran. Taking his sister’s car, he fled Virginia and became the subject of a nationwide search. Police issued a warrant against him for abduction with intent to defile. The search ended less than a week later when Matthew was spotted by an alert woman in Galveston, Texas. She called Crime Stoppers who basically blew her off, and she followed up by calling the Galveston sheriff’s department who responded and found the missing fugitive. Matthew was returned to Charlottesville and jailed.
While sitting in jail, Matthew was connected through evidence to Morgan Harrington, the Tech student who disappeared five years earlier and whose body was found three months after she disappeared in an isolated field, and to a rape victim in Northern Virginia who presumably lived because someone scared off Matthew before he could kill her.
Is Jesse Matthew the Rt. 29 serial killer many have feared was preying on the area for so many years? Hopefully, that question will be answered soon.