Nothing rattles a community as much as unsolved violent crimes. Moreover, if those crimes happen to be seemingly random murders, committed across a swath of neighborhoods around midday, nerves give way to terror.
Such was the case earlier this year when music teacher Ruthanne Lodato was murdered in her house in the North Ridge neighborhood, just months after transit expert Ronald Kirby was similarly killed in his nearby Rosemont home.
Suddenly, with the knowledge that at least one murderer was on the loose, daily routines were discarded. Parents fearfully kept their children indoors, strangers were regarded warily and what normally would be innocuous knocks on the front door left people anxious in their own homes.
A description provided by a wounded caretaker at the Lodato residence resulted in the now familiar sketch of a bearded, older white man. While dozens of middle-aged Alexandria men with facial hair felt suspicious eyes on them for a while, the sketch was crucial in generating tips, which eventually led police to Charles Severance.
Severance, a former fringe mayoral candidate, was indicted Monday by an Alexandria grand jury on three murder counts. He is charged with the murders of Lodato and Kirby, as well as the decade-plus old unsolved murder of Nancy Dunning, who also was killed in her home around midday.
Severance is being held in the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center on unrelated gun charges. He was apprehended in a West Virginia motel after seeking asylum at the Russian Embassy in Washington. It bears repeating that Severance, like any other person who is arrested on criminal charges in the U.S., is innocent until proven guilty.
Still, Alexandria police are to be commended for the way they handled this case — and for keeping the investigation into Dunning’s murder open for nearly 11 long years. Her death brought anguish to Dunning’s neighborhood; friends and neighbors have held a candlelight vigil every year on the anniversary of her passing. The Severance indictment is one significant step toward closure for those people, as well as Dunning’s family.
For months, Alexandria police have been carefully building a case against Severance, and their evidence was sufficient to persuade a grand jury to hand down indictments on one first-degree murder and two capital murder charges. Police announced earlier this year that the bullets used in the three murders could be linked, though a murder weapon has not been recovered.
The Severance trial promises to hold Alexandria residents in its thrall until a verdict, one way or the other, is reached. While we have breathed a collective sigh of relief at the arrest and indictment of a suspect, Yogi Berra’s old adage still rings true: It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.
“Where the press is free and every man is able to read, all is safe.”