By Missy Schrott | [email protected]
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter released “Alexandria Assassin: The Parable of the Knocker,” a true-crime book about the Charles Severance murders, on Aug. 15.
Severance murdered three Alexandrians between 2003 and 2014. The murders shook the Alexandria community, as well as Porter’s tenure in office. After being elected in 2013, the case was one of the first Porter worked on as commonwealth’s attorney.
“This was the most serious case I handled,” Porter said. “And to be honest with you, it – hopefully, God-willing – it is the most serious case that I handle, because it really terrified a community, the community that I grew up in.”
In the book, Porter details the three murders, the investigation of the case and Severance’s trial. He also details his personal journey and provides commentary on the intersection of gun violence and mental health.
The Severance saga began in 2003, when Nancy Dunning, an Alexandria real estate agent known as the “Queen of Del Ray” was found dead in her home. Dunning had allegedly answered her door and been shot. The mystery remained unsolved for more than a decade.
In November 2013, about a week after Porter was elected commonwealth’s attorney, Ronald Kirby was found dead in his Elm Street home. Despite a decade-long gap between his and Dunning’s murders, detectives began to connect the cases.
“[They both occurred in] daylight hours, a weekday around 11 a.m., roughly the same neighborhood, nothing stolen, no break-in,” Porter said. “Both of them looked like they answered the front door and somebody just shot them.”
In early February 2014, Ruthanne Lodato was murdered by the same method.
With the possibility of a serial killer on the loose, the Federal Bureau of Investigation got involved. A little more than a month later, weapons analysis, an eyewitness account and a neighbor’s surveillance camera led to Severance’s arrest in Wheeling, West Virginia on March 14, 2014. He was indicted for the three murders in September that year.
Severance’s trial began in October 2015 and lasted about six weeks. He was convicted by the jury of 10 criminal counts in November and officially sentenced to life in prison in January 2016.
In addition to detailing the nuances of the Severance case in the book, Porter addresses mental health in an afterward, as Severance’s personality disorder had allegedly been a key factor in the murders.
“There’s an afterward in which I talk about guns and mental health and what I think needs to happen,” Porter said. “I give some concrete proposals that we should be discussing as a society. … I feel like there’s a lot of lessons to be learned about what’s going on with mass shootings and violence in the country. If we’re smart, we can take lessons from people like Severance.”
Porter said the case had been a defining one in his career.
“I was really overwhelmed when this occurred,” Porter said. “I had just taken office and felt like, I had handled murders before, but nothing like this.”
Having never written a book before, Porter decided to write “Alexandria Assassin: The Parable of the Knocker” after being approached by two local authors.
“They both were interested in writing the book themselves,” Porter said. “Because the case had … involved a pretty significant personal journey for me, I just kind of felt like it was better if I did it, if it was me telling the story, because that way I could be sure that it was told correctly and that it wasn’t sensationalized and that people were treated with the sensitivity that I think they deserved.”
After deciding to write the book in 2016, Porter took about three years to complete it. Following another few months of editing, it was released by Waldorf Publishing on Aug. 15.
Publisher Barbara Terry said it was a combination of the story that Porter wanted to tell and the office he held that led her to sign him.
“True crime is a popular genre right now with readers,” Terry said. “Bryan’s bio, I know we can get interest from buyers … with a bio like his. … I think that we all should support local business and local people in our community.”
True to Terry’s projections, the book sold out on Amazon shortly after being released. It was also listed number one in two separate categories in its first week.
David Lord, senior assistant commonwealth’s attorney and a member of the prosecution team in the Severance case, said the book has been well received in the community.
“Everything I’ve heard has been extremely positive,” Lord said. “I know from having talked to at least one of the family members of the victims’ families that it was really well received, at least from that individual.”
Porter’s next step is to schedule signings and events at local bookstores. Rather than striving for commercial success, Porter said his goal is to spread a message.
“What I really want to do is foster that conversation about mental health and guns,” Porter said. “If I do a book signing, I can briefly talk about the case, but then I could talk about those lessons too, so that’s the idea: to use obviously a tragic, tragic situation and maybe make a little good come out of it.”