A few years ago, I remember watching the TV show, Disappeared, a show that tells the stories of people who mysteriously vanish off the face of the earth.
I was drawn to the story of Morgan Harrington, a 20 year old VA Tech student who left a Metallica concert in Charlottesville, on October 17, 2009, and was never heard from again.
She left the concert for unknown reasons, and when she wasn’t allowed re-entry because she didn’t have her ticket, she walked away into the darkness. She was seen hitchhiking on a bridge not too far from the John Paul Jones concert arena she had just left, but she would never be seen alive again.
Her body was found on Albemarle Farm near Charlottesville 101 days later, in January 2010.
Fractured and broken bones were all that were left of her. Morgan had not just been raped and murdered. Poor Morgan had been ravaged.
Perhaps it was because I went to a Virginia university or the extremely tragic and mysterious nature of Morgan’s story, but this was one that stuck with me. So in the years after, when I heard about more young woman who went missing, ranging in age from 17-20, along the same Route 29 corridor in Charlottesville, I remembered Morgan. And I frequently wondered if there a serial killer on the loose.
Not much was made of it in the media, and another man was detained in the abduction and murder of another young lady, Alexis Murphy, so I thought maybe police caught him. Things got quiet, and left went on. Maybe they did have the guy, or maybe not…
Morgan was the first to go missing off Route 29, and her story was far more widely publicized than that of the other missing girls, until Hannah Graham went missing on September 13, 2014. The deluge of national attention thrust this story to the spotlight and shed light on the fact that Charlottesville, VA – the quintessential college town and home to the University of Virginia – may also be home to a vicious predator, a brutal rapist and serial killer.
What is even more disturbing is that while most of the disappearances are concentrated around Route 29 in Charlottesvile, if you take a broader look at the map, the missing and murdered girl span hundreds of miles. The full map can be seen below and shows 14 missing girls across VA and NC. Are they all related?
Putting the pieces together
When Hannah Graham was last seen in the early morning hours of September 13, 2014, she was leaving a bar called Tempo in the downtown area of Charlottesville. Under the influence, she appeared unable to walk on her own, according to the Tempo door personnel. It appeared as if she was being held up by (Leroy) Jesse Matthew, who is better known in his circles as ‘LJ’.
On video, Matthew was seen moments earlier following Hannah. One man came forward and reported that he felt like Hannah needed help and while watching her, another man came upon her and put his arm around her as if he knew her. That man was LJ Matthew and it was a fateful meeting that may have cost Hannah her life.
Years earlier, in 2009, when Morgan left that Metallica concert, LJ Matthew was a cab driver in the same area. Some reports say that he had been accused of being aggressive towards females while driving his cab, cat-calling them from the car, offering free rides to females walking alone, and generally making females feel uncomfortable (referenced in above Daily Mail article).
The cops say forensic evidence now link Hannah and Morgan, along with another rape that took place over a hundred miles away, in Fairfax, VA in September of 2005. That rape was disrupted when the perpetrator was startled by passers-by and fled on foot. The young lady there escaped with her life, but was still hospitalized for her injuries. The below compares the composite sketch that the 2005 victim provided of her rapist next to a picture of LJ around the same time, before he grew dreads.
With the DNA link and the uncanny resemblance in the above photos, it appears the cops might have their guy. This leaves many of LJ’s family and friends scratching their heads and trying to figure out how the ‘gentle giant’ they believed they knew could do this. But to some of his friends, it falls into a familiar pattern of behavior of an aggressive and sometimes awkward man whose advances often were routinely turned away.
One friend even called him a prowler.
There is an article that details LJ’s actions from the time he left work to when he met Hannah Graham early in the hours of September 13. It wasn’t an accident that he came across her. He routinely looked for women who appeared to have been drinking or in some way incapacitated, according to an exclusive report by Coy Barefoot.
A history of violence
Earlier the same night, without cause or warning, he put a man into a wrestling hold and caused his to pull his hamstring. He made advances towards women and was so persistent one woman had to cuss him out in order to get him to leave them alone. The article shows a more sinister side to the ‘gentle giant’, on the same night he came across Hannah.
In 2010, after the police linked Morgan’s death to the rape in Fairfax in 2005, and police released the above sketch, some of LJ’s friends told him that he looks just like the rapist. He shrugged it off, and immediately proceeded to grow his hair, gain some weight, seemingly efforts to change his appearance.
Serial rapists and killers will typically have experienced a traumatic event that make them feel spurned, sometimes hating or objectifying women as a result, and intensifying their need to act out their impulses. Sometimes they were just born with the terrible affliction. It’s hard to know exactly how this type of evil comes to exist, but it seems in this case, there were signs that were overlooked, ignored, or dismissed.
In LJ’s case, he was kicked out of Liberty college in Lynchburg, losing his football scholarship, after a young lady accused him of rape in 2002. This dashed his hopes of going to the NFL. The victim was hospitalized for the injuries she sustained. He was not charged at the time due to a “lack of evidence”.
I wonder how many lives might have been saved if he was prosecuted.
He had a short stint at Christopher Newport University (CNU) shortly thereafter but was kicked off the football team there for undisclosed reasons, and then left school altogether, and returned to his hometown of Charlottesville.
He fits the profile of a serial killer. Failed dreams, failed relationships, menial jobs, and a violent past. And…he also had opportunity. Most damning is that his DNA was also found at the scene of two of these terrible attacks.
While all signs are pointing to the police having the right guy, it’s important that young women remain vigilant because there is too much not known, and too many of the pieces of the puzzle that don’t quite add up yet.
A man named Randy Taylor was convicted of Alexis Murphy’s 2013 abduction and murder, but has always claimed he did not act alone in the abduction, and he did not commit the murder. He has offered a plea to show police where the body is if they reduce his sentence from life to 20 years, but as yet the state has not agreed. However, with all the missing girls in the last several years, we should perhaps consider that he is telling the truth, and there is yet another man that has yet to be found.
Another twist: There were two girls who survived an attempted abduction in Charlottesville during the summer of 2013. It wasn’t just one man who was involved, it was two. The details of their encounter, and the VERY close proximity to where Morgan Harrington’s shirt was found AND where Hannah Graham was last seen are all enough to raise further questions. The ladies were unable to positively ID their attackers. They fought back, screamed, and scared them off. They were unable to provide identifications to the police, the girls stories differed. The full story is detailed on this you tube video.
The varied reports of missing girls and the differing circumstances under which they were taken suggest there is a lot more to this story than meets the eye.
Stay vigiliant, young ladies. Know who is beside you and behind you. Report anything suspicious. And never go out alone.