- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2014

Alexandria police said Thursday that the fatal shooting of a music teacher last month and the killing last year of a regional planning official “appear to be linked” to the decade-old unsolved slaying of the wife of the city’s former sheriff.

Police Chief Earl Cook confirmed at a news conference that police were exploring whether the Feb. 6 killing of Ruthanne Lodato could be connected to the November slaying of Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments transportation planning official Ronald Kirby.

But in a stunning disclosure, Chief Cook said ballistics tests revealed the bullets used in the cases share similarities with bullets used in the 2003 unsolved fatal shooting of Nancy Dunning.

The chief said the bullets “have the same general rifling class and characteristics and are similar in design,” but he quickly added that the results of microscopic comparisons were inconclusive. He said it was not possible to identify or eliminate the possibility the bullets were fired from the same gun, but said the cases “will be investigated as a series of crimes.”


“The similarities and unusual nature of all three shootings occurring in Alexandria require the police department to consider the possibility that all the cases are linked together,” he said.

Chief Cook did not say what type of gun police believed was used in the crimes, saying only it was a small-caliber weapon. He said FBI agents and analysts and the Virginia State Police were working with Alexandria police to pursue leads in the cases.

The police chief said that after Kirby’s killing in November homicide investigators looked at similarities between that case and the Dunning homicide.

Kirby, 69, was found dead inside his home in the 200 block of Elm Street around 12:30 p.m. Nov. 11, and police think the killing occurred within a matter of hours from the time he was discovered. He had been shot multiple times.

Dunning, 56, was found dead in her home in the 200 block of West Mount Ida Avenue at about 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 5, 2003. A prominent real estate agent, she was the wife of former Sheriff James Dunning.

Police, in the years after the crime, said Dunning’s killing was possibly motivated by an “event or relationship” in her recent past. Investigators never identified a suspect, but long expressed an interest in speaking with a man seen in a surveillance videotape at a Target store where she had been shopping the morning of her death.

Lodato, 59, was fatally shot and her mother’s caregiver was struck and wounded last month by an unknown gunman who knocked on her door in the 2400 block of Ridge Road Drive just after 11:30 a.m.

Chief Cook said the killings could have at least that one factor in common.

“They probably all three presented themselves at the door,” he said. He also noted similarities in the locations — within 2 miles of each other — and the times of day in which the shootings took place.

Police have a composite sketch of a possible suspect in the Lodato case, a bearded white man. There are no eyewitnesses in the Dunning or Kirby cases, and police Thursday asked for tips whether they were related to the sketch or not.

“In the series we’re looking at right now, I cannot definitively say there’s only one assailant as yet,” Chief Cook said. “What we’re saying is there’s similarities. And it’s possible there’s one, but there could be more than one.”