- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Investigators say they believe DNA evidence will conclusively link a man who killed himself in Florida last week to the deaths of two sisters and a third teenage girl in Spotsylvania County, Va., in the mid-1990s, authorities said yesterday.
They also said they may have uncovered only "the tip of the iceberg" when it comes to victims.
Richard M. Evonitz, 38, killed himself in Florida on Thursday after authorities closed in on him for the kidnapping and rape of a 15-year-old South Carolina girl.
A search of his Columbia, S.C., apartment uncovered news clippings and handwritten notes about the killings of Kristin and Kati Lisk, 15 and 12, of Spotsylvania, Va., who vanished after getting off separate school buses near their home in 1997.
Evidence from those murders linked them with the slaying of another county girl, Sofia Silva, 16, who vanished from the front steps of her home in 1996.
"That is all [the victims] we know of at the moment," said Richland, S.C., Sheriff Leon Lott, one of the leaders of the investigation. "Like most serial killers, he traveled. We have a lot of time between [1996] and now to account for."
At the time of the girls' deaths in Virginia, Mr. Evonitz worked at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in neighboring Dahlgren in King George County and was an initial suspect, said one law enforcement official. But police didn't have enough evidence then to force him to submit to a DNA test.
"We are primarily focused on him," said Lawrence Barry, spokesman for the FBI's Richmond office. "The task force is working hard to solve those murders."
Preliminary DNA test results are expected as early today.
"All of us are on pins and needles, waiting for the lab that's all we can do right now," Spotsylvania County Sheriff Ronald Knight said yesterday.
Investigators said another note found in the apartment had general directions to Route 29 in Culpeper County, near where the body of Alicia Showalter Reynolds, 25, a Baltimore student, was found in 1996.
But Virginia State Police have not officially listed Mr. Evonitz as a suspect in that slaying, and Sheriff Lott said the link is "very weak."
Other investigators said that while some serial killers change their "preference" to throw off law enforcement, there are few similarities between Mrs. Reynolds and the other victims or in their cases.
The Virginia cases began unraveling after a 15-year-old Lexington, S.C., girl was abducted at gunpoint on the afternoon of June 24 while watering a friend's lawn.
A man pretending to be a magazine salesman approached the girl, according to South Carolina police officials. He forced her into a plastic container, took her to his apartment, repeatedly raped her, then fell into a drug-induced sleep. The girl slipped loose from her handcuffs, ran out the door and was assisted by two neighbors, who took her to police.
Mr. Evonitz fled before police arrived, heading to Florida, where his sister lives. Thursday, police surrounded him in Sarasota after a high-speed chase. He put a gun to his mouth shortly after leaving a goodbye message for his wife, telling her he loved her but that he wouldn't go to jail.
"There was no doubt that he would have killed her," said Sheriff Lott about the South Carolina victim. "His wife and mother were on vacation and returning Thursday. He took a vacation from work and kidnapped a girl he intended to kill before they returned. She not only saved her life but others' as well."
Mr. Evonitz was raised in Columbia and returned there in April with his teenage wife, taking a job selling air conditioner purification systems. His parents divorced, and his father moved to Arlington. His mother and one sister live in South Carolina, and another sister lives in Florida. He was convicted in 1988 for sexual offenses involving minors and placed on probation.
Now police are also cross-checking Mr. Evonitz's movements with murders in Georgia, Texas, Florida and other places he lived while in the Navy or working as a traveling salesman.
"There is no doubt he is a serial killer," said Lexington County. S.C., Sheriff James Metts, who is one of the lead investigators and a trained criminal profiler who captured two other serial killers. "This wasn't his first by any stretch of the imagination. There is a good likelihood we will find more."
Sheriff Metts said Mr. Evonitz was able to avoid detection because he was "smart and very organized." He also may have stopped killing for a period because of events in his life, something the sheriff said wasn't unusual among serial killers. However, he cautioned, "you don't rehabilitate serial killers."
And as other serial killers, Mr. Evonitz was prone to keeping trophies, he added, in the form of notes and newspaper articles detailing women he may have stalked.
Mrs. Reynolds vanished along Route 29 in Culpeper in late 1995 after she was seen getting into a pickup truck with a man. The Harrisonburg, Va., native was to meet her mother in Charlottesville. Her body was found two months later near Lignum, 15 miles from where she was last seen.
Sheriff Metts said one note in Mr. Evonitz's apartment reads "29 north," and "Germanna Road," another name for Route 3 near Lignum. Police caution that this may be unrelated to Mrs. Reynolds' murder.
But investigators are more certain about other handwritten notes that contain a map and directions to the road where the Lisk sisters lived and describe two white females, one "11 or 12, the other 14 or 15," as "brunettes" who were "cute."
A half-dozen members of a task force of sheriff's deputies, state police and FBI agents from Virginia were in Columbia yesterday collecting about 200 pieces of evidence from Mr. Evonitz's apartment and car.
"Blood, hair, fibers, handwriting, notes," Sheriff Knight said. "We have to make sure the evidence is collected properly and categorized."
The Lisk sisters disappeared in front of their home in the daytime. A frantic search by volunteers and police discovered the girls' bodies in the South Anna River, about 40 miles away. Police soon linked the murders to the Silva girl, whose body was found in a swamp one month after she was killed.
Authorities made little headway in the two cases despite devoting tremendous manpower. Shoddy forensic analysis and indicting the wrong suspect created delays.
Police say they have a long road ahead to reconstruct Mr. Evonitz's life but are relieved by the turn of events even as they predicted he would kill himself rather than be captured.
"He has been stopped," said Sheriff Lott. "We wanted to apprehend him alive. But at least no other girls will ever have to be subjected to this."
The Silva home was adorned with purple ribbons, which was Sofia's favorite color, a high school friend, Theresa Lambert, said. A note outside the home expressed the family's "need for privacy" and added they would not comment.
Yesterday would have been Sofia's 22nd birthday.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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