ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) - In his short time on the often-freewheeling Alexandria political scene, Charles Severance made an impression.
U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., recalls a candidate forum in 1996 at the McLean Chamber of Commerce. After the Pledge of Allegiance, Severance - a fringe independent candidate - grabbed a U.S. flag by the pole and charged at Moran with the flagpole’s spear pointed at him. Then he made a similar lunge at the audience before running off with the flag, leaving a chamber official to chase after him.
“It was a questionable means of securing political support,” Moran said, recalling that Severance was dressed all in black.
Severance’s stint on the fringe of Virginia politics had been long forgotten until he was arrested earlier this year in West Virginia on a warrant related to a Loudon County firearms charge. Police in Alexandria also said they want to question him in connection with three unsolved slayings going back over a decade.
Police won’t refer to him as a suspect, and the police chief has said they are not even certain that all three slayings are related. But ballistics evidence indicates similarities in the weapon used in each of the killings, and there are other similarities as well.
All three fatal shootings - the 2003 slaying of Nancy Dunning, wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning; the November 2013 killing of transportation planner Ronald Kirby; and the Feb. 6 killing of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato - occurred in late morning hours, after the shooter randomly showed up at the victims’ homes. The slayings all occurred within a few miles of each other. All three were prominent residents within Alexandria, but none are known to have a specific connection to Severance.
A lawyer for Severance says the firearms charge is a sham and that authorities lack evidence to charge him in the slayings.
While Severance’s oddities were laughed off in the political world, court records show Severance carried a deep grudge against Alexandria civil authorities, who revoked custody of his year-old-son, Levite, in 2000 and forbade him any visitation until he received a mental-health examination.
Severance represented himself in parts of the custody dispute, and offered scattershot criticisms of authorities, though he was never specific in directing his anger at one person or agency. He wrote in one motion about the “inferior opinions of some prominent secular Alexandria authorities and teachers of the law with their rusty moral compasses.”
Severance also ran a website, mentaldisorder.com, in which he said his son “was legally isolated and separated from his father by the notorious City of Alexandria Juvenile Court. Although vilified by the inferior opinions of some judges, Charles Severance remains a God-fearing, highly respected, and solid citizen of Virginia.”
The mother moved to West Virginia, fearful that Severance would harm her after a confrontation in which she said Severance had meticulously laid out weapons and ammunition in their house on the day she packed up her things and moved out in 2000.
Severance railed against the perceived injustice on his website, portraying himself as an expert on mental health. “Imagine yourself, an eccentric psychopath, being diagnosed with schizophrenia and having the opportunity to submit to toxic lifetime maintenance medication every day for the rest of your life,” Severance says on the website.
After leaving Alexandria, Severance spent several years in Cumberland, Md. Attorney George V. McKinley of Cumberland successfully defended Severance against a 2005 indecent exposure charge and allegations he improperly touched and propositioned a 13-year-old neighborhood girl in 2003. Prosecutors dropped all charges in both cases.
McKinley said complaints were filed by neighbors to harass the long-haired, bearded Severance because of his eccentricities, which included lounging in water-filled, antique bathtubs in the side yard of his house, which he ran as a hostel named “Chateau Levite,” in honor of his son.
“He didn’t take baths” in the tubs, McKinley said. “He would sit in them in a swimsuit and look out over the city in the evenings in the summer.”
As for the Alexandria slayings, McKinley said he would “be the most amazed guy in the world if Charlie Severance did this.”
Alexandria Police, for their part, have said little about Severance, saying only that they want to speak to him after receiving a tip.
Severance is being held in Wheeling on a fugitive warrant from Loudoun County, Va., on a firearms charge unrelated to the killings. Severance’s attorney in West Virginia, Shayne Welling, says the charges on which Virginia is demanding extradition are a sham, ginned up because they suspect him in the slayings but don’t have evidence to charge him or arrest him.
A West Virginia judge will hear arguments Wednesday on whether to extradite Severance.
Associated Press writer David Dishneau contributed to this report from Cumberland, Md.
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