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Charles Stanard SEVERANCE





Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Prosecutors said bitterness over a child-custody battle he lost and a general hatred of Alexandria’s elite motivated him to shoot the victims — all apparently strangers to him — in daylight attacks at their homes
Number of victims: 3
Date of murder: December 5, 2003 / November 11, 2013 / February 6, 2014
Date of arrest: March 12, 2014
Date of birth: 1960
Victims profile: Nancy Dunning, 62 / Ronald Kirby, 69 / Ruthanne Lodato, 59
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison plus 48 years on January 20, 2016

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Charles Severance 1 Charles Severance 2
Evidence 1 Evidence 2 Evidence 3
Virginia serial killer Charles Severance sentenced to life in prison

By Matt Zapotosky - The Washington Post

January 21, 2016

Given a last opportunity to speak before he was sentenced to life in prison, convicted serial killer Charles Severance rambled. He cited the Book of Common Prayer, Henry VIII, “Elizabeth” and “the 37th article of religion.”

“It is lawful to wear weapons,” he concluded. Then he went silent.

Unmoved, a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge imposed a punishment of three life terms plus 48 years. The result was not a surprise: Jurors had recommended the sentence last year after finding Severance guilty of murder in three slayings in Alexandria over the course of nearly a decade. But that didn’t lessen the emotional impact of Thursday’s hearing.

Choking back tears, Judge Randy I. Bellows talked at length about the victims’ family members and the horror they endured because of Severance’s crimes. A few of them cried and hugged in the gallery.

“He condemned each of these family members to bear witness to a nightmare,” Bellows said.

Severance, 55, was convicted in November in the fatal shootings of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato in February 2014, regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby in November 2013 and real estate agent Nancy Dunning in December 2003. Prosecutors said bitterness over a child-custody battle he lost and a general hatred of Alexandria’s elite motivated him to shoot the victims — all apparently strangers to him — in daylight attacks at their homes.

At the hearing Thursday, Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said Severance was driven by the same “anger and hatred and proclivity for violence” that fuels mass shootings. He contrasted the good that was done by the victims with that rage, noting that Severance would soon be transported to a maximum-security prison and spend the rest of his life “wallowing in the anger and loathing that mark his time on Earth.”

“Violence does not win,” Porter said. “In the end, flying in the face of the senseless violence [and] despair that has been exhibited in this case, it is an incontrovertible fact that love wins.”

Severance said nothing to address the crimes of which he was convicted, although he spoke at length on other matters. Immediately after sheriff’s deputies brought him into the courtroom in a wheelchair, Severance leaned into the microphone and said “sadism, sadism.” He tried to have his attorneys removed — even seeking “a protection order against them for my safety.”

“I don’t want to be represented by people who make statements against my interests,” he said. “It’s unusual punishment.”

Severance also complained that the sentencing had been moved from Friday to Thursday, which the judge said was done in anticipation of a weekend snowstorm, and asked for it to be postponed.

Bellows rejected Severance’s requests, although he did agree to appoint lawyer James Hundley to represent Severance on appeal, noting that his current attorneys had asked to be removed because of a communication breakdown between them and their client. Defense attorney Christopher Leibig declined to comment after the hearing. He said during the sentencing that Severance had significant, undiagnosed mental health problems and was not truly evil.

Family members of each victim and Severance’s parents were in court for the hearing. Notably, so was former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, who graduated from high school with Lodato’s husband; and state Attorney General Mark R. Herring. Two attorneys from Herring’s office assisted Porter and Senior Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord in prosecuting the case.

A Lodato family neighbor, John Kelly, who has been in touch with relatives of the other victims and has been serving as a spokesman of sorts for the Lodatos, said: “I think the families want to move on, as they always have.”

Herring praised the prosecutors for doing “excellent work” and said Severance’s crimes “shattered the sense of peace and security that folks here have.”

Last year, Severance’s trial was moved from Alexandria to Fairfax County over concerns about seating an impartial jury.

Porter said Severance had “been held accountable and exposed for what he really is — a clever but cowardly murderer.” He also urged legislators to consider gun-control reform, including background checks for those who purchase weapons from gun shows. He said Severance’s case could have been prevented if someone close to him had reported his anger to authorities earlier or if a girlfriend had not purchased a gun for him.

Severance’s behavior in court was not unexpected. Throughout the legal proceedings, he frequently sparred with judges. During the trial, jurors learned that he was a peculiar man who at times seemed to battle psychological demons and at other times appeared to lead a normal life. The son of a two-star admiral, Severance lived in various places during his youth and enjoyed traveling, history and gaming. He attended three colleges, ultimately graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Virginia, and he was briefly married. In recent years, he went weekly to his parents’ house to watch the TV show “Survivor.”

Family members said Severance was vigorously opposed to smoking, even confronting his parents’ guests about it when they came for dinner. When he campaigned for political office in Alexandria in 1996 and 2000, a part of his platform was to encourage “country dancing” in the school system. When he wrote to his family members, the missives were often rambling and nonsensical. He wrote a similar letter to two Washington Post reporters after his conviction. An expert testified that he had a personality disorder with mixed paranoid and schizotypal features.


3 life sentences for convicted Alexandria killer

By WTOP Staff

January 21, 2016

Fairfax, Va. — Convicted murderer Charles Severance was sentenced to serve three life terms in prison for charges that he shot and killed three prominent Alexandria citizens.

In November, a Fairfax County jury found Severance guilty of 10 counts including murder charges for the deaths of Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato.

Judge Randy Bellows stuck with the jury’s recommended three life sentences in prison plus 48 years and a $400,000 fine.

The three life sentences are to be served consecutively meaning that if some of the murder convictions were reversed on appeal or the prison sentences reduced, he could still serve the remainder of his life behind bars. Virginia does not offer the chance for parole to convicted felons.

Bellows said he found no mitigating factors that would offset what he called Severance’s “cruel” acts. The judge spoke of the blood-soaked and bullet riddled bodies left for the victim’s family members to find, of grandchildren who won’t know their grandparents and of lives cut short before rendering his decision.

Severance pledged to appeal and his attorneys suggested that charging him with two counts of capital murder equated to double jeopardy, a defense strategy they had not previously brought up in court in or in filings.

They asked the judge to toss one of the capital murder convictions, a motion Bellows denied.

Severance was charged with and found guilty of two capital murder charges in the slayings of Lodato and Kirby.

In Virginia, both capital murder and felony murder carry sentences of either life in prison or the death penalty. Prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty.

WTOP’s Max Smith contributed to this story.


Jury finds accused Alexandria killer guilty of all counts

By Amanda Iacone and Dick Uliano -

November 2, 2015

Fairfax, Va. — A former candidate for Alexandria mayor, known for his erratic behavior, has been found guilty of murder in the killings of three city residents during the span of 11 years and will face at least one life sentence in prison for the crimes that terrified the community.

A Fairfax County jury found Charles Severance, 55 of Ashburn, guilty of all 10 counts including two capital murder charges for the shootings of Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato and one first-degree murder charge for the shooting of Nancy Dunning.

The jury recommended that he serve three life sentences for the murder charges plus another 48 years for the gun and malicious wounding charges and that he pay $400,000 in fines. Virginia does not grant the possibility of parole and prosecutors did not seek the death penalty, believing Severance’s mental health would make a conviction unlikely.

Prosecutors called Severance a “monster” who delivered chaos and terror upon the city while making their final pitch to jurors before they considered their recommended sentence. Defense attorneys blamed the killings on Severance’s mental health, pointing to a prior schizophrenia diagnosis.

Judge Randy Bellows will set Severance’s sentence in January.

The 12-person jury deliberated for more than two days to reach its verdict, which followed several weeks of testimony and evidence presentations. The verdict was read in court late Monday morning as Severance looked straight ahead, showing no emotion. His parents, Stan and Virginia Severance, sat stoically behind their son as they listened to the jury’s decision.

In a statement released afterward, they said they respect the verdict and offered their sympathies to the three families. “Our family is strong. We will pursue and continue on,” the statement read.

The victims’ families in turn thanked police and prosecutors for their work.

“We all know the guilty verdict brings us a sense of relief and some justice for all families. However it will never compensate for the loss of our loved ones,” said Marilyn Kirby, Ron Kirby’s daughter.

For the Dunning family, the conviction also lifts the cloud of suspicion that followed their father, the former Sheriff Jim Dunning, to his grave. He was once considered a suspect in his wife’s death.

Severance was charged in the three killings last year, months after Lodato was killed at the front door of her home. A sketch and tips lead police to Severance, who was initially arrested on unrelated charges in West Virginia. Kirby and Dunning each lived about a mile from Lodato in the same affluent area of the city.

The prominent residents each had deep ties to the community. And they were all killed in a similar manner: at the same time of day, at their front door, without evidence of a break-in, and by the same type and brand of .22-caliber bullets.

Prosecutors said that Severance killed all three out of revenge for losing custody of his son in 2001. He wrote extensively about his hatred for law enforcement, the Alexandria court system and even the city’s “elite” class. He also wrote about his dismay with social workers and even the mental health system. His writings featured prominently in this trial.

But it was the testimony of Dorcas Franko and her courtroom identification of Severance as the man who shot her and who also killed Lodato that was the key to winning over jurors, said Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter.

“She really stepped up to the plate and showed a bravery that is really uncommon,” Porter said.

Franko, who cared for Lodato’s mother, survived her injuries and helped police develop a sketch of her attacker, which proved to be the key to cracking open the three homicide cases. The bearded man triggered tips that led police to Severance, whose appearance was similar to the man in the sketch.

The size and shape of the facial hair seen by Franko and other witnesses was a critical issue for defense attorneys, who tried to argue that some other bearded man was responsible, not Severance.

His defense team said his writings show a man who has struggled with mental illness and loved history, but did not confess to his guilt. They said that circumstantial evidence strung the case together, eye witness testimony was not reliable, and that no forensic evidence placed Severance at any of the crime scenes.

He did not use insanity as a defense and his team of lawyers tried to argue he simply was not responsible.

His case was transferred to Fairfax County due to the intense pretrial publicity surrounding the killings and the charges. Alexandria’s judges recused themselves from hearing the case because Lodato’s brother was a city judge.


Writings of accused Alexandria killer read to jury

By Megan Cloherty -

October 20, 2015

Fairfax, Va. – “Introduce murder into a safe and secure neighborhood.”

This is one expert from the often violent writings of a man prosecutors portray as consumed by hatred and disgust, a man who intended to murder Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning, read to the jury during the ongoing trial of Charles Severance.

On the eve of resting its case against Severance, prosecutors called Alexandria Police Detective Sergeant David Cutting to the stand and asked him to read what amounted to 20 minutes of excerpts from Severance’s writings, seized in search warrants.

Many of the writings were dated by hand, the electronic postings were time-stamped, and they seemed to be presented in a way to chronicle Severance’s growing disgust and a mounting intensity in their nature.

Commonwealth’s attorney for Alexandria Bryan Porter led Cutting through the dozen or so early entries, asking him to read a few lines from a letter Severance wrote to his son Levite in 2001. Severance implies to his son that their shared enemies will receive punishment. In 2005, he tells his son that he’s succeeding in the war.

Severance is not a veteran so the listener was left to take that statement to mean a personal war. His son’s mother testified she found the letters Severance sent “threatening and frightening.”

Porter then turned to notations made by Severance in an online account he maintained through, a website which lets users comment on news articles.

On June 12, 2013, Severance wrote using his account, “I feel like discharging a firearm,” and, “scalping privileged members of the enforcement class, honoring family, settling old scores.”

The defense has previously pointed out none of the 2,000 pages of writings name a victim, a victim’s family member or seem to target a specific group in general. Police, social workers and “elites” are often described with disdain by Severance in his writings, presented to the jury in four binders for them to look through.

Severance’s defense team also has argued that the writings include loving passages about Severance’s son, details and notes for games he developed as well as historical references and research.

The passages quoted in court jumped from letters in 2005 to the online postings in 2013, the year of Ron Kirby’s homicide, and beyond.

Cutting read portions of emails from Severance’s personal account dated July 2013 through mid-September of that year:

“I’ve been nudging and trolling for over a decade and no one has noticed. Violence wins.”

“No self respecting patriarch would not murder an adversary who crosses the family.”

“Violence wins. Let that be a lesson to all members of the enforcement class.”

Severance’s journal was taken into evidence, as was his Bible, in which he had several handwritten notations. Investigators also seized multiple composition books from his red Ford Escort when he was arrested in Wheeling, West Virginia.

Porter asked Cutting to read a note inside a book dated roughly a month before Kirby was killed:

“Introduce murder into a safe and secure neighborhood. It shudders with horror. Do it again and again and again.”

While it was clear in pretrial motions that the prosecution planned to use Severance’s words against him, it was unclear how they would work into the presentation of evidence.

Porter chose to deliver them one by one, in succession to the jury, closing with “the parable of the knocker,” which eerily describes the manner in which Dunning, Kirby and Lodato were killed at their front doors.

“Knock. Talk. Enter. Kill. Exit.”

Prosecutors say Severance was motivated by hate of law enforcement and the courts and that he sought revenge against those he considered part of Alexandria’s ruling elite for losing custody of his son.

The defense will have its opportunity to cross-examine Cutting on the stand Wednesday morning.


Medical examiner: Dunning was shot at close range

By Amanda Iacone -

October 16, 2015

Fairfax, Va. – Jurors Friday witnessed part of Nancy Dunning’s final hours as she ran errands in an Alexandria Target before returning to her Mt. Ida Avenue home, where she was shot in the back of her head at close range.

Prosecutors played for jurors surveillance footage from the Potomac Yards Target that shows Dunning pushing a cart of merchandise through the store as a man wearing jeans and a dark jacket appears to follow her around the store and out the doors into the parking lot.

Police believe the man in the video is Charles Severance. Once a long-shot candidate for Alexandria mayor, he is now charged with killing Dunning in 2003, Ron Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in 2014. His defense teams argues there is nothing that proves that it was Severance in that Target, no forensic evidence tying him to any of the crime scenes and that any number of widely available guns could have been used in the fatal shootings.

There is also no footage of Dunning, or the man in the dark jacket, leaving the shopping center.

But later that morning, Dunning would be found dead of multiple gunshot wounds, including one to the base of her skull, just behind her ear. The bullet traveled through her brain and became lodged there, a medical examiner testified.

Dunning was also shot near her collarbone, the bullet hitting her lung, windpipe and a major artery, causing internal bleeding. Another bullet went through her arm and struck her in the chest, leaving an abrasion behind, said Dr. Carolyn Revercomb.

Soot marks left on Dunning’s clothes and skin indicate that the barrel of the gun was, at most, 2 inches away from Dunning each time the gun was fired, Revercomb testified.

Police say the same specific type of small caliber, low velocity bullets and the same brand of mini revolver were used to kill all three victims.

The guns used have not been found.

However Friday, prosecutors offered an explanation why the gun used to kill Dunning will never be found, suggesting that the mini revolver was destroyed by the state of Virginia under court order in 2006.

The state destroyed a .22 long rifle mini revolver, made by North American Arms and owned by Severance, after he was found guilty of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit in Rockingham County.

The charged stemmed from a traffic stop near Harrisonburg in February 2004 – less than three months after Dunning’s death.

Severance was found with three guns in his red Ford Escort wagon. One gun he hid under a hat on his lap during the stop, the .22 long rifle mini revolver was stashed between the car seats and a third handgun was on the backseat.

The mini revolver, confiscated by police, was never tested to determine if it had been used in any previous crimes, said Virginia State Police Sgt. John Murphy, who found the guns and arrested Severance 11 years ago.

Years later, Severance would convince his girlfriend Linda Robra to buy two of the same mini revolvers. Robra discovered the guns were missing after she kicked Severance out of her house in the weeks after Lodato’s murder.

Additional testimony about the guns and the Target surveillance video are expected when the trial resumes Monday. Severance’s defense team is expected to have its chance to convince the Fairfax County jury that Severance was not responsible for the three murders beginning sometime next week.


Son of Nancy Dunning sobs as his frantic 911 call plays for jury

By WTOP Staff

October 15, 2015

Fairfax, Va. – Chris Dunning was supposed to meet his mother, Nancy, for lunch the day she was gunned down in the family’s Alexandria home in December 2003.

When she never arrived and didn’t answer her phone, he headed toward Target, where she had planned to stop before lunch. On his way, the then 23-year-old passed by his parent’s Mt. Ida Avenue home, spotting his mom’s car parked in the open garage.

“At that point, I knew something was very wrong,” Chris Dunning told the jury Thursday.

He walked through the kitchen, saw mail scattered on the floor and his mother’s feet sticking out around the corner.

Chris Dunning found his mother, with whom he worked as a realtor, laying in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs and called 911.

Doubled over, he sobbed into his hands as that frantic 911 call was played in court.

“Dad!” he screams on the recording as his father, Jim Dunning enters the house and crumbles upon seeing his prone wife.

In shock, Chris Dunning handed the phone to his father. The son’s screams could be heard in the background as his father talks to dispatchers.

“My wife has been killed,” he says and begins crying.

He tells dispatchers that there is blood everywhere and repeats “my wife has been murdered.”

Jim Dunning was Alexandria’s sheriff at the time. He died in 2012 and was once considered a person of interest in his wife’s death but never charged.

During his testimony, Chris Dunning never looked at the man charged with killing his mother, Charles Severance.

Severance is also charged with killing Ron Kirby in 2013 and Ruthanne Lodato in 2014. Severance faces life in prison if convicted of at least one of the murder charges.

Investigators found blood splatter on the family’s front door, indicating that Nancy Dunning was shot there. But they found no forensic evidence that ties Severance to the scene, no hair or fibers, DNA or fingerprints, experts testified.

Dunning’s death stumped investigators for years until Ron Kirby was killed in a similar fashion at his front door, close to lunchtime. Ruthanne Lodato was similarly killed a few months later.

Each of the three Alexandria residents lived about 1 mile from each other and investigators say the same type of bullets and revolver were used in all three cases. They were all involved in and known by the community.

A sketch of Lodato’s killer and tips led police to Severance, who ran for city mayor twice and later moved to Loudoun County. Prosecutors say he was motivated to kill by his hatred for law enforcement, court officials and the city’s ruling class, anger which manifested after his parental rights were terminated in 2001.

During opening statements, prosecutors focused heavily on Severance’s voluminous writings, saying that Severance glorified violence and justified revenge killings. His writings have yet to arise as prosecutors have presented their case against him.

So far, prosecutors have worked their way through each of the three fatal shootings, presenting testimony and the evidence connected to each death investigation. They are expected to continue Friday.

The defense will have its chance to convince the jury Severance was not responsible for their deaths beginning next week.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report from Fairfax and Amanda Iacone contributed from Washington.


Murder trial pivots to Kirby; Severance’s relationship with son’ s mother explored

By WTOP Staff

October 14, 2015

Fairfax, Va. — A forensic pathologist testified Wednesday that transportation planner Ron Kirby didn’t die instantly after he was shot at least three times on Nov. 11, 2013.

Kirby was shot twice in the chest and one of the bullets pierced both of his lungs. Another bullet hit his hips. His fingers were also injured in the shooting but it was unclear how, Dr. Jocelyn Posthumus testified during the fourth full day of testimony in the triple murder trial of Charles Severance. Severance is charged with killing Kirby, Ruthanne Lodato and Nancy Dunning between 2003 and 2014.

She said he was shot at a “minimum” of three times. She pulled three .22-caliber bullets out of his remains.

Police recovered two additional bullets at the house.

Kirby’s son, Joe Kirby, testified earlier in the day about finding his father in the living room of their Alexandria house. He called 911 and paramedics initially didn’t see the small bullet wounds.

Investigators found no signs of forced entry and nothing in the home was tampered with or stolen. Palm prints and fingerprints found did not point to Severance. No DNA evidence was found.


Plumber describes seeing a man near the Kirby home

A plumber who was supposed to fix a sink at Ron Kirby’s home the morning he died testified that he saw a white man walking near the home.

Daniel L. Petrillo had spoke with Kirby by phone before arriving to the Elm Street house. But when he arrived about 15 minutes later, no one answered the door or the phone.

He told the jury that before he arrived at the house, he saw a white man wearing an oversized flannel jacket walking near Kirby’s home. He said he was “80 percent sure” it was Charles Severance.

But Petrillo didn’t tell police about that encounter until a month before Severance’s trial was set to begin, according to Severance’s defense team.

He said didn’t see a photo of Severance until this summer, when his sister showed him a news article about the case.


Prosecutors move on to Kirby’s fatal shooting

Ron Kirby’s widow Anne Gray Haynes testified briefly Wednesday telling the jury that she had gone for a walk and then went to a doctor’s appointment the day her husband was killed in November 2011.

Her voice trembled as she identified a photo of her late husband.

Kirby, who worked for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, lived about a mile from Ruthanne Lodato and like Lodato he was shot at the front door to his home. Prosecutors have said that nothing was touched or stolen from inside the house.

His son, Joe Kirby, found him bleeding from the mouth. Paramedics thought he had suffered a heart attack before discovering the tiny bullet wounds and declared him dead at the house.

He was shot in the hip, fingers and chest and police recovered five bullets — the same type of ammunition used in both Lodato and Nancy Dunning’s murders, prosecutors have said previously.

Until today, the evidence presented came from the investigation into Lodato’s death. Her death provided police with evidence and leads that investigators believe link together all three killings.


Mother of Severance’s son received ‘frightening’ letters

The mother of Charles Severance’s son says she received threatening letters from the man who is now charged with the murders of three Alexandria residents.

Wearing a blue coat, Tamela Nichols spoke softly on the stand and gazed in Severance’s direction while the attorneys conferred with the Judge Randy Bellows.

The met dancing and later she learned she was pregnant with his child. Nichols said she lived with Severance for a short time after she gave birth to their son. They never married. Shortly after she moved out, the custody battle began.

Severance lost custody in a court case that originated in Alexandria about 2000 and eventually went to the Virginia Court of Appeals. And Nichols says for nine years after that, he wrote her letters that she described as frightening and threatening.

But he also sent letters to her parents, their son Levite and to her work.

Prosecutors submitted some of the letters into evidence.

Prosecutors say that losing custody of his son triggered Severance’s hatred for law enforcement, courts and public officials. His hatred grew over the years, even as he continued to restore his parental rights, and served as his motivation for killing three Alexandria resident with deep ties to the community.

Nancy Dunning’s husband served as the city’s sheriff. Ron Kirby was a well-respected regional transportation planner. And Ruthanne Lodato’s sibling was an Alexandria judge.


Card game found in Severance’s car

The fourth day of testimony in the Charles Severance murder trial began with the items investigators found inside his car when he was arrested in West Virginia.

The search turned up a gun cleaning kit, but no gun. Investigators also found $1,700 in cash, a Bible, latex rubber gloves and Severance’s passport, an FBI specialist and an Alexandria detective testified.

Police also found a card game Severance created called “Mental Disorder.” This game is a key piece of evidence for the defense, which aims to prove to jurors that many of Severance’s seemingly violent writings were really about the creation of this and other games.

Severance is charged with killing Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning between 2003 and 2014.

After Lodato’s killing, tips led police to Severance. He was arrested at a public library in Wheeling, West Virginia, where he traveled after his then girlfriend kicked him out of her Ashburn home, on a gun charge out of Loudoun County.

Severance’s vehicle provides another key clue for prosecutors, who argue his red Ford Escort is the very same car seen leaving Lodato’s neighborhood on the day she was killed.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty contributed to this report from Fairfax. Amanda Iacone contributed from Washington.


Severance trial: Secret Service agents, ex-girlfriend testify

By WTOP Staff

October 13, 2015

Fairfax, Va. — Two Secret Service agents testified Tuesday afternoon about their interaction with Charles Severance, who had tried to seek asylum from the Russian Embassy in D.C. in 2014.

Both agents testified about responding to the embassy, which had requested help removing an unwanted person: Severance, who was wearing a poncho and a three-cornered hat.

Severance told Officer John Medwick that he was the Mayor of Alexandria and was seeking asylum with Russia.

Medwick testified he escorted Severance from Russian soil and interviewed him. Severance, who had his passport in hand, seemed calm and respectful, but displayed disorganized thinking.

Sgt. Stephen Lillist says Severance told him the City of Alexandria had persecuted him for years and “they” were seeking revenge on him after he ran for mayor in 1996 and 2000.

Both agents testified they followed Severance and were instructed to detain him. They then escorted Severance to his parking spot at an underground garage at the National Cathedral and took a photo of his car — a red Ford Escort.


Searching for two missing guns

Charles Severance’s parents told Alexandria police that they did not purchase ammunition nor did they know they had any in their Oakton, Virginia, home, according to a statement from the couple read to the jury Tuesday afternoon.

Police searched the couple’s home, where Severance stored some of his belongings, and found two boxes of Remington .22-caliber ammunition. One of the boxes was missing 10 bullets and no fingerprints were found on the boxes, Alexandria Det. Sean Casey testified.

A search of ponds near the Severances’ home and another near the Ashburn home of Severance’s then girlfriend Linda Robra turned up no evidence in the case.

Police have never found two guns that Robra bought at Severance’s urging. Robra testified earlier in the day that she noticed the revolvers were missing after Ruthanne Lodato’s death.


Alexandria police chief: We considered former sheriff in wife’s shooting

Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook confirms that police had investigated former Sheriff Jim Dunning as a person of interest in his wife’s 2003 shooting death.

However, Cook, who led the investigation into Dunning’s murder, says the sheriff was never a suspect. Dunning’s involvement was considered along with others who were also considered persons of interest.

Jim Dunning died in 2011 — several years before Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato were gunned down at the front doors to their homes, each about a mile from the Dunning home.

Cook also testified that investigators presented evidence to an Alexandria grand jury about Jim Dunning.

Cook also testified about the results of ballistic analysis, which provided a common link between a three cases. The same type of ammunition and the same type of gun were used in all three crimes.

The Alexandria case was moved to Fairfax County to ensure Severance receives a fair trial.


Nothing amiss

Linda Robra says she doesn’t remember anything different about Severance’s behavior around the time of Ron Kirby’s killing in November 2013 or Ruthanne Lodato’s death in February 2014.

Robra, Severance’s former girlfriend, also testified that he didn’t tell her he had sought asylum at the Russian Embassy in D.C. nor that he was stopped by the Secret Service.


Ex-girlfriend: Severance told me to buy a guy for protection

Linda Robra, Charles Severance’s former girlfriend, told the jury that it was his idea that she should buy two North American Arms 5-cylinder, .22-caliber revolvers and low velocity ammunition for protection.

Robra says Severance taught her how to load the guns. And she didn’t know why police found two cartridge casings in her garage because she had never fired the guns.

But she told detectives recently that she had seen Severance cleaning one of the guns.

Robra’s work records show she was substitute teaching on the days that Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato were killed.

Severance lived with Robra at her Ashburn home until police began investigating whether he was involved in Lodato’s death.

She told the jury that an Alexandria detective had left a card at her home after Lodato died. But Severance refused to call police and instead said he was going camping. So she told him to leave.

Two days later, Robra noticed the two guns she had purchased were missing. She never saw Severance take the guns and it was unclear when they disappeared.

Severance’s attorneys have said previously that when Robra kicked him out, he headed to Wheeling, West Virginia, for historical research and stopped to visit a friend in Maryland along the way.


2 women take stand in Severance trial

The second week of Charles Severance’s murder trial is underway and two women from Severance’s past have testified Tuesday morning.

Opening the day, an Ohio woman whom Severance once visited testified about the conversations they had regarding his mental state and his passions.

Theresa Mooney says Severance found her through When he stayed with her in 2007, he was traveling to promote a game he developed called “Mental Disorder.”

Mooney says he told her that he was schizophrenic and that he “snapped” when he talked about losing custody of his son.

Alexandria city courts terminated Severance’s parental rights in 2001. He filed repeated, but unsuccessful appeals, and prosecutors say the experience fueled his hatred toward law enforcement, the courts and government officials.

Severance’s ex-girlfriend Linda Robra testified that he suggested she buy two .22-caliber revolvers in the spring of 2012.

Prosecutors say the bullets that killed Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato were .22-caliber and three revolvers of the same type and brand were used in all three crimes.

Severance lived with Robra in her Ashburn home until 2014 when police began to investigate Severance in connection with Lodato’s death.

Severance is charged with the murders of the three Alexandria residents. A Fairfax County jury of 16 men and women will decide the case.

WTOP’s Megan Cloherty and Amanda Iacone contributed to this report.


Severance trial begins with emotional testimony from survivor

By Amanda Iacone

October 8, 2015

Fairfax, Va. – Prosecutors and defense attorneys for accused killer Charles Severance painted a picture of two very different men in their initial statements to a Fairfax County jury Thursday morning: one fueled by anger and mistrust, and the other a history-loving man who struggled from a mental disorder.

Severance is charged with killing three Alexandria residents – Nancy Dunning, Ruthanne Lodato and Ron Kirby – between 2003 and early 2014, crimes that terrorized the community. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Ballistic evidence, witnesses and surveillance images that purport to show Severance was near the three victims before their deaths, and the interpretation of Severance’s own writings will be contested during the trial, which is expected to last six weeks.

Prosecutors say that Severance, fueled by hatred for law enforcement and Alexandria’s elite class, killed the three victims using his preferred gun of choice and what they described as a rare type of ammunition almost never used in crimes.

Prosecutors focused repeatedly on the type of ammunition used in the crimes: .22-caliber, long rifle, plain lead, hollow point, cyclone or subsonic bullets made by Remington.

Investigators believe three different mini revolvers made by North American Arms were used in the crimes – one for each killing.

Severance wrote about this type of gun multiple times; he purchased one in 2003 and later urged his girlfriend to buy two.

The defense, however, said that the ballistic evidence doesn’t prove Severance was the killer. The bullets used in the three killings are commonly available nationwide and more than a billion such bullets have been produced since the late 1990s.

And, millions of guns could use the .22-caliber ammunition, not just the mini revolver that prosecutors say Severance used to kill all three victims, defense attorney Joe King said.

There is no DNA evidence that would link Severance to any of the three crimes and there is no indication that Severance fled Virginia after Lodato was killed, King said.

Severance suffered from bouts of eccentric, bizarre behavior with paranoid tendencies. He thought he was being persecuted by the City of Alexandria. Because of that, it should not be surprising that he would not want to speak with police or would seem to make strange choices, according to the defense.

Severance used a credit card in his name at a motel in Maryland and took three days to travel the five hours to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he was arrested. He also made no effort to alter his appearance. Rather than fleeing, Severance headed to West Virginia for historical research after his girlfriend kicked him out of her Ashburn home, King said.

Severance loved early American history and enjoyed visiting historic sites in West Virginia and Ohio, where he had friends and traveled several times during the past decade, King said.

His voluminous writings – four binders full were submitted as evidence in the case – are littered with references to historical events, sites and philosophies in addition to memories of his son Levite, and rules and plans for historic-themed games. The writings express more than just anger, King told the jury.

In those thousands of pages, Severance never wrote about Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby or Ruthanne Lodato or their families. Prosecutors argued, however, that the writings are focused on violence and revenge killings, and document Severance’s motivation for the killings: his hatred of police, courts and “Alexandria elite.”

David Lord, deputy commonwealth’s attorney for Alexandria, told the jury that the writings contain hundreds of references that glorify violence or justify revenge killings.

The first round of evidence and witnesses focused on the Lodato investigation, which provided police with clues that helped shed light on both Kirby and Dunning’s deaths.

The day was punctuated by emotional testimony from the lone survivor of the attacks, Dorcas Franco, who cared for Lodato’s 89-year-old mother. Franco was shot two times in the arm and ran into her attacker, who knocked her backwards. She described running out of the house for help and coming back to find Lodato on the floor, bleeding.

Franco broke into tears as she was being questioned about a sketch that depicted her attacker. The sketch was released publicly and resembles Severance.

Franco identified Severance as her attacker despite attempts by the defense to point out discrepancies between her descriptions to police and court previously.

Defense attorneys asked Franco and several other witnesses about the beard length and bushiness of the man who shot her.

The attorneys noted several times that Severance has worn his long, gray beard the same length for some time. Severance, wearing a brown, long-sleeve button down shirt, stared straight ahead during most of the day, periodically conversing with his team of lawyers.

A neighbor testified that she had seen an older white man with a beard wearing a tan jacket three times in the days and weeks before Lodato’s murder. When the sketch was released, she recognized him as the same man.

A woman who runs a cleaning service in the neighborhood told police that she had seen Severance driving out of the Jefferson Park neighborhood. He had run a stop sign and was speeding. She didn’t report the erratic driving until several weeks after Lodato’s murder when she saw a news report about Severance’s arrest and recognized him as the driver.

She said he had been driving a red Ford Escort – the same type of car captured by a neighbor’s surveillance camera and that Severance had been driving when he was arrested.

The trial is set to resume Friday.


Severance indicted for killing three Alexandria residents

By WTOP staff

September 8, 2014

Washington – A grand jury has indicted a once-mayoral candidate with murdering three prominent Alexandria residents, including a case that had gone unsolved for more than a decade.

Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook said the grand jury returned the indictment Monday, formally charging Charles Severance with murdering Ruthanne Lodato, Ron Kirby and Nancy Dunning.

Severance became the main focus of a police investigation after the death of Lodato in February. Investigators developed a sketch based on the bearded man who knocked on Lodato’s door, spurring a manhunt in Alexandria. Tips led investigators to Severance, whose grizzled beard and hair appeared strikingly similar to the sketch.

And in March, officials announced that the bullets that killed Lodato were also similar to the bullets that killed Kirby and Dunning. Since then, investigators have uncovered evidence tying Severance to the crimes but no weapon has been recovered, Cook said.

He declined to elaborate on what other evidence would be presented in court.

“I am confident that the suspect Charles Severance is the suspect that we’ve been looking for,” Cook said during a news conference.

Cook said he didn’t know whether Severance targeted his three victims or chose them randomly. He declined to say whether Severance knew his victims, adding “we’re a pretty tight knit community. People who live here for any length of time, tend to know each other.”

But that same small-town feel also made the investigations all the more personal and news of the indictment all the more emotional, Cook said. The indictment represents 11 years of work by the small department’s detectives.

“The Nancy Dunning investigation has never been a cold case,” he said.

Cook met with family members of the victims earlier in the day to share the news of the indictment, he said.

Nancy Dunning was the wife of then-Alexandria Sheriff James Dunning and was killed inside her home in 2003.

Ron Kirby, who was a transportation planner for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, was shot as his door in November 2013.

Lodato was a longtime resident of Alexandria and was a music teacher.

Severance was extradited from West Virginia to Loudoun County where he was indicted on a weapons charge earlier this year. He remains in the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center.

Once a resident of Alexandria, Severance twice was a fringe candidate for mayor.

Police say Severance faces charges of first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in connection with Dunning’s death.

He is charged with capital murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and possession of a firearm by a felon in connection with Kirby’s death.

And he is charged with capital murder, two counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, possession of a firearm by a felon and malicious wounding for killing Lodato and for shooting and injuring another woman who was in the home at the time.

Capital murder charges can qualify for the death penalty. But prosecutors said Monday they will not seek the death penalty in the killings, according to the Associated Press.

In Virginia, to be eligible for capital murder, a killing must meet at least one condition set out in state code, including that the defendant murdered more than one person in a three-year period.


Police look for gunman in fatal shooting in Alexandria

By Matt Zapotosky,, Theresa Vargas and T. Rees Shapiro - The Washington Post

February 6, 2014

The bearded, balding man knocked on the door about 11:30 a.m. Two women, a music teacher and a caregiver, opened up the home to the unexpected visitor.

The man — a stranger to the women, it seems — started shooting. In broad daylight, in the middle of a quiet Alexandria neighborhood, the music teacher lay fatally wounded, the caregiver shot but expected to survive.

On Thursday night, the killer was still on the loose.

“We are concerned,” Alexandria Police Chief Earl L. Cook said. “And the citizens should be concerned.”

Police identified the slain woman as Ruthanne Lodato, 59, who lived in the home in the 2400 block of Ridge Road Drive. Friends and colleagues described her as a dedicated music teacher who led classes for nearly two decades.

“She changed a lot of kids’ lives teaching that long,” said Kelly Cronenberg, who taught with Lodato in a program called Music Together Alexandria. “So many children.”

The killing — Alexandria’s first of the year — sparked equal parts fear and bewilderment in North Ridge, the neighborhood of single-family brick homes where it occurred.

“This is a tragic situation, and the whole area is shocked and saddened,” said Ken Hill, president of the North Ridge Citizens’ Association.

Detectives were left with a chilling concern: Could Thursday’s shooting be connected to the equally mysterious and high-profile slaying of prominent regional transportation planner Ronald Kirby, who was shot inside his home nearly three months ago? Authorities have said that there were no signs of forced entry at Kirby’s house, and his wife has said nothing was stolen. Police have not made an arrest. Kirby, 69, lived a little more than a mile from Ridge Road Drive and was killed sometime between 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on Nov. 11.

“Obviously, that occurs to us,” Cook said of the possibility that there might be a connection between Kirby’s and Lodato’s slayings. “We will have to look to see those similarities.”

Thursday’s shooting sparked an extensive manhunt. Officers fanned through the neighborhood looking for the gunman, who police described only as an older, balding white man with gray hair and a full beard. Police dogs were employed on the ground, and a Fairfax County police helicopter flew above. Several schools were placed on lockdown.

One neighbor said police told her that the shooter wore a suit.

Cook said investigators did not know of a motive for the shooting, but he said they had “no indication at this time that [the victims] knew the suspect.” He said three people were home when the shooting occurred. He identified the surviving victim as a caregiver who worked there but did not provide her name or say for whom she provided care. He also declined to provide information about the third person in the house.

Cook said investigators had talked with the wounded woman, who remained in a hospital Thursday evening, but he declined to detail what she told them. He also declined to say what type of gun was used and offered only a brief description of what happened.

“The suspect knocked on the door and shot the victims when they answered,” he said.

Those who knew Lodato said that she came from a prominent family with deep roots in Alexandria. Barry Mudd, a neighbor, said that Lodato’s father was the late George Giammittorio, a judge on Alexandria’s Circuit Court. One brother, he said, is retired Alexandria General District Court judge Eugene Robert Giammittorio, another brother is a securities lawyer in McLean and a third is a physician based in Alexandria.

Mudd said that Lodato’s husband, Norman, was active in the North Ridge Citizens’ Association.

Mudd said he recalled seeing Lodato and her elderly mother enjoying an afternoon outside in the spring. “They were sitting out on their stoop in rocking chairs,” he said. “It’s always good to warm your heart to see them there.”

Hill, the president of the North Ridge Citizens’ Association, said that Norman Lodato was a past president of the group and that he and his wife were known for their “sense of civic responsibility.”

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille issued a statement extending his condolences to the family and expressing confidence that police would “work swiftly to apprehend the person who committed this horrible crime.”

“This is a sad day in the City of Alexandria,” he said.

Ruthanne Lodato graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music education from the University of Richmond, according to a résumé she posted online. It said she received a master’s degree in piano pedagogy from Catholic University.

Hill said Lodato taught hundreds of young children to play the piano over the years.

Melissa Jarvis, who taught with her at Music Together, said Lodato was a talented organist who played at weddings and funerals. “I’ll miss her,” Jarvis said. “She was a lovely woman.”

Nothing in Lodato’s background, friends said, seemed to provide clues as to who might want to hurt her.

Tim Battle, who has known Lodato since both were teenagers, said she was not the type to have enemies. “It’s a terrible thing,” he said. “If you had to name one of the nicest couples, the best people with the nicest kids, it would be them.”

Battle said Lodato had three daughters, the youngest still in college.

John McCrary, director of music at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Alexandria, said he saw Lodato as recently as Wednesday night, when she came to the church to rehearse. She was supposed to perform at a choir event later this month, McCrary said.

“There are a lot of people in church right now praying for her,” he said.

Cook, the police chief, advised residents Thursday night to keep their doors locked and check to see who was knocking. But he acknowledged that, in a situation like the one Lodato faced, there was only so much any person could do.

“Hopefully,” he said, “you know the person at the door.”

Justin Jouvenal and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.


Man, 53, arrested by cops on a gun charge 'could be serial killer behind three Virginia murders'

  • Police are questioning Charles S. Severance, 53, about his possible relationship to the Alexandria murders
  • Severence was arrested on a gun charge on Thursday
  • Severance has run for mayor twice and for congress once
  • Police believe the February murder of Ruthanne Lodato, 59, is connected to two other unsolved slayings in Alexandria, Virgina
  • The prominent community member is the third person to die in eerily similar circumstances within two miles of each other's homes
  • Ronald Kirby, 69, was gunned down in November and in December 2003, sheriff's wife
  • Nancy Dunning was also killed inside her home
  • Police said that they had discovered similar bullet fragments in all three murders
  • The three victims were killed at the same time of day after presenting themselves at the front door of their homes

By Ashley Collman and Alexandra Klausner

March 14, 2014

A man was arrested on Thursday who may be the dangerous 'serial killer' on the loose in Alexandra, Virginia.

Police are questioning Charles S. Severance, 53, about his possible relationship to the murders Ruthanne Lodato who died last month, Ron Kirby who died in November, and, Nancy Dunning who was murdered in 2003.

Severance was arrested as a fugitive on a weapons charge at 2 p.m on Thursday at the Ohio County Library in Wheeling, Virginia.

Severance was wanted for possession of a firearm by a felon in Loudon County, Virginia on March 6.

A scraggly and bearded severance ran away from the authorities and fled to West Virgina, said the Ohio County police department.

NBC Justice Correspondent Pete Williams reported that Severance's convictions in the past were related to a weapons charge.

He spent 10 days in jail in 1997 on a gun charge and in 2005 he had admitted to carrying a concealed weapon which is illegal in Virginia.

In Virginia, those who've been convicted of a felony may not possess a gun.

Severance is being questioned about his ties to the deaths of three Virginia community members over a span of 10 years, not just his weapons possessions. His bearded appearance matches a police sketch of the man police think may be responsible for the killings.

Two of these deaths occurred within a span of four months.

NBC reports that oddly enough, Severance ran for mayor in Virginia twice in 1996 and 2000 and he once ran for congress against Jim Moran in 1996. He got a few hundred votes back then.

Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey had a few curious encounters with Severance when he was running for office.

'What made him so identifiable in Old Town and at debates is that he would often wear, like, a blanket over his shoulders. He did not look like the typical candidate,' she said.

She also said that Severance would often rant during speeches.

Residents in the wealthy Washington D.C. suburb of Alexandria warned a week ago that a serial killer may be on the loose.

The February shooting death of Ruthanne Lodato is being investigating in connection with two other unsolved murders that took place in similar circumstances just blocks from each other, police announced about a week ago.

Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook said at a press conference that they believe Lodato's killer may be the same man suspected of killing Nancy Dunning in December 2003 and Ronald Kirby last November.

Upon studying ballistics in the three murders, police identified similarities in bullet fragments, but Cook wouldn't say for certain whether the same weapon was used in all three shootings.

'The cases appear to be linked, but until we have evidence to point to only one suspect, we investigate all possibilities,' Cook said.

Lodato, a married mother-of-three, was killed February 6 after a man knocked on her door at 11:30am and opened fire on her and a nurse caring for her mother.

Lodato was rushed to the ER in a critical condition but was later pronounced dead and the caregiver who gave police a description of the man who shot her in the arm survived.

All three murders took place at the same time of day after the victims presented themselves at the front door.

The victims were also well-respected in their DC community. Lodato was a well-known music teacher, Kirby was a respected transportation planner and Dunning was a real estate agent who was married to then-Sheriff James Dunning.

Sheriff Dunning was never ruled out as a suspect in his wife's murder, but died in 2012.

Lodato was answering the door when she was shot, but Cook wouldn't say whether that was the same case in the other two shootings.

Police are currently looking for an older, while man with gray hair and a full beard in connection to the homicides.

Severance, who fits the description, is curretly being probed by police.

No motive has been established for any of the killings, which police fear may spark 'hysteria' in the community.

Cook said that residents should be vigilant and not answer their door for strangers, but not to overreact.

'I'm hoping it doesn't create any type of hysteria,' he said.

So far, residents have taken the warning relatively well.

Pam Beard, who lived across the street from Nancy Dunning when she was shot in 2003, says she's been locking her door in the ten years since.

'I just couldn't believe it,' Ms Beard told WJLA. 'You hear the cliche "it doesn't happen in this neighborhood." Well, it does.'

Fellow neighbor Judy Miller she says she's not going to let the latest warning impact her life too much.

'I wouldn't let anything change the way I live. I am not going to live in fear and I think anyone who does shouldn't,' Ms Miller said.

Police find Lodato's death strikingly similar to two other unsolved murders in the neighborhood.

In November last year, 69-year-old Ronald Kirby was shot inside his home, less than one mile from Lodato's house and to date police have not arrested anyone in connection with that murder.

And in 2003, real estate agent Nancy Dunning and the wife of now deceased Sheriff Jim Dunning was killed inside her Del Ray home - less than two miles from where Lodato lived.

Family members of Kirby and Dunning told the Washington Post that they were stunned by the killings and were struck by the fact that all three seemed to be 'random'.

Liz Dunning, whose mother Nancy was shot inside her home, said that so far she had not been informed by police of any possible link between her death and Lodato's or Kirby's.

'It’s heartbreaking there is another family that is experiencing this type of loss without answers,' said Dunning, 36.

Joan Gartlan, who was a friend of Lodato said that she had on idea who would hurt Lodato, who had three daughters with her husband Norman, Lucia Lodato, 32; Gina Lodato Pelusi, 29; and Carmen Lodato, 20.

'We’re all devastated,' Gartlan said. 'She was really kind of the glue that held everything together.'

In December, Ronald Kirby's wife Anne Haynes, 67, said that she was still devastated by the loss of her husband - and that they were planning on taking a tour to the Antarctic before he was shot dead inside their home.

'I’ve lost the love of my life. I’ve lost my life’s companion,' said Haynes, 67 at the time to the Washington Post.

'I have my memories, but that’s all I have. I loved Ron, right down to his little feet.'

Father-of-two Kirby, was shot between between 11am and 12:30pm on November 11 and was found by his son on the floor of his home, holding his glasses, having been shot multiple times with an automatic weapon.

Nothing was stolen and Haynes said her husband had no enemies.

And more than a decade on from the death of Nancy Dunning, law enforcement are seeing scary similarities between her death, Lodato's and Kirby's.

The real estate agent who was married to then Sheriff James Dunning, was known as the 'Queen of Del Ray' for her efforts in organizing arts festivals and other events within the community.

On December 5, 2003, she failed to meet her husband and son for a lunch date and when they returned home, they discovered her on the floor, shot dead.

After her death, Sheriff Dunning moved to Souh Carolina and died in 2012 - but at the time of her death, police investigators said that she was targeted by someone she knew.

So far, Severance is one of the main suspects in the case.



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