“I thought it was a little strange that there was blood on the door handle, but I just assumed someone had cut their hand and then closed the door without realizing they were bleeding,” Ron explains.
My eye brows raise and my eyes widen as the facts of the murder are shared.
“I guess the police thought I might be involved in the murder of Ms. Dunning, but I was quickly released after they interviewed about the events of that morning.” Ron pauses for a moment. “You know they caught the guy a few years back after he shot that music teacher? So see, you are kind of famous now: You live next to where the first murder occurred.”
Dan and I stare at Ron, stunned.
Then Ron adds, “I’ll only be delivering mail a few more months; I’m retiring soon. Been delivering mail on this route for 32 years.”
“Wow,” I whisper, not sure whether I am responding to the shock of living next to a gruesome murder scene or the the fact that Ron, who had delivered mail immediately after our neighbor was murder, could have been killed himself.
Later that evening, I did what every person who discovers they are living next to one of the most infamous crimes scenes in their communities would do: I begin researching.
On December 5, 2003. Nancy Dunning, a prominent real estate agent in Alexandria, Virginia, left for Target to buy Christmas toy donations before meeting her son for lunch. She never showed up for lunch. Her son grew concerned because his mom, who was a prompt person by nature, did not answer her cell phone. Nancy’s son drove to his parents’ house and saw that his mom’s car parked in the garage. When he entered the house from the rear, he immediately saw his Mom’s legs sticking out from the base of the front staircase. He rushed to her. She was lying in a pool of blood close to the front door. He called 911, but Nancy Dunning was already dead.
Ms. Dunning was shot three times while fleeing up her staircase to escape the attack. After the gunman shot her, she fell down the stairs, landing near the front door where she collapsed and died. The killer exited the way he came in, through the front door, but not before he left blood on the doorknob.
Shortly after the gunman left, Ron appeared on the scene. He unknowingly deposited the Dunning’s mail through their mail slot which then scattered about Ms. Dunning’s wounded head. (This is the image I can’t shake.)
There were no solid leads in the 2003 high profile Dunning murder case. Rumors swirled and some in the community suspected, Jim Dunning, Nancy’s husband who was also the county sheriff at the time of her death. While no evidence or motive emerged to link him to her death he remained under suspicion until his death ten years later at the age of 62. Mr. Dunning did not live long enough see his wife’s killer arrested and convicted for first degree murder.
Ten years after Nancy Dunning was gunned down in her own home, two more prominent community members were killed in the same manner. A man knocked on the door, shot his victims in broad daylight and then left. Eventually eye witness reports and forensic evidence were used to indict and eventually convict the killer.
The serial killer battled mental illness began plotting to kill Alexandria’s elite, after he lost a custody battle in the Alexandria courts.
Ron, our mailman, isn’t an axe murderer after all. But are there other psycho-killers out there?
Our colonial two story home mimics the layout of the Dunning’s house. I double check the lock on our front door, then study the treads, spindles and railing of our staircase. I can’t shake the image of Nancy’s dead body sprawled out between the base of the stairs and front door with envelopes stuck to her bloody face.