RICHMOND, Va. – They both were walking alone, separated from their friends late at night on or near the University of Virginia campus.
One was found dead nearly five years ago. The other is still missing.
And now police believe they have found a link between the 2009 slaying of Morgan Harrington and the Sept. 13 disappearance of Hannah Graham: Forensic evidence found in the arrest of a hospital worker and former taxi driver who fled the state when he learned police wanted to question him about the Graham case.
Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 32, was arrested on a beach near Galveston, Texas, last week and was brought back to Virginia to face a charge of abduction with intent to defile – or sexually molest – the 18-year-old sophomore from northern Virginia. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison. His bond hearing is set for Thursday.
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Virginia State Police said Monday that Matthew’s arrest provided a new forensic link for investigators to pursue in the Harrington investigation. In a written statement, they called it a “significant break” but did not elaborate on the precise nature of the evidence and said they would make no further comment. Charlottesville police and Matthew’s attorney, James Camblos, did not return messages.
Harrington’s mother, Gil Harrington, issued an appeal to Matthew on Tuesday during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show.
“I would like to appeal to him to please give the family information where Hannah is. We need to find Hannah,” she said.
She said police have not given her family any information that has not been publicly released.
Since their daughter was slain, Dan Harrington said the couple has worked to prevent crimes against young women by promoting personal safety.
“It is sad and we’re sad that this has happened,” he said, referring to Graham’s disappearance.
He said Graham’s case might help prevent future occurrences in Virginia.
The latest development may also help solve a 2005 sexual assault of a 26-year-old woman in Fairfax City, since the FBI previously said DNA from Harrington’s attacker matched that of the person who committed the sexual assault. On Monday, police spokeswoman Natalie Hinesley said that in order to maintain the integrity of their investigation, they are not going to comment on whether the developments in the Graham and Harrington cases affect their case.
Leading up to Matthew’s arrest, police had searched his car and home and removed items, including clothing, they consider evidence. The items were sent to the state crime lab for testing, but Charlottesville police have not divulged any results.
Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student from Roanoke, attended a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena on the Charlottesville campus on Oct. 17, 2009. She left during the concert and vanished. A farmer found her remains three months later in an Albemarle County hayfield, which was among the places searched shortly after Graham disappeared, police have said. At the time, Matthew had a license to drive a taxi, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Graham disappeared after meeting friends for dinner and attending two off-campus parties. She left the last one alone and was captured on video surveillance walking or running past a pub, a service station and onto Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, where police say witnesses reported seeing her with Matthew at a bar.
Graham had sent friends several text messages, including one saying she was lost.
Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler, said he was struck by the similarities between the two disappearances. He said both women were separated from their friends in areas they apparently did not know well, and perhaps were offered assistance by a predator.
“Their looking for help was turned against them,” he said.
He also said he was not surprised by the new evidence.
“Since this most recent victim disappeared, I said time and again that if they could find out who was responsible there was a good chance the same person would be responsible for Morgan Harrington and a number of others,” he said.
He said he was “not trying to indict the guy” but added that police likely will investigate Matthew for other crimes against women, including the 2005 sexual assault. At least two other women from the Charlottesville area are missing. Police previously said they had no reason to link those cases to Graham’s disappearance.
Matthew was a defensive lineman on the Liberty University football team from 2000 to 2002. He was accused of raping a student on campus, but the charge was dropped when the person declined to move forward with prosecution, Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Doucette said Friday.
Matthew, who was returned from Texas late Friday, is being held without bond at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. He is scheduled to appear via a video link for a bond hearing in Charlottesville General District Court on Thursday.