Suspect in Alexis Murphy case has long history with the law

Randy Allen Taylor. Photo: FBI Richmond Division. Randy Allen Taylor. Photo: FBI Richmond Division.

Rapid developments in the case of missing Nelson County teen Alexis Murphy following the arrest of a 48-year-old Lovingston man have attracted the interest of news outlets around the country, and are shining new light on another unsolved disappearance.

Randy Allen Taylor, a convicted burglar and arsonist, was arrested Sunday, August 11, and charged with the forcible abduction of Murphy, 17, who disappeared August 3. Investigators have been mum on the details of his arrest, but the Charlottesville lawyer appointed to represent him told a TV reporter that police have the wrong man.

Attorney Michael Hallahan said in two interviews on NBC29 last week that Taylor admits to meeting Murphy in a gas station parking lot in Lovingston where both of them were spotted on surveillance footage. He said the teen told Taylor she “knew a guy” who could sell him marijuana. They drove separately to Taylor’s camper, Hallahan said, where “a black male, mid- to late-20s, cornrows and a 20-year-old burgundy Caprice with 22-inch wheels” met them, sold Taylor $60 worth of pot, and eventually left, with Murphy following in her own car—the same Nissan found three days later in a Charlottesville parking lot. When investigators found a hair of Murphy’s at the camper, they arrested Taylor, Hallahan said, evidence he called shaky grounds for an abduction charge.

At press time, police and FBI investigators wouldn’t confirm they were investigating Taylor’s version of events, and Hallahan did not return calls for further comment. But the story has similarities to the one he told in the wake of the disappearance of 19-year-old Samantha Clarke, who went missing in Orange County in 2010.

Taylor has a long rap sheet in Central Virginia. Besides the arson conviction, he was arrested for assault in Charlottesville in 2004, and later for a string of traffic violations and drug and gun possession —charges that were eventually dropped. He admitted to police and reporters that he was in contact with Clarke by phone the night she vanished to warn her that two other acquaintances were out to harm her, which made him a person of interest in the yet-unsolved case.

The Taylor link has reignited interest in Clarke’s case, and police who investigated her disappearance joined the intensive search of Taylor’s property last week, where the FBI says investigators found two cell phones.

“Both the Office of the Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Town of Orange Police Department welcome the renewed public attention to Ms. Clarke’s disappearance,” Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler said in a news release. “As Randy Taylor is someone that Samantha spoke with immediately prior to her disappearance, he remains someone we are very interested in learning more about.”

Taylor, meanwhile, remains in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, awaiting an August 22 bond hearing.