Nearly 54 years ago, Charlottesville was rocked with the bizarre death of high school football star Pat Akins, 19, whose body was found under a red Triumph TR3 after purportedly having been dragged 12 miles from Crozet. Today his Rock Hill Academy classmate Jimmy Dettor is offering $20,000 for information leading to resolution of the case.
“There are questions that haven’t been answered that still need to be answered,” says Dettor. “I felt this was the time.”
Among the questions: What really happened to Akins?
In the early morning of March 19, 1963, Akins’ buddy Barry Mawyer told investigators the two were headed out to the Tidbit in Crozet to drink beer when Akins lost control of the borrowed Chevy convertible he was driving and was ejected onto the road near the present-day Harris Teeter.
A witness, Tidbit co-owner Merlin Durham, headed to U.S. 250 to help Akins when the mysterious Triumph zoomed by, struck Akins and kept on going, Durham told the Daily Progress. He leapt into his Cadillac, pursued and passed the Triumph, and pulled over at a gas station to make sure it was the right vehicle, noting two passengers in the low-slung car.
The Triumph, owned by grad student William C. Wolkenhauer, who said the car must have been stolen, was next spotted at 4:30am at Alderman and McCormick roads at Observatory Hill, with Akins’ body underneath.
The story that Akins was dragged from Crozet quickly met with disbelief because his body was intact and because of his size and the six-inch clearance of the Triumph.
“He had a great big chest,” says Dettor, 72, who played football with Akins at Rock Hill and worked with him at Sears when it was located on West Main, assembling bicycles and tricycles at Christmas.
Akins was one of the most popular students at the now defunct private school, says Dettor, and at “15, 16 years old, he was a man.”
The gridiron star’s death has haunted his classmates. “It’s a lonely feeling to know,” says Dettor, and conversations about what happened to Akins have been ongoing for the past 53 years, he says.
“One thing I see on TV is people want closure,” says Dettor. “There’s no closure.”
According to Albemarle police spokesperson Madeline Curott, the case has never been closed, although the county police department, which was formed in 1983, inherited it from the Albemarle sheriff’s office.
The premise that Akins was killed in a hit-and-run has been re-evaluated. “We have new information that conflicts with that,” says Curott. The case hasn’t been classified a homicide, she says, and is being called “an unsolved death investigation.”
In 2013, Albemarle’s then-police chief Steve Sellers told the Hook, “There are probably seven ways this case could have happened. Somebody’s lying.”
And former Albemarle sheriff Terry Hawkins, who was in a 1964 car crash in which Mawyer was driving, told the Hook, “In my opinion, [Akins] was murdered, and the whole thing was staged to make it look like an accident.”
Mawyer, reached at a Bellevue, Washington, number, indicates little interest in the reward and says police have information about what happened. “The people who were involved are dead, as far as I know,” he says. He declines to say who that was. “Don’t call me anymore,” he adds.
For Dettor, who used to run a tow truck company, it was time to come forward and try to help get to the truth of what happened to his friend. And with the reward money, he says, “I would think after that long a time, someone would want to help.” The smallest lead, he believes, could help investigators determine what really happened.
Updated 3:19pm with Barry Mawyer’s response to the reward.