At a press conference three days after a mother and daughter were found beaten to death inside their burned Rugby Avenue home, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo asked for the public’s assistance in tracking down the person or persons who killed 58-year-old Robin Christine Aldridge and 17-year-old Mani Viktoria Aldridge, then set their home ablaze and stole their car.
“This is an evil, senseless and brutal crime,” said Longo, noting that friends have described Robin, a special education teacher at Hollymead Elementary School, as a “blessing and a gift” to the community, and Mani, a junior at Charlottesville High School, as “very innocent and very sweet.” He asked in particular for anyone who saw their car, a light blue 2003 Toyota Matrix, on the evening or morning after the crime. The car was found on Saturday, December 6, parked at the Barracks West apartments, and police also discovered a black, orange and white Nike high-top basketball shoe they believe was worn by the killer. Longo said significant other physical evidence has been recovered including some from a dumpster at the Barracks apartment complex. He further asked anyone with home surveillance video that might capture cars driving between Rugby Avenue and Barracks Road to view it and then preserve it for police.
The crime has rattled the quiet neighborhood, where residents say that, in hindsight, there were signs that something was wrong on Friday evening at 1627 Rugby Ave.
“At 5:30 the car was there, and 6 o’clock the car was gone,” said one neighbor, who asked that her name not be used until an arrest is made in the case. In addition, said the neighbor, she has learned that the Aldridges’ dog escaped the house twice that night and that two nearby residents each brought the dog back to the house. The first put the dog on the side screened-in porch, the neighbor said, and the second one put it into the house through an unlocked side door. “The lights were off, and the dog didn’t want to go back in the house,” she said, noting that the dog survived the blaze and was discovered late at night in the backyard.
Around 7pm, said the neighbor, she and her husband heard a loud thump. “It was loud enough that we got up from dinner, looked around, and tried to figure out what it was,” she said. It happened only once, and they didn’t think much of it. Hours later, after 11pm, she said, she and her husband smelled smoke in their bedroom and at first thought they’d failed to extinguish their own wood-burning fireplace. They soon realized their home wasn’t the source of the smell.
“My husband went outside and said it was foggy. Then he realized it was a house on fire,” she said. He went to the Aldridge house, but saw no sign of anyone home. “He tried to open the door, but it was locked, and he called 911,” said the neighbor, who noted that the absence of the car at the time of the blaze wasn’t the only reason neighbors and firefighters might have thought no one was at home. There was also mail in the mailbox, she said.
Charlottesville Fire Chief Charles Werner described a “heavy fire” on the basement level of the two-story house in an initial report at about 12:30am Saturday, and said the first floor had partially collapsed. That report indicated a search found nobody in the house, but updates in the hours that followed revealed two people had been found dead, and the neighbor said investigators told her the bodies were found in the basement.
“I thought that was bizarre,” said the neighbor, who expressed doubt that a mother and daughter would be hanging out together at that time on a Friday night, and now is horrified about what happened to them. “No one should have to go through that pain and fear,” she said.
At the press conference, Chief Werner said his department is working with police to investigate the cause of the fire. Longo declined to characterize the incident as random and said detectives are interested in learning about individuals with whom Mani may have been associated.
Anyone with information in the case should call Charlottesville Police at 970-3280.
Story updated at 5:01pm to clarify the sound the neighbor heard and the various attempts to return the dog to the house.