One day after family members of several missing young women in Central Virginia marked the fifth anniversary of Morgan Harrington’s disappearance with a prayer that missing UVA student Hannah Graham would be found, police announced the discovery of remains that could be the 18-year-old on an abandoned property on Old Lynchburg Road in Albemarle County.
The remains were found sometime before noon on Saturday, October 18, by a search team from the Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office, said Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo, expressing gratitude to the hundreds of professional and volunteer searchers who have come in from around the state in what he described as an “unprecedented” search effort over the five weeks since Hannah vanished.
“Earlier today, Detective Sergeant James Mooney made a very difficult phone call and reached out to John and Susan Graham to share with them this preliminary discovery,” said Longo, noting that forensic tests still need to be conducted and that the remains will be sent to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Richmond for autopsy and further testing.
The last person seen with Hannah, 32-year-old Jesse “LJ” Matthew, is currently behind bars at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail and has been charged with abduction with intent to defile in connection with Graham’s September 13 disappearance. With the discovery of a body, the case now becomes an ongoing death investigation, said Albemarle County Police Chief Steve Sellers, whose department will be the lead agency on this new portion of the case and will be working closely with both Charlottesville Police and Virginia State Police.
In late September, Virginia State Police announced a forensic link between Matthew and the Morgan Harrington case, but investigators have not disclosed the nature of that link. Harrington’s disappearance and murder is linked by DNA to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax. Matthew’s arrest has prompted the reopening of numerous unsolved cases around the state.
The remains discovered this morning were found approximately five and a half miles from Anchorage Farm, where Morgan Harrington’s remains were found on January 26, 2010. At dusk this evening, a police blockade at the intersection of Old Lynchburg and Red Hill roads limited access to local traffic, prompting drivers who hadn’t yet heard the news to stop and ask if there had been an accident.
One of those drivers was Mary Nalley, who lives in southern Albemarle and uses Old Lynchburg as a shortcut home. Nalley has personal experience with a tragic loss and a murder investigation: Her brother mysteriously died in 2006 in Scottsville under circumstances that have never been investigated to her satisfaction.
Learning of the remains discovered in the Graham search, Nalley expressed mixed feelings that have become a commonly shared sentiment .
“I’m so sorry for her family,” she said. “But there’s relief that they can take her and bury her. And I really hope this leads to a prosecution.”
Police are now especially interested in anyone who may have noticed irregular activity along Old Lynchburg Road since Hannah Graham disappeared. The tip line is 295-3851.