Jasmine Franks | staff
Along the side of a remote highway known for its stunning scenery and rich history, a small temporary memorial erected by family members stands hundreds of miles away to commemorate the place where 57-year-old Bruce Ritchie was murdered to death more than two years ago. .
In the months and years since state police began their investigation into the murder of a Pennsylvania man, members of the South Gap community helped care for the memorial while a cold case agent continues to work on the case.
“This is modern day murder,” said Special Agent Russell Edwards. “I just hate to think we can’t solve it.”
Edwards was assigned to the case last October when he was selected as the cold case agent for the State Police Department’s Fourth Division. Although the case is not usually considered “cold” until it has been resolved for five years or more, the absence of witnesses and a lack of physical evidence made it difficult to resolve Ritchie’s death.
People also read…
“Usually, you’d have a witness, good physical evidence…but this? Super random. You have no witnesses and no video surveillance – absolutely nothing – in the middle of nowhere.”
Edwards was among the first detectives to tackle the Wilderness Road crime scene on May 23, 2020, after a bystander discovered Richie’s body in a ditch outside the road.
At the scene, a Ritchie rental Nissan Sentra was parked in a wide gravel tow wagon, a small puddle of blood on the floor in front of the car, another near the front passenger side door and other smears on the car’s body.
In a grassy ditch 20 to 30 feet from the road, he lay Ricci’s body with a single stab in the back and a defensive wound in his right hand. Nearby, investigators found a Mossy Oak cooked hunting knife.
Ritchie, who specializes in nuclear training at Westinghouse, was passing through the area on Interstate 77, returning home in Hermine, Pennsylvania, from a business trip in Georgia when he pulled off the interstate at Exit 62 to allow the headache to ease.
Ritchie’s widow, Don Ritchie, said her husband had a lot of headaches and had called her the night before around 10:30 p.m. to let her know he was getting off the highway.
“He had headaches 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it really got really bad that night, so he took some medicine and went on the roadside to rest and let the medicine start before he went to his hotel.
She said she asked her husband to call her when he got to the hotel room he had booked across the state line in West Virginia.
“But it clearly never worked,” she said.
Dawn Ritchie said she fell asleep shortly after her husband called that night. Richie said that when she woke up the next morning, she just assumed he had forgotten to call once he got to his hotel and that he was already back on the road.
“But, when it was time he should have been home and I still hadn’t heard from him, I agree. So, I started making a lot of phone calls and got no response.”
Under what she called “typical television expectations” that someone can’t be reported missing until they’ve been missing for 24 hours, Don Ritchie said she waited until that night to call the police with her concerns.
“And about an hour later, the Pennsylvania State Police showed up at our house,” she said.
Bruce Ritchie’s body was not discovered until around noon that day. Edwards said the tall grass surrounding it made it impossible for those driving to see it from the road. The late hour and pull-back location on the far road also meant there were few people around who could have noticed anything out of the ordinary.
“We have met many people who have seen the car, but no one around it,” Edwards said.
Using cell phone data, investigators were able to determine Bruce Ritchie’s last stand before he set off in Bland County at the Luv truck stop in Lampsburg to refuel. Through video surveillance at the gas station, they were able to conclude that he is the only person traveling in the car.
An interesting fact about the condition of Ritchie’s rental car, Edwards said, was that the driver’s seat was still in a reclined position, “like he either jumped out of the car quickly or may have been forced out.”
The agent said the crime appeared to be random and disorganized, though he remains unsure of a possible motive. He noted that nothing had been taken from Bruce Ritchie’s car and no one appeared to have passed it. The man’s wallet, computer bags, and luggage were all inside.
“My belief – and it’s not proven or anything – is that Bruce Ritchie gave up on a fight and probably scared someone out who was trying to steal him,” Edwards said.
The agent said there appeared to be some hand-to-hand combat, noting that the neck and tail area of Bruce Ritchie’s shirt had been extended as if it had been grabbed by the shirt. He also noticed the defensive wound on his right hand.
A smear of what was later confirmed to be Bruce Ritchie’s blood was found on the front passenger door handle of his car. Edwards believes the mutilation came from Bruce Ritchie’s defensive wound, suggesting that the agent tried to open the door during the attack.
“I think he was going to get his cell phone when he got stabbed in the back,” Edwards said, pointing to the pool of blood on the floor near the door.
Investigators had hoped that a knife found at the scene would help direct them to Bruce Ritchie’s attacker. Edwards explained that in stabbing cases, attackers often inadvertently injured themselves, leaving traces of their blood behind.
But DNA analyzes conducted at the state crime lab in Roanoke and a private lab in Texas revealed only Bruce Ritchie’s DNA. Examinations of all other samples from the crime scene returned the same results.
Edwards said the investigation had taken them a number of avenues, all of which led to a dead end, but he didn’t want to rule out any at this point.
“We went through several rabbit holes,” he said.
So far, the police have not received a single tip in the case.
“There is absolutely no advice on this,” he said.
Later, the detectives heard from a state police investigator who came to talk to them about the case. The analyst told them that the perpetrator appeared to be disorganized and could have been a transient, someone passing through the area with no connections to the area.
Edwards said investigators spoke with two passersby in the early stages of the investigation.
“One we’ve left out and one we can’t rule out,” Edwards said.
While other avenues have been explored, Edwards thinks a transitory theory is most likely. He hopes to have some answers soon, or at least more evidence to work with. About a week before the case was talked about, Edwards learned that the Virginia attorney general’s office had agreed to fund additional forensic tests at a private lab in Florida. He hopes the lab can find tactile DNA on Bruce Ritchie’s shirt.
A relatively new method of DNA analysis, touching DNA requires only very small samples for testing.
“I think if someone got their hands on it, there would be some DNA and some sweat. Anyone who does something like that would sweat a little,” though he noted that having a lot of Bruce Ritchie’s blood and the morning downpour he was found might It makes this task more difficult.
But for now, Edwards said, “DNA testing is our best hope.”
The Florida lab will also test a T-shirt collected from a transient that investigators could not rule out. Edwards said this person is considered a “significant person” at this point and is not a suspect.
Dawn Ritchie said she hopes the test will help close the family.
“His death is a very great loss not only to me and our children, but to our friends, family and community in general,” she said. “He was just that kind of person.”
Dawn Ritchie described her husband, a father of six and a US Navy veteran, as “the most honest, helpful and caring person you could ever meet. He was always there for everyone.”
She said he was the type to go out of his way to help anyone. She wonders if this lovable and helpful character could have played a role in his death.
“That’s my own theory,” she said, “but if he’s just lying there asleep and someone knocks on his window trying to get his attention and walks out thinking he’s going to help someone…that’s exactly what it was.”
Dawn Ritchie said she’d like to see the person responsible for her husband’s murder brought to justice, but she’s trying not to think about it, saying, “It’s very hard to wrap my head.”
“I just decided early on that the person who took it from us didn’t get anything else from us. So, I tried to kind of focus on moving on, looking after the kids, just sort of living the way he wanted us to live instead of focusing on the situation” .
She added, “God knows who did it and in the end, if they don’t commit their lives to Him and change it, I think they’ll get theirs in the end.”
Dawn Ritchie expressed his deepest gratitude to the members of the Bland County community. She said that after her husband’s death, many members of the community reached out to her via social media.
“Special thanks to everyone in this community who reached out to us and told us that they were praying for us and that kind of thing,” she said.
Some of these people, you are still in contact with them. She said her family has also been touched by the community’s willingness to help preserve the small memorial, while keeping the area around it manicured and cleared of debris.
“It’s frustrating to me that someone would take their time to do this for us and to keep their memory alive for us there,” she said.
As of Monday, Edwards did not yet know when the collected items would be sent to a Florida lab for testing. He and Dawn Ritchie encourage anyone who saw anything that night to come forward. Advice can be reported at 276-228-3131.
#DNA #test #investigate #cute #murders