THE MAY 1996 discovery of Alicia Showalter Reynolds' body in a remote Lignum logging camp was first in a 12-month stretch of grisly finds that would consume local investigators for years.

By the end of the next May, the body count had multiplied. Authorities from Culpeper to King George County faced a frightening question: Were women in the region being stalked by one serial killer--or more?

But now, after six years and thousands of leads, forensic scientists may finally be closing in on the answer.

At the state crime lab in Richmond, examiners are comparing evidence to determine whether Darrell Rice--the man accused of killing two young hikers in Shenandoah National Park that deadly year--could also be the "29 Stalker."

Meanwhile, the FBI Laboratory in Washington is looking for any links between Lisk-Silva killer Richard Marc Evonitz and the Reynolds slaying.

Years went by without any solid clues in the mysterious rampage against young women and girls in the region. Frustrated investigators wondered if they'd ever uncover the secrets behind the deaths of Alicia Reynolds, hikers Julianne Williams and Laura "Lollie" Winans, Sofia Silva and Kristin and Kati Lisk.

It wasn't until this spring that pieces of the puzzle finally started coming together. Now one accused killer is in jail. The other is dead. And investigators are left with one question: Who was the 29 Stalker?

"Offenders like this are rare," retired FBI profiler Gregg McCrary said. "It's highly unusual to have two serial killers operating in the same geographic area at the same time. But predators like this are out there. If you know you've got two, you have to rule them in or rule them out on your unsolved crimes."

State police investigators say they don't think Evonitz is their man in the killing of 25-year-old Alicia Reynolds.

But there was a mountain of evidence to link the former Spotsylvania County man to the slayings of Sofia, Kristin and Kati--even six years after the crimes.

Evonitz killed himself in June after the gunpoint abduction and rape of a 15-year-old girl outside Columbia, S.C.

In his apartment, detectives found evidence that he had stalked young girls in Culpeper during his seven years in the area.

But the serial killer's methods appear to be too different from the 29 Stalker's, investigators said.

"Naturally, we're comparing Evonitz evidence to the Reynolds case," said Virginia State Police Lt. Rick Jenkins, who is overseeing the 29 Stalker investigation. "We do it with every suspect who comes to our attention. But I'd also add that we have not come across any information or circumstances to lead us to believe he's the killer."

But the April arrest of Darrell Rice in the June 1996 Shenandoah hiker killings is one of the best leads in years on the stalker case, investigators said.

"There are a lot of situations we're pursuing and questions we're trying to answer," Jenkins said.

The bodies of Williams, 24, and Winans, 26, were found in a remote creekside campsite near Luray, approximately 70 miles from Fredericksburg. The couple had been bound and gagged, their throats slit.

Rice, a 34-year-old computer programmer from Maryland, is serving an 11-year prison sentence for trying to kidnap a woman bicycling in Shenandoah National Park. He screamed obscenities and tried to force her into his pickup, then attempted to run her over when she got away, according to court records.

After his arrest in July 1997, police found hand and leg restraints in his truck.

Rice, who lived off U.S. 29 in Columbia, drove a dark pickup, similar in description to that of the 29 Stalker. Rice's father lived in Culpeper at the time.

And Rice wasn't at work March 2, 1996, the day Alicia Reynolds vanished along U.S. 29 in Culpeper, detectives said.

The newlywed had planned to meet her mother in Charlottesville to shop for new dresses for the wedding of Reynolds' twin brother.

The 25-year-old Baltimore graduate student was last seen on the shoulder of the highway three miles south of Culpeper. She was climbing into a small, dark pickup with a man the region has come to know as the 29 Stalker.

Two months later, buzzards circling overhead led police to her body off State Route 3 in Lignum. An autopsy failed to determine how she died.

In the weeks before Reynolds' disappearance, the 29 Stalker attempted to stop at least 20 other young female drivers by flashing his truck's lights and motioning for them to pull over, yelling that something was wrong with their cars.

Most of the stalking happened along U.S. 29 in Culpeper, but police also received reports from women in Prince William, Spotsylvania, Fauquier, Stafford and Nelson counties.

Only four woman accepted rides from the stranger.

On Feb. 24, 1996, a Prince William County woman narrowly escaped with her life.

She was driving home from work along State Route 234 between Manassas and Woodbridge when a motorist behind her flashed his lights and honked his horn. The woman accepted a ride when the seemingly polite man told her sparks were flying from under her car.

"Everything seemed to be going along normally, the attack came very much came out of the blue," said Prince William police Detective Sam Newsome, assigned to the county's old, unsolved crimes. "Then he pulled over, grabbed her and attempted to take control."

The stalker threatened his victim with a screwdriver, but she resisted. She was trying to get out of the truck when the man started to drive away. She fell out, breaking her ankle.

Two Culpeper women who got into the stalker's pickup were never harmed. He dropped them off at mechanic shops as he said he would. The women later learned nothing was wrong with their cars.

A Spotsylvania County woman is convinced she was tailed by the 29 Stalker along State Route 3 near Lignum in February 1996. She'll never forget how angry he got when she refused to stop.

"He was flashing his lights and pointing at my car, motioning for me to pull to the side," said the 38-year-old woman, who did not want her name published. "When I didn't stop, his face just turned into a mask of rage. He was pounding on the steering wheel and screaming. I just drove as fast as I could and didn't look back."

The woman said she was disturbed by the incident, but didn't think any more about it until she heard the news of Reynolds' disappearance.

"The blue truck, the way he stopped her, I know it was the same guy," she said.

After Reynolds' death, the stalking stopped.

"When things heat up too much, these predators have to find a new ruse," McCrary said. "Women weren't going to stop for some guy flashing his lights anymore. Now they're more likely to pull a gun on him."

Darrell Rice has pleaded not guilty to killing the hikers in Shenandoah National Park.

He faces the death penalty if convicted. No trial date has been set.

Investigators refuse to say whether he's been questioned in connection with Reynolds' death.

But does Jenkins, the lead investigator, think the cold case can ever be solved?

"Easily," he said. "There's not been a day since March 2, 1996, that we haven't worked on this case. All of this work will pay off."

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