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New DNA technology being utilized in 23-year-old Strasburg murder-infant abduction case

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On Monday, July 26, the Culpeper Field Office of the Virginia State Police issued a statement on new DNA technology being utilized to seek new leads in a 23-year-old murder/child abduction case that occurred in the Town of Strasburg. VSP noted the ongoing cooperation of the child’s father, Daniel E. Pompell, in its investigation. Anyone with possible information regarding the July 1998 murder of Sylena Jo Dalton and abduction of then 10-week-old Allyson Kathleen Dalton is urged to contact VSP Senior Special Agent Mike Jones at (540) 829-7400 or by email at bci.culpeper@vsp.virginia.gov.

Sylena Jo Dalton. Photo of Baby Allyson taken in 1998 as a newborn

Below is the VSP release in its entirety:

“Tomorrow marks 23 years since on July 27, 1998, a 10-week-old baby girl disappeared and her mother was violently murdered at their apartment in the Town of Strasburg. The Virginia State Police (VSP) Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s (BCI) Culpeper Field Office is awaiting results from new, advanced DNA testing utilized as a part of the still ongoing criminal investigation.


“As technology has changed and advanced, so have our tactics in working to solve these tragic crimes,” said Capt. John A. Defilippi, VSP BCI Culpeper Field Office commander. “The DNA testing will provide additional information that will greatly aid us with advancing this case. But we are still encouraging anyone with information related to Allyson’s disappearance and Sylena’s death to still come forward with information.”

The infant, Allyson Kathleen Dalton, was last seen at approximately 7:45 a.m. on July 27, 1998, at her mother’s second-floor apartment in the 100 block of Charles Street in Strasburg. She was with her mother, Sylena Jo Dalton, at the time.

Later that same day, at 2:25 p.m., one of the mother’s coworkers found 20-year-old Sylena stabbed to death on a couch inside the residence. Allyson was unaccounted for and has not been seen since that morning. Investigators believe Sylena was killed between 9:15 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., that morning of July 27, 1998. Neighbors told police that no screams were heard nor was there any disturbance made that morning at the apartment. No murder weapon was found at the scene.

Allyson’s father, Daniel E. Pompell, told state police agents he stopped at the residence on the morning of the murder. Witnesses confirm seeing him outside the apartment with a bundle under his arm. State Police are appreciative of Mr. Pompell’s continued cooperation related to the ongoing investigation as state police persist in efforts to locate his daughter.

Anyone with information about the case is encouraged to contact VSP Senior Special Agent Mike Jones at (540) 829-7400 or by email at bci.culpeper@vsp.virginia.gov.

(From a Virginia State Police release)

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Street racing cited as two charged in Frederick County teen girl’s death

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The 21-year-old brother of a 17-year-old girl killed when his car wrecked in Frederick County at high speed on August 8, has been charged along with a 26-year-old Berryville man, for illegal street racing leading to the accident that killed Sarah Michelle Ehrhardt. On Thursday, September 9, a Frederick County Grand Jury indicted Nicholas Isaiah Ehrhardt and Christopher Troy Colter on charges of Racing and Reckless Driving Causing Death. Colter was also charged with leaving the scene of the accident.

While Ehrhardt was booked shortly after the indictments were handed down, it was reported by Winchester media and on social media that the Berryville-based Colter was still being sought by authorities as the weekend approached. An early-afternoon check of the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center website Monday, September 13, indicated Colter was booked earlier that day.

Above, photo from Winchester-based Nicholas Ehrhardt’s social media page; below, Christopher Troy Colter from NWRADC Inmate Locator search on Sept. 13. – Photos Social Media, NWRADC

Sarah Ehrhardt was a passenger in the rear seat of a Ford hatchback driven by her brother when it left State Route 7 (Berryville Pike) at high speed eastbound at 3:25 p.m. August 8. The violence of the vehicle’s crash into a fence, metal grocery store signpost, and parked vehicle tore the vehicle in half, with the rear section containing Sarah Ehrhardt coming to rest an estimated 90 feet from the front section of the car. Sarah Ehrhardt died at the scene. Her brother and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Magdelyn Germain, were both seated in the front of the vehicle. Germain was thrown from the vehicle during the accident when her seat belt system failed. She was flown to the trauma center at INOVA Fairfax Hospital where she was treated for serious, possibly life-threatening injuries, but survived. Nicholas Ehrhardt was transported to Winchester Medical Center where he was treated, and released, for minor injuries sustained in the crash.


That witness accounts and the crash scene investigation suggested the potential of racing may have been indicated by law enforcement immediately seeking help from the public in identifying a second vehicle and driver believed to have been involved in the accident. As Frederick County law enforcement reported at the time: “Speed has been determined to have been a factor in this crash and the incident remains under investigation looking into the presence of other possible factors contributing to the cause.”

Street racing is now believed to have been identified as that other contributing factor.

Social Media page post of a Berryville-based Christopher Troy Colter with numerous expressions of affection for fast cars.

At the time of the accident, Frederick County law enforcement sought dash-camera footage from anyone in the vicinity of the crash, which was described as follows:

“At approximately 3:20 p.m. Nicholas was in the left lane of Route 7 coming around a bend, at a very high rate of speed, when his vehicle dipped off the left edge of the roadway and onto the gravel shoulder. From there, Ehrhardt came back up onto the pavement, where he lost control and came sliding back across both eastbound lanes and off the right shoulder of the roadway. The vehicle next made significant impacts with a fence, a business sign (on a metal post), and a parked vehicle, with the body and frame of the Ford separating into two pieces. During the course of the crash events, Germain was ejected out onto the roadway after a catastrophic failure of the seat belt system and was subsequently flown to the trauma center at INOVA Fairfax Hospital where she was treated for serious, possibly life-threatening injuries, but expected to survive. Nicholas Ehrhardt was transported to Winchester Medical Center where he was treated, and released, for minor injuries sustained after the crash.”

As noted above, Sarah Michelle Ehrhardt was pronounced dead at the scene. In an obituary posted on the Omps Funeral Home website she was described as “an avid reader” who could spend hours in her favorite used book store, who also “loved spending time writing stories, snuggling with her dogs and laughing with friends and family”. She was also cited as “a rising senior at Eukarya Christian Academy in Stephens City” who was very involved with “the Media Ministry” at her church, the Winchester Church of God.

Omps Funeral Home’s celebration of the life of Sarah Michelle Ehrhardt remains accessible online.

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Multi-jurisdiction effort nabs Front Royal trio in burglary-theft ring

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On August 19th, 2021, the Front Royal Police Department received a report of a burglary that occurred at the Hydro Spray Car Wash in the 500 block of North Commerce Avenue. While under investigation, detectives linked a series of other recent burglaries and thefts in Front Royal and other area jurisdictions to several suspects residing in Front Royal. Arrest warrants were obtained for Tyler S. Lockette, Stephanie R. Miller, and Justin L. Conner for their involvement in a 25-day crime spree that included commercial burglaries at Royal Pawn, LDees Pancake House, Hydro Spray Car Wash, and Spot Laundromat in Front Royal. Additional charges were obtained for the theft of 2 motor vehicles and theft of property from 3 unsecured motor vehicles.

On 08/25/2021, Stephanie Miller was arrested and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) where she was ordered to be held on a $2500 secured bond.

Stephanie Miller. Photo courtesy RSW Jail.

On 08/29/2021, Tyler Lockette was arrested in Howard County, MD where he was held without bond and extradited back to Virginia. Mr. Lockette is currently being held without bond at the Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC) in Winchester, VA.


 

Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center (NRADC) in Winchester, VA.

On 09/01/2021, Justin Conner was arrested and transported to the Rappahannock Shenandoah Warren (RSW) where he was ordered to be held without bond. The court date for all offenses has been set for various dates in September in Warren County General District Court.

Justin Conner. Photo courtesy of RSW Jail.

 

The Front Royal Police Department would like to extend our thanks to the multiple citizen tips received in these cases. We would also like to thank the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Winchester Police Department, Mt. Airy Police Department (MD), Carrol County Sheriff’s Office (MD), and the Howard County Sheriff’s Office (MD) for their support during this investigation.

This investigation is still ongoing and further charges may be forthcoming.

Anyone with any further information is asked to contact Front Royal Detective M.P. Gallagher at (540) 635-2208 or by email at mgallagher@frontroyalva.com

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Virginia State Police seeking public’s help with Culpeper arson

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The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Culpeper Field Office is asking for the public’s help with identifying the individual who set fire to the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) Adult Probation and Parole office building in the Town of Culpeper.

At 4:58 a.m. on June 16, 2021, the Town of Culpeper Police responded to a report of arson at the 1800 block of Orange Road. Surveillance video from the building shows the individual light something in his hand and throw it at a window of the building. The building was unoccupied at the time of the fire.

The suspect is described as an adult male. He was seen wearing a white or grey sweatshirt and baggy pants at the time of the incident.

Anyone with any information about this individual is asked to call Virginia State Police at 540-829-7742 or contact us by email at bci.culpeper@vsp.virginia.gov.


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Update: Federal Prosecutors charge McDonald on 34 criminal counts in EDA financial scandal

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On Tuesday morning, August 31, former Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development Executive Director Jennifer McDonald was arrested on a 34 count indictment handed down by the Western District of Virginia Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg. The 40-paragraph True Bill elaborating on the charges to a Harrisonburg Grand Jury is dated August 25, and signed by Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel P. Bubar. Of those 34 counts, 16 are for money laundering, 10 for bank fraud, 7 for wire fraud, and 1 count of aggravated identity theft regarding someone identified only as “T.T.”

The charges and outline of the case in support of them (Jennifer McDonald Indictment) echo earlier criminal indictments filed at the state level before the State Special Prosecutor’s Office in Harrisonburg turned the case over to federal authorities in late 2019. The state special prosecutor had dropped the indictments it had filed to avoid speedy trial issues due to the volume of evidentiary material – estimated at 800,000 to over a million pages at the time. Failure to meet speedy trial deadlines could have led to defense motions for dismissal of charges on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case.

Jennifer McDonald booked during state criminal prosecution process in 2019. Royal Examiner File Photos by Roger Bianchini – Mug Shots RSW Jail

An attempt to reach McDonald attorney Peter Greenspun at his Fairfax office for detail on his client’s arrest and bond situation was unsuccessful prior to publication. However, a check of the RSW Jail website indicated no new booking of McDonald at the tri-county regional facility.


In a statement on the McDonald prosecution released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Harrisonburg at 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon, it was noted that McDonald had an initial court appearance on the new federal charges earlier in the day and that she was released pending trial.

While not reaching McDonald’s attorney, Royal Examiner did reach Warren County EDA Board of Directors Chairman Jeff Browne, who circulated the indictment document Tuesday morning. We asked Browne for a reaction to the long-awaited development on the criminal side of the EDA financial scandal case.

“We’re going to continue to pursue the civil case and are pleased that justice is being served on the criminal side – it’s been a long time coming,” Browne said of the nearly two-year lag time on refiling of criminal charges related to what was a $26-million-dollar civil litigation related to the allegations of criminal misdirection and embezzlement of Town-County EDA assets. That total has climbed to a $62-million claim after McDonald’s bankruptcy filing involved the state bankruptcy court in the case.

The FBI and VSP were both involved in the April 2019 search of McDonald’s former office; below, being locked down after her resignation under mounting investigatory pressure by her board on Dec. 20, 2018.

“We don’t control the criminal side, but there are some familiar numbers in this criminal filing that reflect work done by the Cherry Bekaert staff,” Browne commented of the company the EDA contracted to investigate EDA financial records during the later years of McDonald’s executive director’s tenure. “Any help we can offer, we’ll be there for federal prosecutors. But our focus is on the civil side and bringing assets back to the community,” Browne added. He noted that federal authorities are forecasting a criminal trial for McDonald in 2022.

As recently reported out of the bankruptcy process, the EDA and McDonald have reached a no-fault agreement on a debt of $9-million by the former EDA executive director to the EDA. That agreement in which McDonald admits no wrongdoing, has also been accepted by EDA civil case Judge Bruce D. Albertson. Exactly how that agreement will result in payment of that debt remains to be seen on the civil case side.

Another perspective on FBI-VSP presence at EDA headquarters during April 2019 seizure of materials from McDonald’s former office. Federal prosecutors from the Western District of Virginia have begun to reinitiate criminal charges in the EDA financial scandal case.

Early in the civil process, then presiding Judge Clifford L. “Clay” Athey Jr. froze some real estate assets McDonald held in her name alone, while leaving others she co-held with other family members free of possible civil liability. However, since that time several of her family members have been named as co-defendants in the EDA civil litigation alleging a McDonald-led conspiracy to move EDA assets to the personal benefit of her and others. The defendant list in that civil case has climbed to as many as 23 co-defendants alleged to have conspired and/or benefitted from the alleged embezzlements.

What implication movement on the McDonald criminal case might have on charges against some, if any, of the civil case co-defendants, some who also previously faced criminal charges dropped by the state Special Prosecutor’s Office on speedy trial/dismissal concerns, remains to be seen.

Royal Examiner will publish additional information on this evolving situation as it becomes available. This story was updated at 3:55 p.m.

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Grandson who reported unresponsive Grandmother charged with her murder

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On the morning of August 28th, 2021, at approximately 10:48 A.M., Frederick County Communications Center received a call, in reference to a female who was unresponsive.

The caller, David Austin Rowe, advised that his grandmother (Dianna Lynne Swaner, age 63) was laying on the floor and appeared to be deceased. Rowe advised the location of the incident was in the 1300 block Quail Run Lane, in the County of Frederick.

Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division responded to the scene and secured the residence. The Patrol division requested the assistance of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Criminal Investigations Division.

Through the investigation, it was determined the deceased female’s death was suspicious.


Search warrants were obtained, and the Medical Examiner’s Office was contacted. The Medical Examiner’s Office responded to the scene to assist with the investigation.

Through the investigation, it was determined the death was not an accident, but the victim had been murdered.

David Austin Rowe, age 18, the grandson to the victim, was arrested and charged with 2nd degree murder.

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Operation Valley Venue IX nets 83 charges & seizure of $130,435 in illegal drugs in Northern Shenandoah Valley

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The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force conducted its ninth annual Operation Valley Venue this week. The three day operation took place from Tuesday (August 24, 2021) to Thursday (August 26, 2021), and was a collaborative effort between the task force and area law enforcement agencies. The annual operation concentrated on identifying and arresting individuals for trafficking, manufacturing, and distributing illegal narcotics within the city of Winchester, and the counties of Clarke, Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah and Page.

The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force was assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, District 11 Probation and Parole, the Woodstock Police Department, and tactical teams from the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office, and Virginia State Police. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force member agencies also provided additional patrol and investigative personnel to assist during the three day operation. The operation netted 73 felony charges, 8 probation violations, and 2 misdemeanor charges. Additionally, 86 probation searches were conducted, 5 search warrants were obtained and executed, and 22 interdiction traffic stops were completed. During the operation, 881 grams of methamphetamine with a street value of $87,800.00, 328 grams of heroin with a street value of $39,610.00, 8 grams of cocaine with a street value of $800.00, 7 grams of crack cocaine with a street value of $800.00, 19 doses of MDMA/Ecstasy with a street value of $380.00, 33 doses of LSD with a street value of $480.00, 3 fluid ounces of PCP with a street value of $300.00, and 70 grams of psilocybin with a street value of $350.00 was seized. The total street value of the narcotics seized during the operation was $130,435.00. In addition, $16,295.00 in currency, and 8 firearms was seized.

The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is comprised of law enforcement personnel from the Clarke, Frederick, Page and Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Offices, Front Royal, Luray, Strasburg, and Winchester Police Departments, and the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Culpeper Field Office. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug and Gang Task Force is a HIDTA funded initiative.

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8:00 am 2021 Gnarled Orchard Hard Cider ... @ Valley View Farm
2021 Gnarled Orchard Hard Cider ... @ Valley View Farm
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2021 Gnarled Orchard Hard Cider Challenge @ Valley View Farm
Come enjoy the challenging routes at Sky Meadows State Park and Valley View Farm, home of the Gnarled Orchard. These courses are knotty, knot nice at the farm as they are a mix of cross[...]
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2:00 pm Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
Trauma-Informed Training @ ONLINE
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WARREN COALITION OFFERS FREE TRAUMA-INFORMED TRAINING IN SEPTEMBER Have you ever felt alone? Do you wonder why you react the way you do? Do you work with children? If you answered yes to any of[...]
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Monument to Mosby’s Men Ceremony @ Prospect Hill Cemetery
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The Col. John S. Mosby Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans, will lead the annual “Monument to Mosby’s Men Ceremony” commemorating the fallen of Mosby’s command at 6 pm on Thursday, September 23rd, at Front Royal’s[...]
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3rd Annual French & Indian War W... @ Abram's Delight
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Saturday, September 25, and Sunday, September 26, from 10 am to 5 pm. 18th Century Colonial encampments with historical interpretation of British, French and Native Americans on the Western frontier of the Virginia Colony during[...]
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National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
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National Public Lands Day @ Sky Meadows State Park
Carriage Barn in the Historic Area. A blight decimated American Chestnut trees in North America in the 1920s. One hundred years later, Sky Meadows State Park has teamed up with the Virginia Chapter of the[...]
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Historic Area. Stop by the Friends of Sky Meadows Farmer’s Market for tasty preserved products, heirloom vegetables, eggs and more. Pick from seasonal vegetables grown in Sky Meadows’ authentic Kitchen Garden, July through September. Grab[...]
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10:00 am 3rd Annual French & Indian War W... @ Abram's Delight
3rd Annual French & Indian War W... @ Abram's Delight
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