Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 30, 2012

Local law enforcement continue to probe crimes that remained unsolved in 2012

KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — Whether they date back 40 years or only a matter of months, authorities and families are still seeking answers to a wide variety of cases across the region that remain unsolved.

Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt said the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office is working with several agencies including the FBI and Virginia Department of Forensic Service to solve the 2009 murder of a married couple at a Claypool Hill, Va., pizzeria.

Harvey Dean Looney, 52, and his wife Valarie Elaine Looney, 48 were murdered sometime around 11:30 p.m. on March 30, 2009 while working at Pizza Plus on U.S. Route 460 in Claypool Hill. A female co-worker found the couple when she reported for work the next morning. Authorities reported money had been stolen from the restaurant and evidence indicated Valarie Looney had been involved in a struggle before her death.

“This is our main cold case that we are focusing on,” Hieatt said. “This March will make four years. We have never stopped looking for or following leads. We had a meeting with the family members at the beginning of this year to let them know we haven’t forgotten this case.”

Hieatt said the sheriff’s office has reached out to other law enforcement agencies to help solve the case.

“We have interviewed several new people in the past year, and have several individuals we have added to our suspect list,” Hieatt said. “We have a deputy whose main priority is this case. Any information, no matter how inconsequential it may seem, is important. We look into every lead. We have sent every piece of evidence from the case to the Virginia forensics lab to test them again. As technology develops, we are hoping to find new information from this evidence. We are also working with the FBI on the case. There isn’t anything we aren’t doing to try and get this case solved.”

Hieatt said anyone with information is encouraged to call the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office at 276-988-5966

McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Sid Bell said authorities are seeking help from the public to solve several cold cases throughout the county.

One of the oldest open murder investigations in McDowell County is the Jan. 15, 1990 death of John McCoy, 42, of Welch, a United Mine Workers of America member who was shot in the neck and chest during a protest against a non-union mine. Gun shots were fired at approximately 8:30 a.m. that morning, striking McCoy.

“The issue is no one has given a statement or has come forward with any information on this case,” Bell said. “We are in constant talks with his sister trying to solve this case.”

Another open case involves the July 28, 2007 shooting death of Brindsley Charles Ward, 53, a native of the Republic of Trinidad who was killed by a single gunshot wound to the head in Northfork Hollow.

“He just went to open the door and was shot,” Bell said. “We had state troopers go all the way up to New York City trying to track down leads in this case. It is just one of those cases where we’ve hit a brick wall. We just have to hope someone will come forward with the information we need.”

Bell said authorities are also working to solve the murder of Michael Craig Phillips, 28, of Jolo.

Phillips’ body was found by state police on Jan. 8, 2008 in the Bug Hurley Hollow area of Jolo. Phillips’ vehicle — a Chevy Cobalt — was destroyed by fire on the evening of Jan. 7, 2008 before police found Phillips’ body.

Bell described Phillips’ death as “brutal.”

“He was beaten and they attempted to set fire to his body,” Bell said. “They did everything they could to him. They stabbed him, shot him, beat him and set him on fire. That investigation has been going on for years. It was such a savage killing.”

The Bluefield Police Department is still hoping for leads in a murder case dating back 40 years. Mary Osborne worked as a cleaning lady for the First Baptist Church of God on South Street in Bluefield. Her body was found in the church by Rev. Neville Mozingo on the morning of Dec. 28, 1972 when he arrived for work that day. Police are still looking for leads in the case.

The West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment are still investigating the May 1, 1982 deaths of a married couple at their home in the Lashmeet area. Daniel Whitely, 24, and his wife Debra Sue Whitely, 20, were found by a relative in their bedroom in their home on Rock Road near Wright’s Mountain. The couple had been shot and several items had been taken from their home. However, the case went cold and remains unsolved 30 years later.

Troopers are also investigating the murder of Sandra Worrell, 39, of Bluefield, who worked as a clerk at the Little General store on Oakvale Road on of Jan. 29, 1989. A mother of two, Worrell had been shot and killed. She was discovered behind the counter of the convenience store by a co-worker at 7 a.m. that morning.

The hit-and-run death of Ryan Leeper, 26, of Princeton is another case troopers are looking to solve. Leeper was walking home along Route 20 in the early morning hours of Aug. 1, 2004 when he was struck by a blue and white van on Melrose Square. The vehicle left the scene of the accident. Another passerby also struck Leeper then flagged down cars and called emergency responders to the scene. Leeper later died from his injuries. Anyone with information on the Whitely, Worrell, or Leeper cases is encouraged to call the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment at 304-425-2102.

The Princeton City Police are still looking for leads in the 2012 death of Angela Lynne McKinney Cook, 35, of Matoaka who was found on Jan. 19 in the former Barger Gun building on Mercer Street in Princeton. Authorities said Cook had been stabbed to death and had her body sent to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Charleston for an autopsy.

In July, the building where Cook’s body was found was destroyed by a fire. The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s office reported the building fire was “an incendiary or set fire” and they were working the case “as a criminal investigation.” The city of Princeton later tore down the building “due to safety reasons.” Anyone with any information on Cook’s death is encouraged to call the Princeton City Police at 304-487-5000 while anyone with information on the fire is encouraged to call the West Virginia arson hotline at 1-800-233-FIRE.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com