Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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February 24, 2013

Bastian double homicide: Probe ongoing in 1983 cold case

BASTIAN, Va. — This September will mark the 30th anniversary of a terrible tragedy that occurred at a business outside the Bastian community in Bland County, Va. Two young men in their early 20s — Darren Walker, 22, a young man who lived about a quarter mile from the Bastian Exit on I-77, and Steven Shinault, 26, of Max Meadows, Va. — were killed some time in the morning of Sept. 14, 1983.

Both men worked at the I-77 Exxon located less than 100 yards west of the Bastian Exit. They started their shift that day and at some point, a person or persons unknown, made the two young men lie face down on the floor of a back storage furnace room in the station where they were shot multiple times in the back. Both men died at the scene.

A vendor from Princeton stopped at the business at about 10 a.m., that morning and became suspicious when he found the door open but no one around. He contacted the Bland County Sheriff’s Office and when a deputy arrived, they entered the building and found the two bodies at about 10:30 a.m. Initial news reports of the incident stated that both men had been shot with a handgun of some kind.

After the owners of the business — Wythe Fuel Services Inc. — tallied the receipts from the shift, they determined that $325 in cash was missing from the cash register. At the start of the investigation, police believed that robbery was a motive. Investigators used the credit card receipts in the cash register to search for possible witnesses to the crime, but were not successful.

“I don’t know that robbery was the real motive behind it,” Captain G. Jason Miles said during a telephone interview last week. Miles is commander of the Division Four Bureau of Criminal Investigations with the Virginia State Police based in Wytheville, Va. “The real motive may have been something else. It was just made to look like (it was a robbery).”

During the early stage of the investigation, police believed that the two men were killed a short period of time before the vendor stopped at the station and started the process that would lead authorities to discover the bodies of the two men. The Virginia State Police BCI was on the scene the day of the murders, and has been working to solve the murders ever since.

Captain Miles was not working out of the Wythe Detachment in 1983, but he said new personnel entering the BCI are briefed on the status of the case, and when an officer who has been working on the case leaves the bureau, a new investigator is assigned to the case.

“We conducted an interview follow-up with a suspect in the case about 6 months ago,” Miles said. “Our prime suspect in the case is elderly now, living in a nursing home and suffering from dementia.”

The Exxon station opened on July 1, 1983, and had only been serving the public for 2 and one-half months when the murders occurred. The Interstate itself had only been opened a little more than one decade at the time, with some Bland County residents suggesting that the interstate brought that kind of crime into the mostly rural county that has no incorporated towns.

“I’ve heard about that suspect, but I’ve heard about others too,” Henry Blessing, a retired Bastian area businessman and Sharon District representative on the Bland County Board of Supervisors said in response to the suggestion that police have a suspect in the case. “In my opinion, that case will never be solved.

“I can’t think that we’ve even had a robbery in Bastian other than that one,” Blessing said. “It seems like we can go on for 40 years with nothing happening, then something like this will happen.”

Blessing said that people who live in the area remember the double homicide, but it’s not something that people talk about a lot.

Miles said that the case is still an open and active investigation and he encouraged anyone who has additional information in the case to contact the BCI through the Wythe Detachment of the Virginia State Police at (276) 228-3131.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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