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Is man arrested in W.Va tied to 3 unsolved killings in Va.?

A sketch of the suspect in murder of a teacher in Alexandria and the mugshot of Charles Severance Alexandria Police and West Virginia Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Charles Severance, a man arrested Thursday in West Virginia on a gun charge, is being investigated in connection with the unsolved killings of three people in Alexandria, Va. over the last 10 years, reports CBS DC.

Severance, 53, who was arrested at a public library in Wheeling Thursday afternoon on the unrelated charge, was ordered held without bond during an extradition hearing Monday after a prosecutor said he is a suspect in the three slayings.

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Charles Severance shown outside the Russian Embassy asking for asylum.
Mark Segraves, All-News 99.1 WNEW Senior Correspondent
Ohio County prosecutor Scott Smith said in court Monday that Severance should be kept in jail because he represents a danger to the community and poses a flight risk, which prosecutors said is illustrated through an image of Severance in front of the Russian Embassy earlier this month where he was requesting asylum, according to the station.

Virginia is seeking Severance's extradition to Loudoun County on the weapons charge. Severance's attorney says his client is fighting extradition.

Police in Alexandria say Severance was brought to their attention during "the routine analysis of crime tips." They issued the warrant for his arrest on the gun charge - alleging he is a convicted felon in unlawful possession of firearms. (In 2005, Severance pleaded guilty to a felony gun-possession charge in Rockingham County, Va., and was placed on probation, according to the Washington Post.)

According to Wheeling, West Virginia Police Chief Sean Schwertfeger, Wheeling police were alerted that Severance was wanted in a warrant out of Loudoun County, Va. and could be in a hotel in Wheeling's downtown district. Police went to the hotel and verified that a vehicle belonging to Severance was at the hotel but Severance was not, Schwertfeger said, according to CBS affiliate WUSA. Severance was later located and taken into custody at the library.

It is unclear whether Severance is connected to a series of high-profile killings in Alexandria, but Alexandria Police have been in contact with authorities in Wheeling, W.Va., according to the station.

Earlier this month, Alexandria Police said the February killing of popular music teacher Ruthanne Lodato, who was shot when she opened her front door, appears to be linked to two other unsolved killings in Alexandria.

Forensic examination of bullet fragments found similarities among the ballistics in the shooting of Lodato, the 2003 slaying of Nancy Dunning and the November 2013 killing of Ronald Kirby.

In addition to the ballistic similarities, all three were killed at approximately the same time of day, in the late morning hours. Also, police said, they were killed in their homes after presenting themselves at the front door.

All three victims were prominent in the Alexandria community. Lodato was a well-known music teacher, Kirby a respected transportation planner and Dunning a real-estate agent who was the wife of then-Sheriff James Dunning.

Alexandria Police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said Friday that police are "nowhere close to charging someone with murder" in the three unsolved killings and declined to name Severance as a suspect, but added that they aren't ruling him out, either.

Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille says he remembers Severance from his time in city politics -- Severance unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1996 and 2000 -- particularly because of his strange dress and unusual campaign platforms, reports the station.

"It was 70 degrees outside, he was at the candidates events wearing a leather coat that went all the way down to his ankles, and leather black gloves -- like something out of a comic book character," Euille said.

Former Alexandria Mayor Kerry Donley, who ran against Severance in both the 1996 and 2000 mayoral elections, tells CBD DC's radio affiliate WNEW that Severance was an "odd opponent, to say the least" -- wearing all black and giving the same answers for all campaign questions.

"He would launch into a diatribe about juvenile mental health conditions and the use of psychotropic drugs," Donley said, adding that police assigned an undercover officer to shadow him during both elections out of concern that Severance posed a threat to his safety.

A civil case in Alexandria Circuit Court shows that Severance lost custody and visitation of his son, Levite, in 2000 when the boy's mother sought a protective order. She said Severance behaved in a threatening manner when she tried to leave him, setting out a rifle on a pillow in their home and leaving ammunition carefully arranged on a sock, according to the Associated Press.

The judge in 2000 ordered Severance be denied visitation until, at the very least, he undergo a mental health examination, saying the case "is a most unusual one presenting real issues of safety for the Plaintiff and her son."

A transcript of that court hearing shows that Severance reluctantly admitted under cross-examination that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, but he believed it was the doctors who were at fault.

"I have diagnosed the psychiatrists with mental disorders," he said. "I qualify myself as mentally competent."

He said he tried once to take a medication, Risperdal, prescribed for him by a psychiatrist. He said the medication twisted his stomach and made him sick, leading him to conclude it was part of a plot against him.

He tried unsuccessfully in 2009 to gain custody of the boy, saying that he is "guided by a Holy Ghost" and listing his qualifications for custody, including the fact he "does not have any strange body piercings ... is not a whining victim of post traumatic stress disorder ... and has never encouraged a child, adolescent or adult male to be a homosexual."

Severance operates a website, mentaldisorder.com, in which he said his son "was legally isolated and separated from his father by the notorious City of Alexandria Juvenile Court. Although vilified by the inferior opinions of some judges, Charles Severance remains a God-fearing, highly respected, and solid citizen of Virginia."

Another hearing in Severance's gun charge case is scheduled for Wednesday.


  • Stephanie Slifer

    Stephanie Slifer covers crime and justice for CBSNews.com.

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