Two Wigs, A Gun And A Murder

When A Professor Is Gunned Down, The Clues Are Stranger Than The Crime

In the all-American suburb of Richmond, Va., residents say Fred Jablin fit right in.

"He was very involved with his children," says his neighbor, Megan McCreary. "He was doing the same things that we do as Moms and Dads."

"I'm very proud of my brother. He was my best friend," says Michael Jablin, Fred's older brother. He says Jablin, a leading academic, was ambitious, but his career took second place to his three children -- especially after his divorce from Piper Rountree, his wife of 18 years.

"He was the acting dean at the University of Richmond for a temporary period. But he couldn't run for full deanship because he had to dedicate his life and his times to his children, and that hurt him academically," says Michael Jablin. "He made that sacrifice because his kids came first."

The morning of October 30 should have been the beginning of another hectic day with his kids. But it would not turn out that way. Fred Jablin was found murdered in front of his home.

Neighbors heard shots but didn't see anything. No weapon was found, and there was almost no physical evidence. After checking the house, police ruled out robbery. Homicide Det. Coby Kelly led the investigation: "I learned pretty early on that people said, 'I have no idea who would wanna do this to Fred, but have you talked to his ex-wife?'"

Rountree says she was shocked by her ex-husband's murder. "It was very sad," she says. "He's the children's father. The children need two parents. They need a mother; they need a father."

At the time of the murder, Rountree was living 1,000 miles away in Houston. Because of the divorce, police remained suspicious of her. "We knew we wanted to talk to her," says Kelly. "We knew we wanted to do it as soon as possible."

Police wondered if Rountree could have flown to Virginia the weekend of the murder. They checked local airports, and on a flight out of Norfolk, one passenger's name jumped out at them.

"They say, 'We don't have a Piper Rountree, but we've got a Tina Rountree on this flight," says Kelley.

As police quickly discovered, Tina was Piper's big sister, and she also lived in Texas. Could the murder of this beloved professor be some kind of conspiracy of sisters? As Correspondent Harold Dow reports, discovering the truth would lead Kelly across the country and back, through a trail of bizarre clues and deep into a strange relationship.

"Piper and I are soul sisters. We're incomplete without each other," says Tina Rountree. "We call each other two or three times a day. We're very, very tight.

The two sisters came from a large, but tight knit Texas family. When Rountree attended the University of Texas, she became a standout student who caught the eye of her communications professor, Fred Jablin. She was 21, athletic and artistic. He was eight years older, brainy and slightly eccentric.

"From Day One, I was always disappointed that she married Fred, because I always thought she would marry someone who was more successful," says Tina Rountree. "Someone who's interesting. Someone who was funny. He was not."

But friends said the marriage worked. "I think they found in each other what they needed for each other," says Professor John Daly, who knew the couple, and remained one of Jablin's best friends.

"He also had a very quirky side to him, as I've been described as having myself," recalls Rountree. "I think those two qualities between us meshed a lot."

The early years were good, and Jablin was supportive of Rountree's decision to attend law school. After graduating, Rountree practiced law in Texas, and the couple started a family. Rountree was devoted to her children, but she was drifting away from her husband.

"We were not in love with each other," says Rountree. "It was like being married to your best roommate."
  • Rebecca Leung

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