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Reports: Jesse Matthew probed in more Va. cold cases

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Now that the suspect in the disappearance of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham has been linked to another high-profile unsolved case, investigators are reportedly probing whether he could be tied to more unsolved murders and disappearances in the state.

Hannah Graham CBS affiliate WCAV

Jesse Matthew, Jr., 32, is charged with abduction with intent to defile in Graham's Sept. 13 disappearance. Graham, 18, vanished after attending two off-campus house parties and sending a text to a friend that she was lost. Police say they believe she was with Matthew on Charlottesville's downtown pedestrian mall, and may have been in his car when he left.

Matthew was arrested days later after a tipster who spotted him camping on a beach near Galveston, Texas called police.

Virginia State Police say he's also linked by forensics to the 2009 disappearance of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, 20. Harrington's remains were found on a farm in rural Albemarle County three months after she disappeared after a rock concert on the U.Va. campus in Charlottesville Oct. 17, 2009.

Now, investigators from the Campbell County Sheriff's Office are looking for any possible links between Matthew and the murder of Cassandra Morton, who vanished just a week before Harrington in Lynchburg, reports CBS affiliate WDBJ.

Morton's body was reportedly found in November 2009 in a shallow grave on Candler's Mountain in Lynchburg, several miles from Liberty University, which Matthew attended from 2000-2002. CBS News has learned that Matthew was investigated on a complaint of rape while at Liberty, and though he was never charged criminally, he was dismissed from the school.

Campbell County Sheriff Steve Hutcherson told the station there's no evidence now to link Matthew to Morton, but they're looking into any possible links because both Morton and Harrington disappeared around the same time and because Matthew may be familiar with the area where Morton's body was found.

The heavily wooded area is owned by Liberty University, reports the station.

Cassandra Morton WUSA9

Capt. Billy Crowe told the station that Matthew isn't a suspect, but said, "we're just running it down to see if there's any possibility of any kind of link." Investigators are looking at Matthew's financial statements and cell phone records to see if he was near Lynchburg at the time of Morton's murder, reports the station.

The Campbell County sheriff told CBS affiliate WTVR that "the crime scenes were similar" in the Harrington and Morton cases.

The murder of Morton, 23, remains unsolved. She was reportedly a mother of two.

Other disappearances have plagued the area in central Virginia in the past five years. Nineteen-year-old Samantha Ann Clarke, who vanished after leaving her Orange County town house in September 2010, 19-year-old DaShad Laquinn Smith, who disappeared in Charlottesville in November 2012, and 17-year-old Alexis Murphy, who was last seen near Lynchburg, Va. in August of 2013 and whose car was found in Charlottesville, remain missing.

Randolph Taylor was convicted in May of Murphy's abduction and murder, though her body has never been found. In a statement to WTVR, Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Martin said he believed there was no evidence to suggest Matthew was involved in Murphy's disappearance.

Taylor implicated another man in Murphy's disappearance who was later cleared, Martin told WTVR. That man was not Matthew, he said.

Orange County, Va. Commonwealth Attorney Diana H. Wheeler told WTVR last year that Taylor was a person of interest in Clarke's disappearance. He was never charged.

Samantha Clarke WTVR
Police told CBS affiliate WUSA9 they're also investigating whether Matthew could be connected to the Clarke case. Clarke reportedly vanished after telling her 14-year-old brother that she was leaving and would return in the morning.

"We are not saying there is a link, we are examining whether there's a possible link," Chief James Fenwick, of the Town of Orange Police Department, told WUSA9. "But the primary focus has always been on the people that Samantha associated with on the days before her disappearance including Randy Taylor, who's serving time for the murder of Alexis Murphy. But due to the proximity of Charlottesville with Orange, we'd be derelict in our duties not to examine a possible link to Jesse Matthew."

WTVR also reported that police in Newport News are looking for any possible links to Matthew in the cases of two women who vanished more than a decade ago - Sophie Rivera on September 7, 2003 and Autumn Day on July 24, 2003. Both women disappeared during the time that Matthew was attending nearby Christopher Newport University, reports the station.

A police spokesman told the Richmond Times-Dispatch there is no indication that Matthew is connected to the Rivera case, but investigators are taking another look at it.

The Harringtons are reacting with a mixture of both sadness and relief to the news that Matthew has been connected by a "forensic link" to their 20-year-old daughter's unsolved killing.

Still, they say, authorities' top priority must be to find Graham.

"I think it's the most important thing," Morgan Harrington's father, Dan Harrington, told The Associated Press on Tuesday in an interview outside his home north of Roanoke. "There's still hope for Hannah. And I think that it's critical for us, for the community, to find her."

Two years ago, the FBI said DNA evidence showed that Harrington's killer also was responsible for a 2005 rape in northern Virginia, so Matthew could be linked to that assault as well, although City of Fairfax police declined to comment, citing their ongoing investigation.

On Sept. 24, 2005, a 26-year-old woman was abducted and sexually assaulted while walking home from the store about 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, police said. They said the assailant grabbed her from behind, dragged her into a wooded area behind some town homes, and fled when he was startled by a passerby.

Police described the 26-year-old woman's assailant as a black man in his mid-20s to mid-30s with a medium to heavy build, short hair and a beard. Matthew's current description: black, 6-feet-2, about 270 pounds, with dreadlocks.

Matthew's lawyer, James Camblos, said he met with his client for about 2½ hours Tuesday but still doesn't know what evidence police have.

A bond review that had been set for Thursday for Matthew was canceled after his attorney said he will not ask for his client to be released on bond, reports WTVR. He is due in court for a preliminary hearing on the abduction charge in the Hannah Graham case Dec. 4.

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