Two Wigs, A Gun And A Murder

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

Produced by Loen Kelley

This story originally aired Aug. 5, 2006.

In the fall of 2004, the sleepy suburb of Richmond, Va. was all dressed up for Halloween. But as Harold Dow reports, the spookiest day of the year arrived early for this close-knit neighborhood.

"On the morning of the 30th, I got up planning on going to the gym to work out. I was putting on my running shoes, when all of a sudden, my husband and I heard three loud sounds. Bang, bang, bang. We kind of looked at one another like, 'What could that possibly be?' I said, 'Well, maybe people are hunting, duck hunting down around Tuckahoe Creek,'" recalls neighbor Megan McCreary, who shrugged it off and went to the gym.

Just down the road, neighbor Bob McCartel saw something he couldn't ignore. "I saw someone running down the street in the front of my house. It was so dark out I couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman," he remembers.

Bob's wife, Doreen, called 911 — and within minutes, police were searching the area. But officers told McCartel they hadn't been able to find any sign of a shooter or a victim.

"About 45 minutes later, Doreen and I took our dog out. Walking towards Fred's house, Doreen looked up and saw something up on the driveway," Bob recalls.

Lying in his driveway was Fred Jablin, a well-respected 52-year-old college professor and devoted father to three children.

Officer Harry Boyd, who lived three blocks from the Jablin home, remembers that his pager went off at 7:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, McCreary returned from her workout and got the grim news from her husband. "My first thought was, where are the kids?" she recalls.

Boyd was also concerned about the children — his kids were close friends with the Jablin children. Police entered the home and found Fred Jablin's children — his 12-year-old son, and his two daughters, ages 10 and 15 — asleep.

Boyd took the children back to his house. He remembers the tough task of telling the children their dad had been murdered. "It was just a nightmare to have to do that," he explains.

Boyd told the children they'd be staying with his family, until their uncle Michael Jablin, who lived two hours away, could get there.

Fred's ex-wife, Piper Rountree, says she was stunned when she learned of his murder. "I got a phone call from a friend of mine who had heard about it and nobody knew what had happened," says Rountree, who was living in Houston, where she'd moved after the divorce.

Back in Richmond, Homicide Det. Coby Kelly was put in charge of the investigation. Kelly's theory was that Fred was on his way to pick up his morning newspaper.

"I suspect that someone or something drew his attention back this direction as he was walking down to get the paper. And that whatever confrontation took place probably happened right here in this area," says Kelly, who thinks the victim may have actually talked to his killer.

After analyzing the crime scene, Kelly went to work on suspects. His first hunch was that it might have been a student that hadn't done well in one of Jablin's classes.

Police went to the University of Richmond to check out that angle. But Kelly knew what all homicide detectives know when looking for suspects: Start close to home.

"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?'" recalls Kelly, who then called Piper in Houston.

"And he said that all of the immediate family was under suspicion. Michael Jablin and me," she recalls.

At the time of the murder, Piper and her ex-husband had been apart for almost four years. She had started a whole new life in Houston. Not only that, but police would soon learn that she had an alibi for the day of the murder.

A family friend and attorney, Marty McVey, remembers Piper stopping by his Houston office on the very day her ex was murdered, more than 1,000 miles away.

While detectives continued to check out Piper's story, another name surfaced — and unlike Piper, this woman had nothing nice to say about Fred.

"He was a very, very egotistical person," says Piper's sister, Tina.

On the afternoon of the murder, Kelly got a major lead from airport officials in Virginia: Southwest Airlines had a passenger on their manifest with the last name Rountree. The name on the ticket: Tina Rountree.

Records showed that two days before the murder, Tina Rountree had flown from her home in Houston to Virginia, where Fred was killed. On the afternoon of the murder, records showed that Tina was booked on a return flight back home to Houston — a flight that was already in the air.

Kelly contacted the Houston Police Department and explained the situation — by the time officers arrived at the airport, the plane was about to unload.

"I knew I was looking for a 40-something white female — we had some driver license photos of both Tina, the sister, as well as Piper Rountree," remembers Det. Breck McDaniel.

Piper had brown hair while Tina was blonde. McDaniel says his officers stopped at least a dozen women. But the passenger they were looking for had disappeared in the crowd.

In fact, that mysterious passenger managed to pick up her luggage at baggage claim without being noticed, and then vanished.