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Murder mystery: 40 years later, no one convicted of murdering Henrico resident Olivia Thorndike

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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — It’s a cold case that has baffled police for 40 years.

On Nov. 25, 1981, 24-year-old Olivia Thorndike’s life came to a sudden end when she was brutally stabbed in her western Henrico apartment. While police quickly identified two suspects, her murder remains a mystery today.

As the anniversary of her death approaches, friends, family, witnesses and investigators hope someone with information will come forward.

It was the day before Thanksgiving at the Harbor Village apartments in Henrico. Thorndike was supposed to be heading out of her apartment on Mainmast Court to pick up a relative at the airport. When she didn’t show up, friends tried to check in with her. After Thorndike’s loved ones couldn’t make contact, they called the police.

“We had to force entry and they were faced with a traumatic scene,” said Lt. Matt Pecka with Henrico County Police Office of Public Affairs.

Pecka told 8News the 24-year-old was found dead at the bottom of the stairs. She had been stabbed multiple times. There was no sign of forced entry.

“The doorway was not damaged. This was a crucial piece of the case. Who would have gained access?” he said.

Donna Spurrier lived in an apartment across from Thorndike’s at the time of her stabbing.

Spurrier recalled, “We had come home just after her body had been found. There was yellow crime tape and red and blue lights everywhere.”

She remembers the tragic day well.

“Over the years now, almost 40 years now, it’s always been on my mind. What happened? Why did somebody get away with this?” she asked.

Spurrier has always wondered if she may hold a clue to Thorndike’s killer. Earlier that day in 1981, Spurrier was waiting for her fiancé to pick her up.

“I continued to look out the window, he was running late,” Spurrier said.

She spotted something strange.

She said, “I just noticed randomly that there was someone sitting in a car in front of my apartment, facing Olivia’s apartment. My best recollection was a green station wagon type car and had his arm out the window in November reading the paper. It just seemed odd to me.”

When she came home and learned Thorndike was dead she said she feared that man in the green car may have been connected to the crime.

Spurrier told 8News, “I am thinking he was watching her apartment.”

She says she passed on what she knew at that time to the police at the scene. “I did, I did. And, they said they were going to get back to me and I just never got a call,” Spurrier said.

8News recently shared Spurrier’s tip with police and detectives said it is now being investigated.
Detectives also said, while the case may be old and cold, it is still active.

“We have three dedicated individuals consistently reviewing this case and wanting to speak with people,” Pecka said.

Cat Storch, Thorndike’s childhood friend, is making sure it stays active.

“I can’t imagine what a murder of a loved one does to a family. We got to get some kind of justice for this woman and her family,” Storch said.

Storch first took out a newspaper ad in the Rappahannock Record. Thorndike was from the Northern Neck originally and the suspects have ties to the area.

She wrote in the ad, “You know who you are. You have information.”

Storch said she was trying to use guilt.

“I was thinking that somebody has to know something out there and this has been eating on them for almost 40 years,” Storch said.

She took out several more newspapers ads. She also got Micheal Whelan, host of the true crime podcast, “Unresolved” to take up the case. He devoted an entire podcast episode to Thorndike’s murder. She helped create a Facebook page, “The Unsolved Murder of Olivia Thorndike,” to draw attention to the cold case.

She said, “I can’t let it go.”

The podcast and Facebook page point out there are multiple suspects in the case. It was shortly after Thorndike’s murder that police began to eye a man named Gary Lankford. Thorndike had accused Lankford of attempted rape. He was arrested and awaiting trial before her death.

After the stabbing, Lankford was convicted of the rape.

Thorndike also had a stalker, a man named Richard Slaughter. Thorndike went out with the Reedville man a couple of times but when she tried to call it quits he did not leave her alone. Thorndike told police and family that Slaughter began to stalk and harass her.

Joanne Stinson, from Maine, knows Slaughter all too well.

“We went out to dinner two or three times and pretty quickly things seemed rather strange,” she said.

Stinson met Slaughter after Thorndike’s death and was soon terrified.

“Strange cars showing up, driving by my home,” Stinson said.

Slaughter had moved to Maine for a bit and Stinson said she couldn’t get him to leave her alone.

“It quickly turned to flat tires, hundreds of hang-up phone calls. Frightening notes on my car,” Stinson said.

At the time, legally there was not much she could do. Her case and her fight eventually put anti-stalking laws on the books in Maine. She also won a civil suit against Slaughter. Shortly after, he returned to Virginia.

Slaughter was arrested and indicted in connection with Thorndike’s slaying back in 1983. He had made a threatening call to Thorndike’s mom just days before her death.

“Slaughter calls Mrs. Thorndike and says your daughter is dead,” explained Storch, Thorndike’s friend.

Storch said the call referenced Thorndike’s attempted rape case against Lankford. Authorities said Slaughter and Lankford were acquaintances – the charges were later dropped against Slaughter.

“There was not enough to carry that case forward,” Lt. Pecka said.

Investigators told 8News Slaughter still remains a suspect. 8News has tried to contact Slaughter multiple times. We even went to his home in the Northern Neck to try and talk to him. A man outside the house told us he wasn’t home.

Lankford, the man Thorndike accused of attempted rape who was awaiting trial before her death, was also accused of murder in another case, He has since passed away yet police say he still remains a suspect in Thorndike’s murder.

8News has also learned of a person of interest, who may have been heard showering in the apartment moments after her death. Multiple sources said on the day of Thorndike’s death, a neighbor living below Thorndike remembers hearing a scream followed by a thump. The neighbor was startled but then heard the shower in Thorndike’s apartment running shortly after that thump and assumed everything was ok.

“For us to make a charge or have that charge, we need additional information and we believe there is people out there who have that information,” Pecka said.

Adding to the challenge of the case, back in 1981 surveillance cameras, cell phones and DNA were not available resources to help solve the murder.

However, cold-case detectives said they are talking with private labs to see if the technology of today might be able to pick up anything from the evidence found at the scene.

Storch, Thorndike’s childhood friend, hopes someone will come forward.

“Give this family closure, just give them closure,” she said.

Anyone with information that may be linked to the crime is asked to call Crimes Stoppers (804) 780-1000. You can make a tip anonymously.

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