Families of victims hope unsolved cases will be added to new statewide database

Screenshot of the Virginia State Unsolved Cases Database, featuring the anniversary of Christopher Ray Douthat’s disappearance in October 2013. (VCU Capital News Service)

RICHMOND—William H. “Bozo” Winston Jr. was athletic and family-oriented until the day he was murdered in 1986. He was 23.

“We played football, basketball – whatever – together,” said Taras Winston Sr., William’s brother and the youngest of four siblings. “When he had the chance, he always picked me, put me on his team.”

William played football at Armstrong High School and basketball at the Powhatan Community Center in Richmond, his brother said. He also played baseball and was a lifeguard.

Taras Winston had a good relationship with his brother until William started dealing drugs, he said.

“He just got involved with the wrong gang and it cost him his life,” his brother Darryl Winston said.

Photo of William “Bozo” Winston, Jr. via Henrico County Police. Bozo’s case remains unsolved after 36 years. (VCU Capital News Service)

On the morning of March 12, 1986, Taras Winston told William that he loved him and would see him after school. William wasn’t there when he got home.

Taras Winston was home alone that evening when Henrico County police rang the doorbell. The police had William’s identity card. Taras Winston thought William was in trouble with the law, but the police eventually told him that William had been found dead near a stream.

William was shot in the head and several times all over the body. He was the first murder victim in the county that year, according to a video of the case made by Henrico County. His case remains unsolved nearly four decades later.

The Virginia State Police partnered with law enforcement agencies across the state this year to create a database of unsolved or “cold” cases. The database, launched in June, includes unsolved homicides and unidentified and missing person cases. The Winston family hopes the database might reveal more leads to finding William’s killer.

Tragedy struck the Winston family again nearly a year later when they lost their cousin Judson Calvin to gun violence. The Winston brothers believe Calvin’s murder is connected to William’s murder. They believe that Calvin, whose case also remains unsolved, may have been murdered for what he knew of William’s murder.

Of the. Danica Roem, D-Manassas, received unanimous support from both chambers for her 2020 measure to create the statewide database. She introduced the bill in 2018, but it was killed in the credits. Lawmakers have earmarked over $100,000 to create the database and fund a full-time employee to maintain the website. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, budget spending was put on hold due to economic uncertainty, Roem said. The Virginia State Police began designing the website based on databases of unsolved cases in other states, such as Connecticut and Florida.

“We put this [the bill] because other states have an existing priority or other cases are resolved because other states have cold case databases,” Roem said.

The database could bring closure, accountability and justice to unsolved crimes, Roem said. It was also important for the public to know about unsolved cases, she said, to make that information accessible while maintaining “transparency and accountability in government.”

The database has grown to over 100 cases and more will be added over time. There have been more than 100 clicks on the website since its July launch, Corinne Geller, director of public relations for the Virginia State Police, said in an October email response.

Media coverage, as well as promotion of law enforcement, prosecutors and courts will help bring attention to the database and the cases, Roem believes.

Darryl and Taras Winston said the news, media and digital billboards should be used to raise awareness of unsolved cases.

The state police’s goal is to “continue to raise awareness of the Unsolved Cases website and its reach with the public,” Geller said.

“It’s not because the murders haven’t [been] resolved does not mean they are no longer relevant,” Roem said.

Darryl and Taras Winston hope to see Williams’ case put on the database. Henrico County, where William was murdered, is not among the 15 law enforcement agencies listed on the site as contributors to the database.

Discussion of Henrico County police joining the state database is ongoing, Lt. Matthew Pecka said in an email. Disseminating information about these cases is important to generate leads and further discussion, he said.

“We’re looking to do something about it,” Taras Winston said. “Any help we can get in solving my brother’s case, we would greatly appreciate it…the smallest thing could be the thing that opens the case.”

Key witnesses sometimes wait “years later” until they feel safe to speak to law enforcement, or sometimes suspects make “deathbed confessions,” Geller said.

“Sometimes a person’s conscience gets the better of them and drives them to surrender,” Geller said.

Darryl Winston believes the witnesses may have had concerns about their own encounters with law enforcement. He hopes people will be more comfortable coming forward now since 36 years have passed.

People can give advice – even anonymous advice – through the website or contact the main law enforcement agency investigating a case.

An unsolved homicide case from 2003 has received new leads through the database, according to a Roanoke Times report.

“It’s effective and it works,” Roem said, “but it won’t be effective and it won’t work unless the public knows about it and is committed to it.”

Photo of Donna Hall and Mike Margaret via Henrico County Police. The couple were murdered in 1984 and their case remains unsolved. (VCU Capital News Service)

Other cold cases in Henrico County not currently on the database are the violent murders of Mike Margaret and Donna Hall in August 1984. Margaret, 21, and Hall, 18, were found stabbed to death , the throat cut in a wooded area that is now a suburban landscape. The narcotic sedative Demerol was found in their blood, police said. There has long been speculation that they knew their attackers and that the couple indulged in drug use with a possible interest in buying more.

Police never uncovered a clear motive for the gruesome murder. Investigators had limited access to DNA from the crime scene, due to heavy rain between when the murders likely took place and when the bodies were found by a dog walker.

Scott Margaret, Mike’s brother, is happy with the police’s work on the case “in many ways”, but he thinks “too much bureaucracy” is getting in the way of solving the crime. Some agencies might not want to work together because they want to solve cases on their own, he said.

“The sooner you get outside help in some of these cases, the sooner you’ll be able to resolve a lot of them,” Margaret said.

To raise awareness of the unsolved cases and the database, Margaret suggested ads on local news stations, contextual ads online, and information on interstate bulletin boards.

Margaret will request that her brother and Hall’s case be added to the database of unsolved cases.

Roem recommends that citizens visit the website at least once, to see if they recognize a case or have any advice.

“Don’t see this as a nice gesture from the state,” Roem said. “There is potential for positive results as knowledge of the database increases.”

Cases are displayed on the homepage randomly to ensure that all victims are highlighted equally, according to state police. Cases are also lit on associated anniversary days.

“Improving the website to include additional functionality is one of our goals that we hope to achieve over time,” Geller said in an email.

Citizens can search for cases by name, date, location, reporting agency and case type – and case pages can be shared. Individuals can request that a case be included in the database by contacting the agency responsible for the case. People can leave questions or comments on the website and choose to remain anonymous. There is also an option to be returned by email.

“Stories are silently screaming right now and they are waiting to be told,” Roem said.

Capital News Service is a program of the Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.