The Colonial Parkway Murders: 30 Years Later

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) - Thirty years ago, Wednesday, the second event of what would become known as the Colonial Parkway murders unfolded in Isle of Wight County.

In the early morning hours of September 20, 1987, 20-year-old David Knobling and 14-year-old Robin Edwards were killed and their bodies thrown in the James River. They would be found on a beach near the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge just three days later.

"After 30 years I still miss him," says David's father Karl, who still lives in the same home in Newport News.

WAVY-TV reports from that fateful day show us with Karl as he was poking a stick in the water trying to find something that would lead him to David's body. We were there after Karl found David face down on the beach with a gunshot wound to the left shoulder, and a fatal gunshot wound to the back of the head. Karl told us at the time, "He was shot execution style."

Here's how the discovery of David and Robin unfolded at the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge.

We were at a nearby gas station/convenience store that morning after covering Karl looking for David. It is then that a man came in, who said he had been running on the beach, discovered "a woman's body." She was face down, but I didn't get close so as not to disturb the scene." The jogger told us that on camera. He had gone to the store to call police, and of course this was before cell phones that are now in everyone's hands. The jogger and WAVY-TV returned to Ragged Island and found Karl who was beginning to learn that something had been found.

We found Karl heading down the beach with investigators searching for the body found, and still looking for David's body. The jogger went with the search crew that included Karl. When Karl returned he told us, "They (law enforcement) didn't want me to go down there, but I told the deputy I'm going anyway. I couldn't recognize the girl because I had never seen her before. We kept walking, looking for something down there, and me and one of the detectives we found David 50 feet farther down, I guess."

Karl remembers thirty years later, "My emotion was tears, I wish I could see what he looks like now. What he does now, I miss him."

20-year-old David was with a new friend, 14-year-old Robin Edwards, who was an 8th grader at Huntington Middle School. Our report said back then that on the evening of September 19, 1987, "Robin, David's brother, Michael, their cousin and David watched a movie Saturday night." They had returned to the Knobling home. Robin had a curfew and returned to her home, but not for long. Around midnight David left the house, and picked up Robin at her home, and the two then went out into the night.

Robin's sister Janette Santiago says that Robin liked older guys and she related better to older people. At that point Bonnie Dodson who is Robin's mother gently taps Janette on the leg as to say 'don't say that.' It is true that Robin was wise beyond her years.

Back in 1987 we reported, "At the time she was described as an 8th grader with a 12th grader curiosity. She marched to her own drummer, she was very perceptive and could relate to people's feelings."

Robin also had a history of running away from home. Bonnie remembers a young man Robin dated before she had met David, "She was 13, and I wouldn't let her date a 21-year-old. I wouldn't let her go to the beach with him, and she ran away."

It didn't make sense that David would leave his truck unlocked at Ragged Island back then or now.

"We kept telling anyone who would listen they did not runaway. He would have run away with his truck. He doesn't leave his truck unlocked. When he goes to the 7-11 or parks in my backyard, the truck is locked," says Karl.

The Knoblings and Edwards both agree investigators botched the investigation. Karl was able to take home David's truck even before the bodies were found. WAVY-TV even did a stand-up opening the front door of the truck as it sat in Karl's driveway.

"It was obviously a crime scene," Karl would say. Worse, the Ford Ranger pickup had keys in the ignition, radio on, clothes and shoes left in car, and David's wallet was left behind too. "I think he was forced out of it," Karl says.

Robin and David were likely forced out and most likely walked down a pathway to the James River shot and killed.

"I have long stretches I don't remember because I have blocked them out because they are too painful," with tears in her eyes it is still painful thirty years later.

Bonnie told us in 1987 after the bodies were found, "Robin wrapped us around her little finger. She had a beautiful smile and a loving way."

To this day, the two families wonder what happened on that dark morning thirty years ago.


Former Isle of Wight County Sheriff Charlie Phelps interviewed a suspect who admitted going into David's truck and taking out money from his wallet which was confirmed during a polygraph, "He admitted to me.

He heard something coming out of the bushes, and that he got scared and ran," Phelps says. For this story, Phelps returned to Ragged Island to tell us about what he remembers.

"That same polygraph was in-conclusive that the suspect killed David and Robin," Phelps says and confirms the suspect (whom we won't name) has since died. Phelps is convinced his suspect pulled a gun and shot both David and Robin and then threw them in the water.

After thirty years the families have their own theories.

"They might have interrupted a drug deal, that was the motive for killing, yes. The kids were clean, and their autopsy shows that," Bonnie says. The family says it has the autopsy, but would not share it with us.

"There is a real possibility David and Robin made a telephone call," says Danny Plott who was a Special Agent with the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigations and would eventually take over the case. He is currently a Police Chief in Colonial Beach, Virginia, but met us in Gloucester County to tell us what he remembers.

Plott thinks it is possible Robin may have called someone to Ragged Island to buy marijuana.

"Robin and this guy (the suspect) had a history, and that is substantiated, they may have met this guy and he was a known drug dealer to maybe buy a small amount of marijuana," Agent Plott says.

Plott says the suspect wanted to have sex with Robin, and may have forced Robin and David down to the water's edge at gun point.

"Robin is shot first, and David realizes what's going on, he pushes the guy or he tries to run, and as he runs he is shot in the shoulder, and when he was down, he too is shot in the back of the head. The bodies are then thrown in the water or left on the beach and the James River high tide takes them away," Plott says.

Plott also says there was evidence, "Robin had been sodomized or had anal sex, I believe she was raped, sperm was found and it was sent for testing. But because her remains had been in the water so long they were unable to test it. I don't know if more  testing has been done, but it was tested immediately after it was gotten, there was evidence she had been sodomized, yes."

We contacted the state police for comment.

"At this time there is no updated information available for dissemination, these are unsolved homicides that are being investigated continuously," says Sgt. Michelle Anaya.

Christina Pullen who is a spokesperson for the FBI emailed us, "Thanks for reaching out. The investigations are still very active but we do not have any updates for the community at this time."

Janette and Bonnie think whomever did killed David and Robin are already dead, or in prison and not talking. Looking back on the thirty year nightmare that keeps going.

"The human body can only," Bonnie says, she pauses to catch her emotions, "Excuse me. You can only accept so much shock, and then the mind shuts off."

Both families are seeking closure, but know it will never happen.

The Colonial Parkway Murders — 30 Years Ago

Rebecca Ann Dowski and Cathleen Thomas. Andy Fox spoke with a now retired Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Division about their murders in an Oct. 12, 2016 special report. (Click on the image for the story).

Investigators, loved ones seek answers

A collage of images in the Colonial Parkway Murders investigation. 10 On Your Side returned to the scene of the murders in August of 2016. Investigators and family members have been seeking answers for decades. (Click on the image to read the story).

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