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12-Year-Old Investigation Bears Fruit; 7 Arrested in ’80 Slayings

April 17, 1992 GMT

MARLINTON, W.Va. (AP) _ Renewed investigation of the 1980 slayings of two hitchhikers en route to a counterculture gathering has culminated with murder charges against seven men, a prosecutor said Friday.

″It was pretty stagnant for a period of time,″ said Pocahontas County Prosecutor Walt Weiford. However, ″it’s not been out of anyone’s mind or thoughts in 12 years.″

But he declined to discuss possible motive in the slayings of Nancy Santomero, 19, of Huntington, N.Y., and Vicki Durian, 26, of Wellman, Iowa.

They were found shot to death June 25, 1980, in a field near Droop Mountain Battlefield in southeastern West Virginia. The Civil War battlefield is about 70 miles east of Charleston in remote, wooded hill country.

The two friends had been hitchhiking from Arizona to visit Santomero’s family in New York and planned to stop in West Virginia to attend a Rainbow Family Gathering.

The loose-knit Rainbow Family had been holding a national meeting in the Monongahela National Forest when the women were killed. The back-to-nature group gathers periodically in secluded areas for several weeks.

Both women were shot several times at close range. Neither was sexually assaulted, according to the coroner’s report.

Weiford refused to discuss possible motives or evidence.

″I’m being very cautious. My first priority is prosecuting this case, not taking to the media,″ Weiford said. ″These won’t be easy cases but we’re intent on making every effort to secure convictions.″

He said the arrests were ″the result of an intensive investigation conducted by Sheriff Jerry Dale and Sgt. Robert A. Alkire of the state police. They worked a lot of long and hard hours.″

Dale said the case was reopened six months ago after authorities learned that a convicted serial killer who had admitted the Rainbow killings had read about them in a magazine. Dale declined to name the killer.

″We found that he in fact wasn’t responsible,″ he said. ″At the same time, some other leads came up.

″People got older and became less intimidated and frightened about the subjects who were responsible for the murders. Information just started coming our way.″

According to published reports in 1980, a Rainbow Family spokesman said he told police that local residents had shot at the group’s campsite several times before the slayings. Nobody was injured in those shootings.

The seven men, who all were living in Pocahontas County at the time of the slayings, were charged with two counts of first-degree murder, authorities said. Additional arrests are possible, Weiford said.

Jacob Wilson Beard, 46, of Crescent City, Fla., was arrested early Friday at home by sheriff’s deputies, who were notified of a warrant Thursday night by officials in Marlinton. He was held without bail.

Richard Fowler of Gordonsville, Va., also was arrested Friday, Weiford said. Fowler was in the Central Virginia Regional Jail in Orange, Va., Friday without bail, said records supervisor Wanda Davis.

A warrant charging William O. McCoy, 36, an inmate at Southern Desert Correctional Center in Indian Springs, Nev., was served Friday, Weiford said. McCoy is serving time for a drunken driving conviction, jail officials said.

Johnny Washington Lewis, 59, of the rural Droop Mountain area, was charged Thursday, Weiford said.

Charged Wednesday were Gerald Brown, 50, of the Droop Mountain area; Winters Charles Walton, 42, of Hillsboro; and Arnold B. Cutlip, 54, of Lobelia, Weiford said. Droop Mountain and the two towns are all in Pocahontas County.

The four West Virginia men were being held Friday in Pocahontas County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.