Alex Glanz, 6, always called his mother as soon as he got home from school.
But on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 3, 1980, the first-grader at Highland Springs Elementary School didn't call as usual after the school bus dropped him off around 3 p.m.
Diane Glanz, a single mom, got home from her job about 5, right around sunset. She found Alex's keys still in the front door, his school books lying just inside the threshold.
She figured that he'd gone looking for his missing pet cat. But after an hour, as night settled in with no sign of her son, Glanz called police. It was around 6, and it was already dark outside.
A desperate, around-the-clock manhunt followed. Henrico County police investigators quickly went from thinking that Alex had wandered off and gotten lost to realizing that he'd been abducted.
The search ended tragically three days later in a patch of woods in nearby Hanover County. A hunter found Alex's lifeless body face down in the woods, his hands and feet bound with rope.
For 26 years, the final chapter of Alex's life has remained a mystery. But this week authorities are taking the first steps in closing the case.
Hanover County Commonwealth's Attorney Kirby Porter was set to take the case before a grand jury yesterday, Sept. 19, seeking a murder indictment against John Bradley Crawford, 45.
Crawford, an inmate at Brunswick Correctional Center, has been serving a 50-year prison sentence for the May 1981 abductions of two young Hanover County sisters. Unless he is indicted, Crawford will be released on mandatory parole Oct. 13.
Many people who have followed Alex's case thought there would never be an arrest in his murder, though Crawford has been the primary suspect in the case since the early 1980s. But Porter, the cold-case detectives in Henrico County and investigators in Hanover reopened the case at the urging of the original investigators in 2003.
After interviewing dozens of witnesses again and reanalyzing evidence — blood, hair, fiber and ropes — police say they hope to bring justice to Alex and his mother nearly three decades since that tragic day.
Diane Glanz, who still lives in the area, declined to be interviewed for this story. But in a 2004 interview with WWBT-TV 12, she said: "Time doesn't make it any easier. But not having the case solved makes it feel like there's a feeling of hanging, just waiting for it to be closed."
Porter's on a mission to see that closure happens. "This is a very heart-wrenching case," he says. "This was a very young, happy, healthy, vibrant child. To think that his death would go unaccounted for or unpunished is just unconscionable or unthinkable to me. And we are going to do everything in our power to see that the responsible party is brought to justice."
In 2003 veteran Henrico Police investigator Robert Hewlett was transferred from the county's homicide unit to its two-detective cold-case unit, which investigates unsolved murders. He and his new partner, Doug Sullivan, began a review of those cases, looking for murders with a high probability of yielding arrests after reinvestigation.
The Alex Glanz case rose to the top.
It was also a case with which Hewlett and Sullivan were intimately familiar.
When Alex was reported missing in December 1980, Hewlett and Sullivan were both young patrolmen assigned to the sizeable search team of 100 police officers and 200 volunteers who scoured the area for miles around Alex's Highland Springs home at 330 Oakleys Lane (now Yates Lane) off Nine Mile Road.
While helicopters searched from overhead, police divers combed creeks and the nearby Chickahominy Swamp, and bloodhounds searched the woods and fields for any sign of the boy. People phoned in tips from all over. Overlapping police shifts searched 24 hours a day for three days, carrying a flier with basic details like the clothes Alex was last seen wearing: a blue striped turtleneck shirt, blue jeans and a dark blue New York Yankees jacket.
"I remember us going into the neighborhood and canvassing the neighborhood by knocking on every door," Hewlett says. "It was very, very cold [outdoors]," he recalls, and the light blouselike jackets police were issued had to be augmented with long underwear.
Before long, a neighbor on Oakleys Lane, now deceased, told police that he had seen a suspicious red-and-black pickup truck, some kind of work truck, parked in the driveway of the Glanz home the day Alex had disappeared.
After the first 24 hours of fruitlessly searching the area, Hewlett says, police investigators began to believe Alex had been abducted. "The area was somewhat rural," he says. "It wasn't as populated as it is now. We had a lot of small patches of woods that needed to be searched, and the frustration of not being able to find anything, any trace of young Alex, was disheartening."
It was particularly tough on officers like Hewlett, who had young children of their own waiting for them at home. (This included the father of Richard Foster, the author of this article. Retired Deputy Police Chief Roger L. Foster was a police captain in 1980 and one of the leaders of the search for Alex Glanz.)
At 9 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, Amon V. Stinson Jr., a 39-year-old woodcutter who lived on Cold Harbor Road in Hanover County, had just left home in his pickup truck with his dogs and some friends to begin a day of deer hunting. At the top of a hill on Cold Harbor Road, he brought the vehicle to a sudden halt at the pitiful sight he saw about 20 yards off Cold Harbor Road, in a field between state Routes 619 and 630.
Two and a half days after his mother found his keys in the front door, Alex's thin, 3-foot-9, 43-pound body was lying face down. He was wearing only white briefs and tube socks, his tiny wrists and ankles bound tightly with rope, a clump of grass grasped in one of his small hands.
Stinson immediately realized it was the missing boy from Henrico. After walking into the field to make sure he was seeing what he thought he was seeing, the shaken Stinson drove home and called the police. It was several hours before police allowed him to leave.
Stinson recalls that he was wearing an insulated hunting suit because "it won't no warm day. It won't no warm night [the night before], either."
In the nights before Alex's body was found, overnight temperatures had plunged as low as 28 degrees. Dr. Marcella Fierro, Virginia's chief medical examiner, found that Alex had died of exposure. He had also been beaten and sexually assaulted. (Because of the indirect method of Alex's death, prosecutors will probably not seek the death penalty against Crawford, but he could face life in prison without parole.)
These days, Stinson, now 65 and still living on Cold Harbor Road, says he goes deer hunting "very little. I'm scared of going into the woods because I don't know what I'm going to find. I seen stuff that day I ain't never seen before."
Hewlett, who lived just a few miles from the Glanz home, was off-duty the day Alex's body was found. At the time, his son was also 6.
"It really hit home to know that that child was not only taken away from his mother, but that he was her only child, and he was left out in the freezing cold and subsequently died of exposure," Hewlett says.
"People who lived in that area were a little bit uneasy," he recalls. "Most of the parents kept the kids pretty close to home. We had no real knowledge of what was going on, whether there was some serial killer out there, whether there was a reason to panic and not let the children go outside for any reason."
But behind closed doors, Henrico Police investigators, cooperating with the Hanover County Sheriff's Office, thought they might be getting closer to an answer.
Looking at various workmen who'd done jobs at Diane Glanz's rented home, they learned that Mechanicsville-based Crawford Exterminating had an annual extermination contract with Glanz's landlord. They zeroed in on Crawford.
The 20-year-old son of the couple who owned the business, John Bradley Crawford, had been arrested in March 1980 and charged with sodomizing a 4-year-old boy. The boy told his mother that Crawford had lured him under their house when he was there to exterminate. The charge was dismissed, though a prosecutor said Crawford had failed a lie-detector test related to the alleged sexual assault. The 1979 graduate of Lee-Davis High School had also been charged in 1980 with possession of narcotics with intent to distribute, but was not convicted on those charges, court records reveal.
Crawford quickly became the lead suspect in the case in May 1981 after an abduction involving another local family made headlines.
On Monday afternoon, May 18, 1981, Crawford pulled his white pickup truck up to a home in Hanover's Studley area and went to the door of the house, where sisters Kelly June Sutton, 10, and her older sister, Lea Ann, 15, were home alone.
"I believe he was claiming [to have] a disabled vehicle or something along those lines," says Sgt. Drew Darby with the Hanover County Sheriff's Office. "He asked to use the phone. Once he gained entry, he had the upper hand, and at that point, he abducted both girls."
A little while later, two young boys playing in nearby woods came across a frantic Kelly Sutton, tied with rope to a tree, Darby says. She told them she and her sister had been abducted and that their abductor had taken her older sister deeper into the woods. The boys untied her, but Kelly refused to leave without Lea Ann. And then, unexpectedly, Darby says, "Crawford came out of the woods … out of nowhere, and the boys took off running, but obviously [Kelly] wasn't going to leave her sister, and Crawford ended up catching her [again]."
Crawford put the girls back in the pickup truck and drove them to a different wooded location, about five miles away, near the border of Hanover and Henrico.
Meanwhile, the boys went home and told their parents what they'd witnessed. The parents called the sheriff's office. Deputies were already at the Sutton home, investigating their disappearance.
In a scene reminiscent of the search for Alex, for nearly 24 hours police and volunteers looked for the Sutton girls and the mysterious man in a white pickup. This search, however, had a much happier conclusion.
Late Tuesday afternoon May 19, 1981, Hanover Sheriff's Deputy R.G. Schneider (now a sergeant), who knew Crawford, recognized him coming out of woods in a neighborhood that wasn't his. Schneider decided to investigate.
The deputy found both Sutton girls alive, each tied to separate trees. They were both wet because it had rained overnight. Kelly, the 10-year-old, was standing in a shallow pool of water. Both were transported to a hospital, where they were treated for mild hypothermia. They also suffered a few cuts and bruises. Crawford, who was arrested later at his home, was initially charged with abduction with intent to defile.
To the best of his knowledge, Darby says, neither Sutton sister was sexually assaulted by Crawford. Investigators believe that the young boys who came across Kelly in the woods may have interrupted Crawford as he was preparing to assault Lee Ann Sutton.
Their story made the front page of the May 20 Richmond Times-Dispatch. It was reported that the girls comforted their mother, saying: "Don't cry, Mommy. We're all right."
Crawford pleaded guilty to abducting the Sutton sisters and was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The Sutton sisters, now 36 and 41, declined to be interviewed for this story, but they and their parents have testified before the parole board many times, arguing against Crawford's early parole, sources say. Porter, the Hanover prosecutor, has done the same since taking office in 2000.
As for the red-and-black pickup truck seen at the Glanz home, Hewlett says the original investigators in the case, Henrico's Jim Dorton and Hanover's Howard Wray, both now retired, felt that the truck matched the description of one of the pickup trucks that Crawford Exterminating had owned, but that it hadn't been seen since shortly after Alex's body was found. Hewlett also says he and other investigators believe that Crawford may have approached other children while driving the extermination truck.
Detectives came to develop the theory that Alex was dropped off in the woods about 250 yards off Cold Harbor Road, alive and tied up, sometime in the 36 hours before Stinson, the woodcutter, found his body. They think Alex hopped or crawled to where he ended up, 20 yards from the road. Stinson thinks Alex's socks looked too clean to have hopped that far, though. Stinson also thinks Alex was dropped in the field the night before he found his body because he would have seen Alex if he'd been there days earlier.
The similarities between the Glanz case and the Sutton sisters' case "were so outstanding," Hewlett says, "that there was no doubt in my mind [as a cold-case investigator] and in [original Henrico investigator] Jim Dorton's mind that John Bradley Crawford was the person who had probably assaulted and killed Alex Glanz. … I feel pretty confident we have the person who killed Alex Glanz."
So why weren't abduction and murder charges brought against Crawford for the Glanz case in the 1980s?
Porter says he's heard that rumors in the 1980s chalked it up to Crawford's mother being a close relative of the incumbent sheriff, who is now deceased. But Porter discounts the rumors, pointing to the fact that Hanover sheriff's deputies arrested Crawford for several crimes in the 1980s, and that Crawford was convicted for the abduction of the Sutton sisters.
The other rumor that's circulated is that authorities decided that Crawford had already been sentenced to 50 years for abducting the Sutton sisters and therefore didn't pose a threat. Porter doesn't know, however, why charges in the Glanz case weren't pursued against Crawford in the '80s.
Hewlett recalls that Dorton, the original Henrico investigator, "became very upset [in the 1980s] when he learned that Hanover was not going to seek prosecution [in the Glanz case]." (The Hanover County commonwealth's attorney then was Porter's predecessor, longtime prosecutor Ed Vaughn, who did not return calls for this story.)
Dorton was upset, Hewlett says, "because he felt then, as I feel today, that this was a case that should have been prosecuted back then. And the evidence has not changed that dramatically over the years, just that the willingness to get out and dot the i's and cross the t's is here now where it wasn't there in previous years."
Frustration over that situation stayed with Dorton for decades.
In 2000, Dorton and his retired Hanover counterpart, Wray, approached Porter, the new Hanover prosecutor, asking him to look at the Alex Glanz case. (Dorton, whom Hewlett describes as "old school," doesn't like talking to news media, Hewlett says, and so didn't return interview requests for this story, despite his passion for Alex's case. "But he's very ecstatic about this case coming to a conclusion," Hewlett says.)
Around the same time, Dorton also contacted Henrico's cold-case unit. Henrico detectives, in turn, told Sgt. Darby in Hanover about the case, and he started working on it in 2001.
As Porter looked at the case and learned more about it, he and Hanover authorities discovered in 2003 that Hewlett, newly assigned to Henrico's cold-case unit, was also taking a second look at the case. Hanover and Henrico started working together to build a case against Crawford.
Henrico and Hanover investigators have interviewed "probably over 50 witnesses" in the last few years, Hewlett says. With Dorton they've walked the area where Alex was found. They've talked to behavioral analysis experts from the FBI. They've traveled to the New Jersey State Police crime lab to conduct mitochondrial DNA tests.
"We've interviewed rope specialists and experts to determine whether those ropes were tied similarly" in the Glanz and Sutton cases. They've also looked at identifying chemicals found on the ropes and victims as pesticide chemicals possibly used by Crawford Extermination. "Unfortunately, I can't give you the results" of any of those tests because the case is still pending, Hewlett says.
They've also interviewed Crawford and his family, who all deny any involvement in, or knowledge of, the killing of Alex Glanz. "The parents have spoken to the police on numerous occasions and have denied that their son had any involvement in the disappearance of Alex Glanz," Hewlett says.
As for John Crawford himself, Hewlett says, "he has been very standoffish [and] somewhat in denial" during interviews in prison. "There were certain aspects of the interview that he agreed with us about … but he never confirmed the assertions" police made about his possible connection to Alex Glanz's death, Hewlett says. "He's denied that he was involved."
For the last few years, Hewlett and his partner, Sullivan, have both kept a photo of Alex on their desks, alongside other personal items and family photos.
"It's a case that's never been forgotten over the years by any of the officers involved in it," says Darby, the Hanover investigator. "It's been a long five years [since the case was reopened], but it's been amazing to actually find all the people we have found from the original case."
Some might question why it took so long for the present-day investigators to bring charges against Crawford, but Hewlett says they've been taking the time to assemble the strongest case they possibly can, all the while being aware that Crawford's mandatory release from prison was imminent and getting ever nearer.
"We've always been mindful of the fact that his release date was in 2006," Porter says. And he and police are also concerned that Crawford could commit future offenses, he says: "I don't think you can reform a predator."
If Alex Glanz had lived, he would be 32 today. S