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Two prominent murder victims vex Alexandria police

Wednesday - 12/4/2013, 4:27pm  ET

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Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook says his department has no reason to believe Dunning and Kirby's murders were related. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

ALEXANDRIA -- Two prominent citizens found dead -- their deaths separated by a decade -- but both are mysteries and remain under active investigation by Alexandria police.

Who killed Nancy Dunning on Dec. 5, 2003? Police remain baffled. The 56-year-old realtor and wife of then-Alexandria sheriff, James Dunning, was found dead in her home in the Del Ray neighborhood. She was believed to be killed in the middle of the day.

Fast forward 10 years later. Regional transportation planner, 69-year-old Ronald Kirby, was found dead in his home in the Rosemont area, about a mile from the Dunning home. He was believed to be killed in the middle of the day. Could the two cases be connected?

"My detectives have looked at that," says Earl Cook, Alexandria police chief. "We have no reason today to think those two cases are connected but we don't close the door on those possibilities."

Despite the span of time, Cook insists the Dunning murder remains a very active investigation.

"I promised to the Dunning family, the survivors, that we would never put this case on the shelf, it would not become what is traditionally known as a cold case," Cook says.

Dunning's husband James died last year at the age of 62.

"Jim Dunning's death did not resolve this case," Cook says, "naturally if you have a homicide you look at all people including family members."

"We are looking for any leads or any information that would help us solve the case," Cook says.

Police still have no suspect in the 3-week-old killing of Ronald Kirby, who was director of transportation planning at the Metropolitan Council of Governments. "The Kirby investigation is fairly fresh," Cook says, "we are working diligently around the clock," he says.

With a population of just 146,000, Alexandria has few homicides, so the unsolved murders of two prominent citizens seem to stand out. But Cook dismisses any suggestion that his department is not capable of solving the high-profile mysteries.

"I don't necessarily think that volume equals competence," Cook says. He points out that his detectives undergo the same training as detectives working for other police departments in the region.

"Most homicides are investigated and resolved by local police officers and trained detectives," Cook adds.

And, Cook says he has not hesitated to summon support, when needed, from both the FBI and Virginia State Police in both investigations.

Cook declines to say that progress is being made in the Kirby case, "Progress, for us, is normally determined by whether we're close to resolving it and we're too early in the case to call that," Cook says.

Are police optimistic they can solve the mystery of the 2003 murder of Nancy Dunning?

"We tell each other we're going get there, OK? However long it takes, " Cook says.

There is a $100,000 reward offered for information leading to an arrest and indictment in the Dunning case.

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