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Severance named ‘primary focus’ of murder investigations

Three witnesses took the stand, giving testimony in the hearing at the Loudoun County Courthouse. (WTOP/Megan Cloherty)

LEESBURG, Va. — Alexandria police have narrowed the focus of their triple homicide investigation into the killings of Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato to Charles Severance.

So far, police have been hesitant to link Severance to the investigation. But Wednesday evening, investigators released a statement naming Severance as their primary focus.

Meanwhile, Severance will go before a grand jury in Loudoun County on July 15 on unrelated gun charges.

Severance’s ex-girlfriend Linda Robra provided the testimony Judge Deborah Welsh needed to make her decision finding probable cause that Severance was rightly charged as a felon in possession of a firearm.

Dressed in a leather collarless suit jacket and dark-rimmed glasses, Robra testified Wednesday the man she referred to as “Charlie” lived in her Ashburn, Va., home for three years from March 2011 until March 2014.

During the hearing, Robra told Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman Severance suggested she buy two .22-caliber revolvers for protection even though she already owned two .38-caliber revolvers.

“Charles showed me a picture of the gun online and told me it would be a good gun for me because it’s small and I had small hands,” Robra said in court.

She bought the first gun in May 2012, the second in August 2012. Robra testified she never told police she purchased the guns for Severance, in contrast to what was written in the police warrant.

However, it was the fact that Severance taught her how to load and clean the guns, and knew where they were stored inside her home, that led the judge to find probable cause and let the charge against him stand.

Robra testified Severance was known to leave to go camping for several months at a time, and “sometimes” stayed at his parents home in Fairfax, Virginia.

On March 8, Robra says Alexandria Police contacted her by leaving a business card on her car windshield. She says she passed it on to Severance, asking him to call them and presumably end any confusion she assumed they had about his involvement in the three unsolved murders of Nancy Dunning, Ron Kirby and Ruthanne Lodato.

She says he moved out two days later. On March 12, Alexandria detectives arrived at her home with a search warrant.

Det. Sean Casey testified his department searched Robra’s home. They found her two .38-caliber revolvers but the .22-caliber guns were missing. They also found shell casings in her garage, but Robra says she never fired the guns.

Severance’s defense attorney Ed Ungvarsky asked Robra about marijuana officers found inside the home. She says she was offered immunity from any drug possession charges by investigators if she agreed to help them in the investigation.

After he was located and arrested in Wheeling, West Virginia., the FBI searched Severance’s vehicle which was in police custody. FBI special agent Erin Sheridan, who oversaw the search, testified they didn’t find any weapons but did find a gun cleaning kit.

In closing, Plowman asked the court rhetorically why a felon would need a gun cleaning kit in his car if he had no gun.

Det. Casey testified police have not found any concrete link — neither a DNA nor a fingerprint match — from Severance to any of the bullet casing fragments in evidence from the Ruthanne Lodato crime scene.

David Mudd, who lives doors away from the Lodato shooting, says he is still glad Severance has been made the primary focus of the investigation.

“It has added to some relief in the neighborhood,” Mudd says. “People are just not as afraid as they were. Before, it was just a total unknown.”

WTOP’s Nick Iannelli contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP on Twitter and WTOP on Facebook.

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