Suspected serial killer wants to plead guilty in 1987 Fairfax Co. killing

A Virginia man serving life in prison for the 2002 strangulation death of his ex-girlfriend has told a Fairfax County judge he wants to plead guilty to a 1987 Herndon killing.

Charles Helem told Circuit Court Judge Tania Saylor he “wanted to plead guilty 90 days ago” in the death of 37-year-old Eige Sober-Adler, so he “can get this over with and move to the other jurisdiction.”

When Helem was indicted in Sober-Adler’s death in January 2022, police and prosecutors from Fairfax County and Prince George’s County, Maryland, said Helem had admitted killing Sober-Adler, as well as 19-year-old Jennifer Landry in Maryland in 2002.

Helem had filed a motion asking the judge to replace his attorney, public defender Bryan Kennedy, saying his lawyer had been difficult to contact.

Helem is serving a life sentence for strangling Patricia Bentley, 37, in her town house in Chantilly, in Fairfax County, in 2002.

He made it clear his goal is to be moved out of Red Onion State Prison, in Pound, Virginia, which is currently home to Beltway sniper Lee Boyd Malvo and Jesse Leroy Matthew, who pleaded guilty to the murders of Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington in Charlottesville.

Helem asked the judge to have him housed at Sussex State Prison, in Waverly, Virginia, which is a slightly lower security level than Red Onion. Helem said that “would make it easier for my lawyer to see me, because he’d be closer to me.”

”I’m not on ‘attorney time.’ I’m on ‘Red Onion time,’” Helem told the judge.

Fairfax County sheriff’s deputies flanked Helem as he sat at the defense table with Kennedy, wearing ankle and wrist chains.

Helem asked the judge to forward communications he had received from prosecutors before admitting to killing both women.

”It wasn’t exactly a plea agreement. It was an agreement that I’d cooperate,” Helem told Saylor. “I want to make sure they hold up their end of the agreement.”

Saylor said she would assign a new defense attorney, and relay Helem’s wishes to expedite the case.

”I’m tired of sitting in Red Onion,” Helem continued. “I want this case wrapped up in 30 to 45 days.”

””I could cost the state a lot of money” if the case related to Sober-Adler went to trial. “But I know they’re not going to move me out of this state until I get this resolved.”

Saylor said she couldn’t make any promises or decisions until a new defense attorney is named.

Despite Helem’s desire to replace him, Kennedy told the judge, “if you find any attorney who might be hesitant, I’d be glad to tell them why they should” represent Helem. Saylor told the public defender she appreciated his gesture.

After Helem was taken from the courtroom, Saylor told prosecutor Ashleigh Sutton she expected to hold hearings before Helem’s scheduled January trial date, in hopes of moving the case forward, “although I’m aware of the numerous difficulties in representing and communicating” with Helem.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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