In Harrisonburg court, ‘shopping cart killer’ case goes to grand jury; still no charges in Fairfax Co., DC

After watching video of Beth Redmon and Tonita Smith each walk into Room 336 of the Howard Johnson motel in Harrisonburg with Anthony Eugene Robinson, and watching him leave with bodies wrapped in sheets in a shopping cart, a judge Monday found probable cause for 1st degree murder counts. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

A judge in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Monday ruled there is probable cause to charge Anthony Eugene Robinson with first-degree murder, and will refer the case to a grand jury.

The judge decided to refer the charges after seeing video evidence of Beth Redmon and Tonita Smith each walking into Room 336 of the Howard Johnson motel in Harrisonburg with Robinson, then Robinson in each case later leaving the room before dawn and retrieving a shopping cart. Soon after, video also shows him dragging the cart out of the room, with body-sized items wrapped in sheets.

Neal Augenstein talks about the case and what’s next on the DMV Download podcast:

Both of the women’s bodies were found in Harrisonburg shortly before Robinson’s arrest on Nov. 23, 2021. He has been in custody since his arrest.

Robinson was living at the motel as part of his compensation for working in a nearby chicken processing plant.

He’s charged with two counts of first-degree murder and disposing of the bodies of Redmon, 54, of Harrisonburg, and Smith, 39, of Charlottesville. Robinson is also suspected in two deaths in Fairfax County and one in D.C., but hasn’t been charged.

‘Circumstantial evidence is very strong’

Harrisonburg police detective Brooke Wetherell testified that she saw the two bodies lying in a tree line within sight of the motel. The autopsies showed Redmon was found with a plastic bag over her head, and Smith’s arms were tied behind her back with “chunky black yarn.” A prosecutor showed the judge a photo and receipt of Robinson in the nearby Walmart, buying black yarn.

As WTOP reported in May, medical examiners were unable to determine how Redmon and Smith were murdered.

The Charlottesville police called the Harrisonburg police to say that the cellphone of Smith, whose disappearance they were investigating, was pinging at the motel, It was found in Room 336.

Wetherell testified that Redmon’s last phone call was to Robinson. That’s when police looked at the security video from the hotel.

When he was arrested, Robinson told the police that each of the women had overdosed on a white pill. He said he dumped the bodies because he didn’t know what else to do.

Robinson’s attorney, Louis Nagy, suggested the killings weren’t premeditated, because at least one woman was seen walking into Room 336 and leaving four hours later, unharmed. Nagy suggested Redmon’s charge be downgraded to second-degree murder.

Prosecutor Marsha Garsh disagreed: “He purposely secreted their bodies and let them rot,” she said. “He lured the women there. This was clearly a sado-sexual killing. He didn’t call 911; he used them for what he wanted, then left them rotting with the maggots.”

Judge John Stanley Hart, the chief judge of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham General District Court, said, “I’ve considered all the evidence. This appears to be a methodical plan to kill. The circumstantial evidence is very strong.”

As Robinson was led out of the courtroom, a woman called out “Love you Ant.” He turned and looked as he was led away.

The grand jury will consider whether to indict Robinson next Monday, Seot. 19.

Fairfax County and DC

Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis last year called Robinson a serial killer who met women at hotels, killed them and transported their bodies in a shopping cart before dumping their remains in vacant lots.

Last December, Davis dubbed Robinson the “shopping cart killer” in a news conference, after two sets of human remains were discovered in Fairfax County. The remains were found in a large plastic container, with a shopping cart nearby, near a motel called the Moon Inn in a wooded area near U.S. Route 1 in the Huntington area of Alexandria.

The remains were identified as Cheyenne Brown, 29, of D.C., and Stephanie Harrison, 48, of Redding, California. Robinson has not been charged in either Fairfax County death.

He is also suspected, but not charged, in the death of 40-year-old Sonya Champ, of D.C., whose body was found in a shopping cart in Northeast D.C. in September 2021.

Sources familiar with the case told WTOP that based on available information and evidence, prosecutors believe the cases against Robinson in Harrisonburg are the strongest, and he will face trial there before charges are lodged in Virginia and D.C.

Fairfax County investigators have said they believe Robinson met most of his victims on dating apps. They have interviewed women who met Robinson and continue to seek others while coordinating with other jurisdictions, to determine whether previous unsolved murders or missing persons cases might be linked.

Police have also been investigating the circumstances of a woman who died in 2018, while romantically involved with Robinson.

Nagy has declined to comment. He has asked the court to impose a gag order, and to prevent police from using the serial killer moniker.

Editor’s note: Corrects specifics described in the victims’ autopsies. 

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported from Harrisonburg.

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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