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50 years after Virginia girl Karen Spencer's murder, clues implicate dead boyfriend

Karen Spencer had massive blows on her upper body. The first suspect was her rumored boyfriend, Edward, who denied any involvement but was later found guilty
Karen Spencer, James Edward (Fairfax County Police Department)
Karen Spencer, James Edward (Fairfax County Police Department)

FAIRFAX COUNTY, VIRGINIA: Karen Spencer, 12, was murdered almost 50 years ago in the Huntington area of Fairfax County and detectives from the Major Crimes Bureau’s Cold Case Squad of the Mount Vernon Police District have only been able to solve the mystery now.

On December 2, 1972, Karen had gone to a friend's place to borrow a book and went missing until three days later when the law enforcement found her body in the woods of what was known as Fifer’s Field. Joe Delauder, 11 at the time, was one of those boys. He says it was his friend who first made the gruesome discovery. The site is now the Huntington Metro station.

An autopsy showed Karen died from repeated blunt force trauma to the upper body. Spencer lived in Belleview Avenue and attended Hayfield Secondary School. She and other neighborhood children often spent time in Fifer’s Field and at the nearby Fairhaven 7-Eleven.

 Her former boyfriend James Edward ‘Jimmy’, who was 16-years-old at the time, was asked about his involvement in the murder in 1972, but he denied it. He died on August 23, 1997. Later in 2018, two of Jimmy’s acquaintances confessed that Edwards told them he had killed a girl when he was a teenager and buried her in a field. Police say information they received at the time indicated the pair may have broken up prior to Karen's death. So how did law enforcement finally solve the 50-year-old cold case?

For nearly five decades the police suspected several persons of interest. Unable to solve the cold case, the Mt. Vernon Police District decided to seek the help of the public to solve the case. They urged people who knew Spencer or Edward to come forward if they had any information in the case and believed that with the new technology and evidence they would be able to solve the murder. 

In summer 2018, the Fairfax County Police Department received a confession from Edward’s acquaintances stating that “Jimmy confided in them he killed a girl and buried her in a field when he was a teenager.” Over the last year and a half, detectives received additional tips that supported this information and other previous investigative findings that implicated Edwards. Other persons of interest were disqualified based on exculpatory information and in December 2019, the Fairfax County Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney determined that sufficient evidence would have existed to support the arrest and prosecution of Edwards.

“For nearly five decades, Major Crimes detectives remained steadfast in their pursuit of justice for 12-year-old Karen Lee Spencer and her family”, stated Major Ed O’Carroll, Bureau Commander, Major Crimes in their official Fairfax county police department site. “I am proud of the work of Detective Flanagan and all detectives who contributed to the closure of this case. The fact that they never gave up combined with our community’s willingness to come forward with information were critical in solving this case.”