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Police: Vanessa Pham’s Unknown Killer a ‘Threat’ to Public Safety

No Suspects 1 Month After Slaying of F.C. Woman, 19

PhamGraveA cousin of the 19-year-old Falls Church woman murdered last month described herself Monday as a “wreck” who’s been playing detective from her Norwalk, Conn. home while the stabbing of her relative, Vanessa Pham, goes unsolved by Fairfax County police.

No Suspects 1 Month After Slaying of F.C. Woman, 19

 

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FLOWERS ADORNED Vanessa Pham’s grave Tuesday at King David Cemetery in Falls Church. (Photo: Vicki Coe, News-Press)

 

A cousin of the 19-year-old Falls Church woman murdered last month described herself Monday as a “wreck” who’s been playing detective from her Norwalk, Conn. home while the stabbing of her relative, Vanessa Pham, goes unsolved by Fairfax County police.

 

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Vanessa Pham (Photo: Facebook)

Theories ranging from a slaying by a member of nearby homeless communities to the plotted jealous rage of a female acquaintance are being mulled by friends and a local private investigator. But Fairfax County Officer Don Gotthardt said Tuesday police are now convinced the killer is an unknown person, having already eliminated any potential suspects from Pham’s inner circle.

“I don’t want to scare the public, but we believe this is a whodunit,” he added.

Pham, a 2009 graduate of James Madison High School in Vienna, was found dead from multiple stab wounds to her upper body inside her overturned 2008, two-door white Toyota Scion. The car plummeted into a ditch on the south side of 8301 Arlington Boulevard near Williams Drive on Sunday, June 26 shortly after 3:34 p.m. Police responded to the area for report of a vehicle crash called in by a passerby who did not stop.

Monday marked the one-month anniversary of her death, a reminder too her murderer is still on the loose.

“There’s a public safety threat. We realize that and we can’t hide it — we don’t want to hide it. So we remind the public to remain vigilant and cautious,” said Gotthardt.

Footage pieced together from multiple parking lot surveillance tapes has been released since her death showing clips of Pham’s car entering and exiting the Fairfax Plaza parking lot on Gallows Road earlier that day, where she got her eyebrows waxed at JD Nail Salon alone shortly after 3 p.m.

Police reports state she was “under no distress at the time.” Pham updated her Facebook status from a mobile device at 3:09 p.m., announcing she’d received a summer job as a nanny.

However, when her car is seen on video exiting the parking lot around 3:24 p.m., the Scion hesitates to turn right despite having three chances to do so. Online members of the Vanessa Pham Memorial Fund Facebook page, a public group of Pham’s closest friends made to raise money to cover funeral costs, speculated in their comments that the killer is already in the car with Pham at that point.

boxHer slain body was found less than half a mile away 10 minutes after viewers can see Pham’s car eventually make the right-hand turn.

Police publicly urged drivers of the automobiles near Pham’s car when it’s seen exiting the parking lot in the video to come forward. Gotthardt said none of the drivers had contacted police as of a debriefing last week following investigators’ fourth canvas of the surrounding area.

The owner of a red truck seen turning left into the parking lot as Pham’s car is attempting to exit is especially being sought after since, Pham’s 28-year-old cousin, Tracy To, said “he or she would have had the best view into Vanessa’s car.”

A News-Press online reader from Silver Spring, Md. emailed this reporter a photo of a similar red truck they’d spotted near Annandale High School, saying they’d contacted police about it and had not heard back. Gotthardt said he was not aware of this tip.

“It’s a month out and we don’t have anything. I can’t rest until this is figured out,” said To, who recently returned to Connecticut after traveling to F.C. to handle Pham’s funeral arrangements and her burial at King David Cemetery.

To fears police “released the tape because that’s all they have,” adding that she does feel detectives are doing all they can. Gotthardt confirmed there is no video coverage of Pham parking, exiting or reentering her vehicle, and that the less than three minutes of surveillance video released to the public earlier this month is all the footage there is.

“Certainly we’d want it out there if we did have it because it’d be another way of bringing the community in for assistance,” he added.

Without much to go on, To and other family members struggle to make sense of it all.

“I know it’s not easy. I know this isn’t an episode of ‘CSI’ and it’s going to be solved within the hour, but I just want people to work on the case as if it’s their own family member. Does that mean [police] could do better? Maybe,” To said.

More than 6,000 fliers with Pham’s photo have been distributed by police in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean in and around the area between Fairfax Plaza and Yorktown Shopping Center, along with surrounding neighborhoods. The Eden Center, an Asian market of shops and restaurants in the City of F.C., has also been canvassed.

Former Montgomery County, Md. homicide detective-turned-private investigator, Rich Fallin, weighed in on the case, saying there’s a “high probability the killer was a female” because Pham’s many stab wounds “indicate rage” a male who could overpower her wouldn’t have required.

“It’s too obvious. Stabbing someone that many times is overkill,” added Fallin, who said he’d be looking closely at Pham’s female friends and acquaintances if he were police. “Not so much her closest friends, but maybe a friend of a friend.”

Fallin went on to say Pham’s killer was also most likely at the funeral and “probably showing herself to be distraught, very upset, even to the point where people around her may have thought, ‘Wow, she’s taking this hard.’”

Though he theorized this to be an “an unorganized murder,” Fallin believes the killer followed Pham to Fairfax Plaza before involving his or herself in a confrontation gone wrong inside Pham’s car.

“If we’ve got a guy out there who’s a serial killer, he’s going to think smart and because of that, this would have been much better planned. The person may have brought a knife so that he or she could just use it as a threat and got carried away,” he said.

But To, who’s spoken to Fallin over the phone, said he shouldn’t be guessing when he doesn’t have all the facts.

To said the killer would have to have known Pham was headed to Fairfax Plaza, and that no phone records indicate Pham communicated her plans. Earlier that day, Pham visited a friend’s house around 2:45 p.m. to find her friend not home. Pham spoke briefly with the friend’s parents before waving goodbye, To said.

Detectives believe she may have traveled along Route 50 or Route 29, between the areas of Nutley Street and Gallows Road.

 

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(News-Press Graphic)

 

“I know she got a phone call saying she’d got the nanny job she applied for, which is where the Facebook status comes in. Obviously, at that time she was happy and not in any danger. I find it hard to believe someone knew she was in the nail salon alone and where she parked her car,” said To. “It pisses me off there aren’t any better videos.”

Gotthardt was told Tuesday by detectives working the case that they were waiting on results from the state lab “on any evidence that had been submitted.”

Remembering Pham most for being a talented girl who was strong, funny and anything but a wallflower, To and others are waiting for answers.

“I don’t want this to be a JonBenét Ramsey-type case, where no one ever knows what happened,” she said. “That would make me a very angry and bitter person for the rest of my life. I need to have closure.”

 

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