FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (FOX 5 DC) — Karen Spencer was just 12 years old when she was brutally murdered in Fairfax County, and nearly 50 years later, the case remains unsolved.
Despite the time that’s passed, police in Fairfax County still believe they can close the case with the right evidence and information.
The year was 1972 in the Fairhaven section of the county, the area where the Huntington Metro Station is located today. Back then, there was a large number of kids and teens living in the neighborhood, and a familiar landmark was Fifer’s Field, a big open space where young people often hung out.
On December 2, 1972, the annual carnival held in the field had just left town, and a group of boys was looking around at what was left behind. What they found was Karen’s body.
Joe Delauder, 11 at the time, was one of those boys. He says it was his friend who first made the gruesome discovery.
“He thought it was just a mannequin,” said Delauder, “He’s like, ‘I don’t really know what it is. I said, ‘You know what? Let me go get my father.’”
When his father realized what the boys had found, he told them to run to the nearest police station.
Delauder said what happened is something that’s always stayed with him,
“It was emotional and it was devastating,” Delauder said.
Police say Karen had been beaten and died from blunt force trauma to her upper body.
But FOX 5 has learned what happened to Karen was far worse. Police requested specific details of the crime not be revealed because those are details only certain people would know, like the killer and those the killer may have confided in.
“I was stunned at first,” said Thomas Spencer, Karen’s older brother.
He still lives in the family home where Karen was last seen three days before her body was found. Police say Karen’s family never reported her missing. Still, Spencer says his mother was beside herself when his sister disappeared.
“I heard that she stayed up every night, all night,” Spencer said. “And when it was found out on Saturday that they found her, a priest came and gave her sedatives and blessings.”
In the weeks that followed, police gave polygraph tests to some young people in the neighborhood and identified several persons of interest.
One of them was Karen’s 16-year-old boyfriend, James “Jimmy” Edwards. Police say information they received at the time indicated the pair may have broken up prior to Karen’s death.
Police say Edwards maintained he had nothing to do with the murder. He died in 1997.
With no arrest, some neighbors drew their own conclusions.
“(There was) speculation and finger-pointing,” said Roland Steele, who knew both Karen and Edwards. “I guess to be honest with you, nobody really felt safe after that.”
Steele was 10-years-old and says Karen was friends with his sister.
“Just a tragic time,” said Steele. “Just going by the stories that you heard about the way she was found. It was horrible.”
Decades later, police haven’t given up, and are now in the process of doing new testing on clothing and other items from the crime scene.
“There could be physical evidence on those items that we’re submitting that was there in 1972 and still there in 2019,” said Christopher Flanagan, a cold case detective for the Fairfax County Police Dept.
He says police want to talk to anyone who knew James Edwards at the time of the murder or in his adult years. They would also like to speak to those who lived in the Fairhaven area in 1972, especially if they hung out with Karen and her friends. She was known to frequent the Fairhaven 7-11 that still remains on Fairhaven Ave. now. Police also want to know where Karen was in her final days after she left home on Nov. 29.
“A lot of times, it starts with a phone call,” said Flanagan.
He says the right information could finally put this cold case to rest.
“For me as a detective, obviously the most important thing is to close this case for Karen,” he said.
You can contact Fairfax County Police at 703-264-7800. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Crime Solvers by visiting FairfaxCrimeSolvers.org or calling 1-866-411-tips. You can send a tip by text by texting “tip187” plus the message to CRIMES (274637).