Randy Taylor has been arrested in the disappearance of teenager Alexis Murphy. His rap sheet stretches back more than 20 years.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Nelson County teenager Alexis Murphy remains missing, even as authorities Monday named the man arrested in connection with her disappearance.
Randy Allen Taylor, 48, of Thomas Nelson Highway, was taken into custody Sunday afternoon without incident, Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Martin said at a Monday morning news conference.
Taylor has been charged with abduction by force or intimidation, according to online court records. He is set to appear in Nelson County court today.
Alexis, 17, a rising senior at Nelson County High School, last was seen Aug. 3. Family members believe she was headed to Lynchburg to get hair extensions for her senior portrait.
Martin called Taylor's arrest a significant step toward finding Alexis.
A day after Taylor’s arrest, FBI agents carrying shovels combed the area near his modest one-story Lovingston home on the 10000 block of Thomas Nelson Highway. By late afternoon, the agents were gone, and the police tape that had been surrounding the house was removed.
A GMC Suburban matching investigators’ description of Taylor’s vehicle was towed from the property around 11 a.m. Its license plate had been removed or obscured. A recreational vehicle also was hauled away.
Among the authorities at Taylor’s home Monday was Detective Evans Oakerson, the lead investigator in the unsolved September 2010 disappearance of Samantha Ann Clarke, 19, of Orange, Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler said. Like Alexis, Clarke went out one night and never came home.
Neither Wheeler nor other authorities working the two cases would say whether they are connected.
“We are certainly looking into all possibilities,” FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Mazanec said.
Authorities obtained a search warrant for Taylor’s home the afternoon of Aug. 6, roughly six hours before Alexis’s car was found in the Carmike Six Cinema parking lot just off U.S. 29 in Albemarle County last Tuesday.
On Saturday, agents on four-wheelers scoured the area near Taylor’s home off U.S. 29, just north of Lovingston, with axes, rakes and hoes, neighbors said. In Charlottesville, authorities retrieved footage of Taylor from video surveillance at Ultimate Bliss, an adult novelty store just more than two miles from the Carmike, said store manager Kevin Bennett. Alexis did not appear in the footage, Bennett said.
Bennett would not say when Taylor visited the store but said authorities arrived Saturday.
"It’s kind of a shock to get a call that there’s some FBI agents wanting to talk to you," Bennett said. "My part-timer recognized him from the Daffy Duck tattoo on his neck, because there aren’t too many people walking around with a cartoon character on their neck. He just purchased some movies."
An employer and acquaintances of Taylor’s described him as a quiet, hardworking man, who kept mostly to himself working off and on at a local used car lot.
Helen Stewart, who has lived nearby for about 50 years, said she saw authorities go into a wooded area around 8:30 a.m. Monday. Some carried shovels.
Search warrants filed in the case remained sealed under court order Monday morning. Martin requested a blanket seal last week, “…because of sensitivity of the nature concerning the investigation of the whereabouts of Alexis Murphy…”
At the news conference, authorities said asked anyone with information on Alexis, Taylor or Taylor's GMC to contact the Nelson County Sheriff's Office.
“If anyone knows anything, please let us know. Please,” Alexis's mother, Laura Ann Murphy, begged before breaking into tears.
Taylor’s list of criminal convictions stretches back more than 20 years.
Virginia Beach court records show Taylor was convicted of statutory burglary and grand larceny in 1992 and sentenced to 10 years behind bars, with all but 4 ½ years suspended.
Albemarle County court records show Taylor was convicted of arson in February 2005, given a two-year suspended sentence and ordered to pay restitution. Taylor’s suspended sentence was revoked in June 2011 after he failed to pay restitution. His sentence was re-suspended on conditions of good behavior and that he pay at least $50 per month toward his restitution.
"We knew he had a past, because he’d been honest with us," Taylor’s employer, Tere Vann, said Monday at the Ruckersville car lot where he’s worked off and on for the past five years.
Vann’s business was the scene of a 2011 clash between employees and law enforcement over a GPS tracking device that Town of Orange police placed near the back bumper of Taylor’s sedan, according to Greene County court records. Taylor discovered the device after officers told him his rear right license plate light was out, court records state.
Several officers came to the car lot and demanded he return the device, which he had asked a coworker to hold on to, according to court records. The same records state that employees called 911 after an officer ripped the device out of a female coworker’s hands.
"We knew it was about that girl missing in Orange County," Vann said.
For the past three years, Virginia State Police have been working with Orange law enforcement to search a nearby Greene County lake in the Greene Acres subdivision, according to Greene Acres Property Owners Association Chairman Mike Lawhorne.
State police divers searched the lake as recently as last spring, Lawhorne said, and the property owners association was informed earlier this year that law enforcement intends soon to drain the lake, which is 20 feet at its deepest point.
"We’re sympathetic, because we want them to find that girl," Lawhorne said.
Monday was to be Alexis’s first day back at school for her senior year at Nelson County High School.
That afternoon, a pink bow was tied to a post at the entrance to campus to remind the community to keep looking for Alexis. More bows — all pink, her favorite color — adorn her hometown of Shipman in an effort to keep people aware of the case.
School Principal Todd Weidow has said counselors would be available this week for students who need to talk to someone about their missing classmate.
Anyone with information that could help authorities locate Alexis Murphy is asked to call (434) 263-7050.
The (Charlottesville) Daily Progress staff writers J. Reynolds Hutchins, Aaron Richardson, K. Burnell Evans and Liana Bayne contributed.