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Predator in the Ranks: Inside a Real-Life NCIS Murder Case
Comments () | Published September 11, 2012
Officer Andy Nucelli. He and Officer T.L. Clifford took note of a suspicious Dodge Durango cruising Arlington after a snowstorm. Photograph by Timothy Devine.

Feb. 26, 2010

Two weeks later, there was still some snow on the ground. On Friday night, Julie Thomas and her friend Karen Marlotti had plans to see friends in DC. They met at Marlotti’s house on North Wakefield Street in Arlington and took the Metro to Woodley Park. They hit a party and walked to the Brass Monkey, a bar in Adams Morgan. Around 3 am, they took a cab to the IHOP in Ballston. Around 4 am, they walked up Wilson Boulevard and made a left on Wakefield. At Marlotti’s house, they stopped while she dug in her purse for her keys.

Marlotti heard a twig snap, and a man appeared from behind Thomas’s parked car.

“Give me your wallets,” he said. “I have a gun.”

Thomas and Marlotti were both 23. They had been palling around since the fall of 2009. Thomas was the smaller of the two, Marlotti taller and more athletic.

“Keep your voices down,” the man said. “Open the door.”

They opened the door.

The man, slight and clean-shaven, followed them into the house, took their purses, and ordered them to sit on the couch. “Is anyone else in the house?” he asked. They said no, though a roommate was asleep upstairs.

He told them to kneel next to the coffee table, then bound their hands with the cord of a vacuum cleaner. He left the room and they managed to get loose, but he returned with a kitchen knife and made them get back on their knees. He retied Marlotti with the vacuum-cleaner cord and bound Thomas’s hands with the cord of an iron.

He ordered them into the bedroom and told them to get on the bed.

“No,” Thomas said. “Absolutely not.”

The women weren’t sure what the intruder had in mind. He was a small guy. He seemed confused and unprepared. He tried to tape Marlotti’s mouth with blue painter’s tape. It fell off. He asked if they had duct tape. He seemed inept, but he had the knife and pistol.

When he left the bedroom to search for tape, Marlotti threw herself against the door and slammed it shut. The man had patted them down but hadn’t found Thomas’s cell phone. She was able to reach into her pocket and dial 911 and then drop the phone into a laundry basket.

The man barged back in, lunged for the cell phone, and smashed it against the wall. He grabbed Thomas by the arm and led her out of the house and into the street, the iron dangling below her tied hands. Marlotti, pulling the vacuum cleaner, hopped to the front door and saw the man drag Thomas down Wakefield.

The man opened the back door of an SUV. “Get in,” he said.

Thomas resisted. He shoved her into the back seat and made her lie down.

Marlotti screamed and banged the vacuum cleaner around until her roommate woke up and came downstairs and called 911. Marlotti was hyperventilating but managed to convey the details of her friend’s abduction. It was 4:25 am.

Arlington police went on high alert. Crime was at a historic low in the county. Its police department had just 359 officers to keep the peace for a population of 215,000, but the call about the abduction of Julie Thomas mobilized the entire department.

The police set up a command center at Murphy Funeral Home, on Wilson Boulevard around the corner from the abduction, and put out an all-points bulletin for an abducted female.

• • •

The assailant was no longer confused or tentative. He drove into the night through Ballston, keeping his arm on Thomas to hold her down in the back seat. Still, she managed to recognize Carlin Springs Road, Glebe Road, and Ballston Common Mall. He made a few U-turns and parked behind a minivan. He got out and climbed into the back seat.

“You know what’s going to happen now,” he said.

“No, I don’t.”

“I am going to rape you.”

He unwrapped the iron’s cord and secured her hands with packing tape, then put on a condom. “I’m not an idiot,” he said.

After he assaulted her, he wrapped packing tape around her face and head, pushed her down between the back and front seats, got behind the wheel, and drove off. They were no longer meandering. Thomas could see they were on a highway, but she couldn’t make out the signs. After a long drive, they pulled off the highway, drove aimlessly for a while, and turned onto rough terrain.

Thomas felt the jolts and wanted to throw up.

• • •

Detective Jim Stone was asleep at home in Prince William County when he got the call that a young woman had been abducted. He threw on some clothes and headed to the Arlington police department on Courthouse Road.

First job: Interview Hanna Smith.

Two hours before the man had forced his way into Karen Marlotti’s house, Hanna Smith had been walking up to her house near North Wakefield. It was around 2 am. A man approached her from behind and told her he had a gun.

“You’re getting in my car!” he said.

Smith refused. They struggled. He pulled a stun gun from his pocket and zapped her on the neck, but it didn’t knock her down. She ran inside and dialed 911.

Around 6 am, Stone sat Smith down in an interview room and took her story.

Stone, 48, knows Arlington. He was born in nearby Alexandria Hospital. His parents still live in the house where they raised him and his brother and sister. He graduated from Yorktown High, class of 1982. Six years later, he joined the Arlington PD, spent eight years in patrol, then moved to the criminal-investigation division. Since 1996, Stone had been in the Special Victims Unit. His specialty was sex crimes.

Smith told Detective Stone that her would-be abductor was a short, young guy. She didn’t see his vehicle.

Down the hall, Detective Kathryn Rounds was interviewing Karen Marlotti, who had seen the assailant drag her friend away. As Marlotti described the abduction, she kept dwelling on how the man didn’t seem to know what he was doing.

“He looked so young,” she said. “He could have passed for a high-schooler.”


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  • Alexander Smith

    This Marine is the son of a 1st generation of Mexican immigrants. This part of the story isn't laid out because it is politically incorrect. Did they legally immigrate to the US or enter illegally. Did they get legal in one of the numerous amnesties starting in 1986? Were they honest in their amnesty paperwork? The 1986 amnesty was for a small number of agricultural workers when presented, but once implemented millions of illegal immigrants fraudulently used the amnesty by claiming they were agricultural workers, when they were not. There are some excellent and very welcome Latin American immigrants in the US, but that doesn't hide the fact that these Latin American cultures have deplorable crime rates (especially against women) so high that it would boggle the minds of most Americans. Why we would be encouraging them to immigrate to our country illegally, much less granting amnesty to those already here. Many have criminal records in their home countries and are now filling our jails with their new exploits in the US. The 1st generation of legal immigrants and illegal immigrant populations represent perhaps 10% of our population but 30% of our prison population. This price is to high for America to accept in financial numbers, much less the human tragedy. Just ask the victims they are leaving in their wake, through out the country.

  • Esme S

    One would assume someone born in this country would know that "layed" is not a word. Learn to write and spell in your native language; then come back and whine about immigrants.

  • Alexander Smith

    Really? Spelling the past tense of lay as "layed" is a common error in English, but thanks for pointing out the mistake and letting me know that my English could be better in my comment. After living in a non-English speaking country for 12 years, my English has taken a hit, but not my love of country (USA) nor my knowledge of Brazil; that has only increased!

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Posted at 10:45 AM/ET, 09/11/2012 RSS | Print | Permalink | Comments () | Articles