One year later, mysterious murder of Fairfax teen remains unsolved
No suspects in 19-year-old art student’s 2010 death
by Gregg MacDonald, Staff Writer
Friday, Jul. 01, 2011
One year later, Fairfax County police detectives continue to investigate the baffling murder case of 2009 James Madison High School graduate Vanessa Pham, 19, who was found stabbed to death behind the wheel of her car on June 27, 2010.
That day, Pham’s white Toyota Scion was found in a ditch near the intersection of Arlington Boulevard and Williams Drive in Fairfax. Police later discovered a videotape showing that she had been at Fairfax Plaza shopping center only 10 minutes before her body was discovered.
At Madison, Pham received a Distinguished Senior Award for outstanding achievement in fine arts.
Prior to her death, she had just completed her freshman year at the Savannah College of Art and Design.
Soon after her death, police released to the public the video of Pham’s car leaving the shopping center where she had patronized a nail salon. “The video ends at 3:24 p.m. with Pham taking a right turn into traffic,” police spokesman Don Gotthardt said at the time. “Her body was discovered at 3:34 p.m., a half mile away.”
Investigators said that just 25 minutes before Pham’s vehicle was discovered, she updated her Facebook page using her cell phone to inform friends that she had just been hired as a nanny. The message said, “Call me Fran Drescher, I'm a nanny!” That was at 3:09 p.m.
Two weeks later, police canvassed nearby neighborhoods with thousands of fliers in English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese, hoping to get a lead in the case, but to no avail.
Gotthardt said police later eliminated as suspects friends, boyfriends, acquaintances and others known to Pham, then formulated a theory that a stranger may have been waiting in Pham's car, emerging as she left the plaza.
“If you look at the video as she is waiting to turn right out of the parking lot, you can see that she hesitates and takes 40 seconds to turn, even though there is no traffic and she is clear to turn,” Gotthardt said. In the videotape released to the public, no passenger is visible to the naked eye.
Lt. Mike Wall of the Fairfax County police was involved in the initial investigation.
He said Wednesday that when Pham’s body was initially discovered, police search and rescue teams scoured the area between where her car made that right turn and where her body was found, but no clues were discovered.
“We walked along the roadways from the shopping center to where she was found, about half a mile,” he said. “We found nothing.”
Detective John Bond is currently heading up the investigation. He said there is still no suspect in the case. “It’s still wide open,” he said Wednesday. “We have nothing.”
Bond said he remains in contact with Pham’s family and said they remain hopeful someone will come forward with some tidbit of information that could help solve the case.
“The biggest hurdle we are running into is the diverse ethnic groups in that area who tend not to want to contact the police,” he said. “I want it known that the police are not interested in the backgrounds of any callers. We are not interested in anything other than who killed Vanessa. The public’s help in this case is essential.”
In addition to a $1,000 cash reward offered by Fairfax County Crime Solvers, a cash reward of $20,000 is being offered by Pham’s family for information that leads to an arrest. Police said the private reward offer expires on June 27, 2012.
Lt. John Sterling of the FCPD is also active in the investigation.
“At this point we want this to remain in the community’s mind,” he said Wednesday. “We just want to know if anyone saw anything suspicious so we can move on the case. I want to remind people that no piece of information is too small, so don’t be shy. If you think you know anything ant all, we need your help.”
Stephanie Stratos was a friend of Pham’s who said she was shocked to hear of her sudden death.
“I saw her last Facebook entry and then all of a sudden there was a memorial page up for her,” she said.
“It just happened that fast. She was such a kind person and now, when I drive by where she was killed, I get the chills.”
Stratos said she hopes someone will come forward with information. “Otherwise this will be just another case that never gets closed,” she said.
Pham’s family was not able to be reached for comment, but on a Facebook page titled “Celebrate Art, Celebrate Vanessa” they posted the following message: “We ask that in remembrance of Vanessa for the one year anniversary of her passing, you celebrate the arts starting on June 27th. Vanessa was extremely talented and passionate about all areas of the Arts. She was a painter, sculptor, singer, photographer, actress, comedian, dancer, fashion designer, and dabbled in many other talents as well.”
File Photo One year after Vienna resident Vanessa Pham’s murder, police investigators are still searching for clues in the case.