Richmond Times-Dispatch

Could this man be the Blue Ridge parkway rapist?
BY CARLOS SANTOS
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
Wednesday, March 7, 2007

COVINGSTON, VA - Authorities in Nelson County are investigating the circumstantial case against Michael Andrew Nicholaou, now dead by suicide, in a 1984 rape along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

The rape garnered national attention after DNA tests in 1994 proved that the man found guilty, Edward Honaker, was innocent. Honaker was sentenced in 1985 to three life sentences and served more than 10 years in prison before then-Gov. George Allen pardoned him. He was one of the first convicts in Virginia freed by DNA testing.

Nicholaou, who once ran a porn shop in Charlottesville, is a possible suspect in the June 23, 1984, rape near the Big Spy overlook.
Michael Nicholaou
Michael Nicholaou

Nicholaou fatally shot himself in 2005 on New Year's Eve after killing his wife and stepdaughter in Tampa, Fla. Nicholaou first came to the attention of Nelson authorities after Florida private detective Lynn-Marie Carty was contacted late last year by a client who had seen a story about Honaker on Court TV.

The client told Carty that Honaker bore an incredible resemblance to Nicholaou. Carty contacted Nelson authorities.
"It is a remarkable resemblance," said Mac Bridgwater, an investigator with the Nelson Sheriff's Department. "When I saw their pictures . . . it told me we had to take a look at this."

Nicholaou is also a suspect in homicides in New England. Carty, a detective who specializes in reuniting lost relatives, had been tracking Nicholaou on behalf of the family of his former wife. Family members believe he is the cause of her disappearance in 1988 in Massachusetts.
Edward Honaker and police sketch
(Left) Edward Honaker show in a 1985 photo served 10 years in prison before DNA test cleared him, based on the (right) police sketch that the victim identified Honaker as her attacker.

Carty is convinced Nicholaou is the parkway rapist. "He has an absolutely astounding resemblance to Ed Honaker," Carty said.

Phil Payne, the Nelson commonwealth's attorney, was cautious about the new suspect. "We are looking at him as a possible suspect. But we need to accumulate enough evidence. We've had other possible suspects in the past fade as they are investigated.

"Few people in Nelson County believe Honaker is innocent other than me," Payne said. "I would love to prove someday that someone else did it."

Honaker, who now lives in Roanoke, is doubtful about the rapist ever being identified. "I think it's a long shot, but I guess you never know," he said.

But all the evidence tying Nicholaou to the rape is circumstantial. The key piece is Nicholaou's resemblance to Honaker. Honaker's physical appearance was critical in Honaker's conviction -- possibly the strongest evidence against him.

The rape victim, then 19, and her then-22-year-old fiancé picked Honaker out of 24 spectators in a courtroom at a hearing and quickly from a photographic lineup. Honaker's appearance was similar to a police sketch, too.

There are other details that could tie Nicholaou to the rape. The victim said the rapist spoke of being a Vietnam veteran. Nicholaou was a chief warrant officer in the Army and flew helicopters in Vietnam. The rapist, like Nicholaou, had a hairy chest and hands, a sizable belly and a double chin. The rape victim described the rapist as being in his mid-30s -- about Nicholaou's age at the time.

The rapist smoked marijuana, as did Nicholaou, according to relatives. Carty said her investigation found that Nicholaou at one time lived in the Afton Mountain area, near where the rape occurred. He also loved the woods.
"I've been told by many people he constantly went camping in the woods, and nobody had any idea where he went," Carty said.
There is one last puzzling clue. The rapist, ranting about Vietnam, referred to a Lt. Kolackey or Lt. Kolecki. Investigators are trying to find out if Nicholaou served in the Army with a man by that name. He did serve with several men with similar sounding names, according to military histories.

Nicholaou became well-known in Charlottesville after his porn shop, The Pleasure Chest, was twice raided by city police. He was convicted of selling obscene material in February 1984. But he reopened the store and was tried again in May 1984, the month before the rape, on similar charges and found not guilty.

Nicholaou, then 32, told reporters then that "evidently the police don't have enough serious robberies, murders and rapes to occupy their time."

He was also, before he opened the porn shop, a "special police officer" with the Charlottesville Police Department, former chief John "Deke" Bowen said.

"He worked undercover for us for a while," Bowen said. "He talked about becoming a police officer."

The rape victim told authorities that the man who assaulted her initially told her and her boyfriend he was a police officer.
DNA evidence from the victim may be used to determine if Nicholaou was the rapist, but only the test results are available, said Payne, the commonwealth's attorney. The DNA samples themselves were consumed in the testing.

Those old tests results cannot easily be compared to Nicholaou's DNA because the technology has changed, Payne said, but he is working to find a lab that might be able to make the comparison.

Bridgwater, the Nelson investigator, said there also were latent fingerprints taken from the crime scene that he hopes can be compared to Nicholaou's fingerprints.

"There are some similarities, but it's going to be a long, hard road," he said. "We're talking about a case from the 1980s."
Honaker was philosophical about the new theory in the case that wrongfully sent him to prison for 10 years.

"It would be nice for the case to be solved," he said. "I don't think that would help me, as far as my life goes now, but it might convince [the rape victim]. She's convinced to this day I'm her attacker."

Contact staff writer Carlos Santos at csantos@timesdispatch.com or (434) 295-9542.


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