Shots ring out in ice cream parlor

Pat Haley - Contributing Columnist

Terry Court is home to a small neighborhood shopping center just down the alley from where we lived in Staunton, Virginia.

One afternoon, I was talking with Don Reid who told me about two murders that had occurred almost 49 years earlier at High’s Ice Cream Store in Terry Court. High’s, a popular Staunton hangout, was known for their luscious milkshakes and malts.

“Shortly after starting our musical career, my brother and I bought an apartment building directly across from Terry Court,” Don said. A man by the name of William Thomas, a 24-year-old, lived in their building.

April 11, 1967 had been a warm spring day. That evening, High’s employees Connie Hevener, 19, and Carolyn Perry, 20, were closing the store. The first taste of spring brought people who had succumbed to the allure of the first ice cream cone of the season.

“Do you know Roy Hartless?” Don asked.

“Yes. I have met him several times,” I replied.

Roy Hartless, a former Staunton Police Department detective, had recently retired and now worked as a private investigator.

Back at High’s 40-plus years ago, the two young women were wiping the glass cases and sweeping the old wooden floor that gave the shop an antiquated ambiance.

Shortly after 11 o’clock two shots rang out in the small shop. Within minutes, Connie Hevener’s last breaths came on the oaken floor beside the glass ice cream case. Carolyn Perry was rushed by ambulance to the University of Virginia Hospital in Charlottesville, but died shortly after crossing Afton Mountain.

The shooter stole $138 from the cash register and fled the store.

Staunton Chief Detective David Bocock and his unmarked cruiser screeched to a stop in front of the shop. He was the first officer on the scene.

He found the victims and blood, but little else. As days passed and the weeks turned into months, there were no arrests. In fact, there were no suspects and little progress had been made since the night of the shooting and robbery. The local residents had become impatient and scared. The local newspaper was critical of the lack of progress with the investigation.

According to Hartless, “Due to the public pressure, the Staunton Police Department wanted to solve these crimes and solve them quickly.”

A year later, Staunton Police arrested William Thomas. The problem for the police was they virtually had no evidence. There was no gun and no one could even put Young at High’s Ice Cream Shop the night of the murders.

The jury was out three hours. Not guilty. Thomas was released from custody.

Forty-one years passed. No arrests and no suspects. After Roy Hartless retired, he decided to take a fresh look at the shootings. That April night still haunted him.

Hartless found the police investigation had scant documentation. “This crime of the century file was only half an inch thick,” Hartless said.

Hartless dug in. Some of the victims’ family members said Hartless was the first police officer to interview them about the murders. They told Hartless the two young women were not scheduled to work the night they were murdered. They were filling in for a co-worker.

A couple of years went by, when out of the blue, Hartless received a call from a relative of Connie Hevener. The cousin said a Ms. Bradshaw had called and told him, “I have information about the murders.”

Bradshaw was 74 years old. “I had met a friend, Sharron Diane Crawford Smith, at a local diner for a hamburger a week before the murders,” Bradshaw told Hartless. Smith worked at High’s Ice Cream shop and was the employee who had called in sick the night of the murders. As they were leaving the diner, Smith showed Bradshaw a pistol she had in her car. “I am going to shoot the Heavener girl,” Smith said.

“Why didn’t you tell the police?” Hartless asked.

“I was scared,” said Bradshaw.

Bradshaw said she went to the police the day after the murders. “I went straight to Detective Dave Bocock,” she said. “I told him about Smith. Bocock brushed me off.”

“I also gave information to state and local law enforcement. No one was interested in what I had to say,” Bradshaw continued.

Hartless knew he had to track down Sharron Diane Crawford Smith. He found her in a nursing care facility near death, with her kidneys shutting down. The young beauty was now a tired, haggard woman with tubes sticking from her nose and mouth.

Smith began her deathbed confession. “I had a different lifestyle from many in those days, and those girls were taunting me. I shot them,” Smith whispered to Hartless. She also said she had a friendly relationship with Detective Bocock to whom she gave the 25-caliber automatic handgun. She said he buried the gun on his property.

Hartless smelled a police cover-up.

Bocock is dead now. Smith died before she could be prosecuted.

Hartless said he suspects why the police never aggressively investigated the crimes. They were afraid it involved one of their own.

No one will ever know for sure. And Roy Hartless will never be the same.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.

Pat Haley

Contributing Columnist