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Common Reading program to host April 4 panel discussion about Rainbow Murders

ISSUED: 29 March 2023

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WVShepherd University’s Common Reading program is hosting “Revisiting the Case of the 1980 Rainbow Murders,” a panel discussion on Tuesday, April 4, at 6 p.m. in Erma Ora Byrd Hall auditorium. The event, which is free and open to the public, will offer an opportunity to learn more about the unsolved 1980 Rainbow murders that took place in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  

Panelists will include Dr. Joshua H. Stout, assistant professor of criminal justice; Dr. Lindsey Levitan, associate professor of psychology; and Deb DiFalco, regional enforcement manager at the Virginia Department of Health Professions, Northern Virginia, who previously served West Virginia state police officer who interviewed a serial killer concerning his possible connection to the crime. Shannon Holliday, director of the Common Reading program, will moderate the discussion.  

The panelists will explore the complexities and challenges of the case and how modern techniques that weren’t available at the time may have aided the investigation.   

The Third Rainbow Girl is Shepherd’s 2022-2023 Common Reading. It focuses on the murders of two middle-class outsiders named Vicki Durian, 26, and Nancy Santomero, 19, on June 25, 1980, in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. They were hitchhiking to a festival known as the Rainbow Gathering, but never arrived. 

For 13 years, no one was prosecuted for what became known as the Rainbow Murders, though deep suspicion was cast on a succession of area residents. In 1993, a local farmer was convicted, only to be released when a known serial killer and diagnosed schizophrenic named Joseph Paul Franklin claimed responsibility. Serious questions remained, however, and as time passed, the truth seemed to slip further away. 

The panel discussion is sponsored by the Shepherd University Foundation and the Office of Diversity and Equity. For more information about the Common Reading program, visit the Common Reading webpage.

About the Common Reading program 

Shepherd’s Common Reading program provides a common academic experience for all first-year students. The program aims to provide a shared intellectual experience; create a sense of community; encourage reading; promote critical engagement of ideas; set academic expectations; create dialog between students, faculty, staff, and the community; promote interaction between Shepherd and the community; and introduce students to community resources. The program is sponsored by the Shepherd University Foundation. 


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