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20-year-old cold case reopened in W.Va.

October 18, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. -- On March 14, 1989, the body of 28-year-old Henry Eric "Ricky" Ryan was found by a passer-by in a shallow grave on Blue Ridge Mountain in Loudoun County, Va., near the West Virginia line.

Ryan was last seen by his family on Sept. 30, 1988, 5 1/2 months earlier. The discovery of his body brought the family some degree of closure on the fate of their son and brother, said Ryan's sister, Barbara Ott of Kearneysville.

Ryan's father and relatives combed the mountain and quarries for several months in unsuccessful attempts to find him, Ott said in an interview last week.

She said the family felt something was amiss when Ryan disappeared.

"He left his fishing gear and hunting gun in the house, and an uncashed paycheck," she said.

A few weeks ago, Ott received a phone call from a Loudoun County Sheriffs Department investigator saying the department was reopening Ryan's case, a homicide that has been cold for 21 years. 

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Ott said she was "shocked" to receive the phone call, but glad that her brother's death is being investigated again.

Mark McCaffrey, a Loudoun County investigator working on the Ryan case, said in a press release that new scientific discoveries in DNA forensics have deputies re-evaluating unsolved cold murder cases.

McCaffrey said several of the department's investigators attended a cold-case forum recently in Annapolis and were inspired to go back through the old files when Ryan's came up.

"We reviewed it and felt it had solvability," McCaffrey said.

He interviewed Ryan's family members and witnesses again. 

"A lot of times in cold cases, witnesses are no longer fearful of coming forward," he said.

Evidence in the case was resubmitted to a police lab for review, McCaffrey said.

Ott said her brother had a problem with alcohol and marijuana. The family knew he also had been experimenting with other drugs.

Ryan, one of six children, was living with his parents, Buck and Flo Ryan, at Harpers Ferry Campground. They moved to Florida after Ryan's body was found, Ott said.

In less than a year's time, Buck Ryan had lost both parents, a brother and then his son, she said.

"Ricky was a party guy, but only on the weekends," his sister said. "He worked hard during the week and he believed in and was proud of his trade as a sheet metal worker. It paid well, too."

Ryan took welding courses in High Point High School in Beltsville in Prince George's County, Md. He graduated from there in 1978.

Born in 1960, he would be 49 had he lived. He was single, his sister said. 

Jefferson County Circuit Court records showed that Ryan had a few minor brushes with the law. He pleaded guilty in 1988 to a charge of public intoxication. There was no disposition listed in two other cases -- leaving the scene of an accident and destruction of property.

Ott, who still becomes emotional when talking about her brother, keeps a scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings about his disappearance.

She said of her brother: "Ricky was a friendly, generous person. He had a lot of friends. He was a friend to everyone he met."

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