Embassy Photo Led To Severance Arrest

WHEELING – A seemingly unremarkable detail of a bizarre photograph showing possible Virginia murder suspect Charles Severance seeking asylum outside the Russian embassy in Washington, D.C. ultimately led to his Thursday arrest at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling.

Severance, 53, is being held without bond at the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville on a warrant out of Loudoun County, Va., charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm. He is also under investigation for any connections to the shooting deaths of three prominent Alexandria, Va., residents dating back to 2003, though officials there maintain they are not ready to charge anyone with those crimes.

The image – showing Severance, passport in hand and clad in a serape and three-cornered hat – was captured by the Secret Service on March 7, after Severance learned Virginia authorities were looking for him, officials presume. A bicycle partially visible in the lower-left corner of the image, showing only black handlebars, a yellow strap wrapped around the handlebar stem and a small segment of the bicycle’s blue frame, was what gave Severance away, according to Wheeling City Manager Robert Herron.

Based on those scant details, he said, Police Cpl. Doug Howell was able to spot the bicycle parked outside the library Thursday afternoon, after officers were unable to find Severance at the Knights Inn downtown, where they had received information Severance had been staying. Police found him inside the library using one of the public computers.

A bond hearing for Severance is scheduled for this afternoon, and his attorney, Public Defender Shayne Welling, has indicated Severance will fight extradition back to Virginia.

The Alexandria murders for which Severance is wanted for questioning include the 2003 slaying of real estate agent and sheriff’s wife Nancy Dunning, the November 2013 shooting of transportation planner Ronald Kirby and, most recently, the Feb. 6 murder of music teacher Ruthanne Lodato. Officials are looking at them as a series of crimes, but have not determined conclusively they are related.

Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said he has no idea what led Severance to choose Wheeling as a hideout. He said his department has done its part, and the rest is up to authorities in Virginia.

“Anything I could say would be speculation. … I haven’t talked to him, myself,” Schwertfeger said.