"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, October 25, 2021

Death in the Driveway: A Halloween Murder Mystery

"Staunton News-Leader," November 1, 1967, via Newspapers.com

The cold-blooded shooting of Dr. William Eugene Lynn is probably still the strangest unsolved murder in Rappahannock County, Virginia’s history.  What makes this seemingly completely senseless crime even more eerie is the fact that it happened on Halloween night, that traditional time for ghosts, demons, and other sinister creatures to freely walk the earth.  One has to wonder if the assassin chose the date deliberately.

54-year-old William Lynn appeared to lead an unblemished life.  He was happily married, had three well-adjusted children, and was a fine doctor.  Dr. Lynn was, in short, both well-liked and respected--a “real old-fashioned family physician,” according to a colleague. However, there was at least one person, who, for reasons still unknown to us, thought differently about the doctor.

On October 31, 1967, after an uneventful day at his Front Royal practice, Lynn and his wife Clydetta--a trained nurse who worked with him--drove home.  They arrived at about 6:30 p.m., amid near total darkness.  When Lynn rounded the curve of his driveway, he saw that his way was blocked by several large bushel baskets--some harmless holiday “trick,” they presumed.  Dr. Lynn paused the car to allow Clydetta to get out of the car and clear the path.

Clydetta had almost reached the baskets when a man suddenly appeared from behind a bush and fired a gun into the driver’s side window of Lynn’s car.  Mrs. Lynn immediately felt a sharp pain (later determined to be flying glass from the car.)  “Gene!” Clydetta cried.  “I think I’ve been shot!”

When she got closer to the car, she saw that she had not been the shooter’s target.  Her husband was slumped over the wheel, covered in blood.  Before she could do anything, Dr. Lynn’s foot slipped off the brake, sending the car rolling backwards down the driveway.  Fortunately, she was able to stop the auto before it went careening into State Route 522.  Clydetta did what she could to stop her husband’s bleeding, while blowing the horn and screaming for help from her mother and one of her daughters, who were in the house at the time.  It was all futile.  The doctor had died almost instantly.  By the time authorities arrived on the scene, the killer had plenty of opportunity to escape into the long darkness of that fall night.

This was one of those seemingly motiveless crimes that tend to baffle even the most acute detective.  Police did a searching examination of the dead man’s private life, hoping to come up with some reason why someone would assassinate him in such a particularly chilling fashion.  However, they came up empty.  William Lynn was that relative rarity in murder cases: someone who really was as nice and blameless as he seemed.  If he had a dark side, or unpleasant secrets, he kept them very well hidden indeed.

Although the Lynn case is still technically open, chances are obviously slim that his killer will ever be positively identified, let alone brought to justice.  However, a retired state police officer named Harry Will, one of the investigators of the murder, believed he had solved the mystery--to his own satisfaction, at any rate.  Many years after Lynn’s death, he told a reporter that he believed the doctor was murdered by an unnamed man who was currently serving a life sentence for a particularly vicious attack on a young woman.  Will suspected that this man had committed not only the Lynn murder, but several other unsolved slayings in the area as well.  This man had been seen in the general area of Lynn’s home, buying a box of shotgun shells.

Harry Will even believed he knew why this man had killed Lynn, and it is one of the more bizarre alleged motives on record.  Will’s suspect had originally lived in a neighboring county, but he fled after being accused of setting several fires.  He found refuge with an uncle who lived near Front Royal.  This relative not only gave him a home, but defended him, no matter what he did.  A few months before Lynn was shot, this uncle developed cancer of the penis, which necessitated a partial amputation of the organ.  Will explained, “Our suspect was a sex pervert and had voiced his opposition to having sex organs disturbed.”  Presumably, according to Will’s theory, the man took his outrage at the medical profession out on Dr. Lynn. 

As a postscript, there is a story which suggests that mere death did not mean the end of Lynn’s medical practice.  In the early 1990s, a Front Royal man was badly injured in an auto crash that put him in a coma.  Doctors did not believe he would survive.  According to Lynn’s daughter Patty--who heard the story from the patient’s mother--the man suddenly woke up and said, “I just saw Dr. Lynn and he gave me a shot.”  This man--who was only five when the doctor was murdered--described him as wearing clothing which was identical to items that Lynn wore in life.  After getting the “shot,” the man stunned everyone by fully recovering.

Perhaps the doctor wanted to save a life, to compensate for the one that had so suddenly and inexplicably been taken from him.


  1. I liked the conclusion you drew . After all the noise in a person's life ceases , perhaps the true essence of a person is granted permission to continue on .
    Sounds quaint but it does have an appeal.

  2. I too like to think that the good doctor was too good a doctor - and person - to stop helping people, just because he'd died.


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