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How a Suspect’s Attempt to Submit a Fake Dna Sample Blew the Lid off Virginia Teenager’s Murder

The arrest of a boy in connection with the girl's murder rocked their local community.
Cover Image Source: YouTube/Dateline NBC
Cover Image Source: YouTube/Dateline NBC

Dancer Meghan Landowski was just 16 years old when her stepfather Chris Shortt found her stabbed 40 times at their home in Portsmouth, Virginia, back in 2008, CBS News reported. Robert Hicke, who was Shortt's friend, had been accused of having inappropriate sexual relations with Landowski before her death, and he initially emerged as a key person of interest in her murder.

Since Hicke was a member of the U.S. Navy at the time, his case was being handled by the naval investigative agency and Landowski's testimony would have ended his career.

Cover Image Source: Pexels | Photo by George Chambers
Cover Image Source: Pexels | Photo by George Chambers

But Hicke was quickly ruled out as a suspect since he revealed to authorities that on the day of the incident, he was at work and then in marriage counseling with his wife. "I can tell you from the time I got up to the time that you saw me, I was with someone every second of the entire day,” he said in a recording of the interrogation.  “Except for the moment I went to the bathroom.”

The detectives verified the claim, and his alibi checked out.


When Landowski's body was found, the condition of her clothes implied that she had been sexually assaulted. “My daughter — she’s um, looks like she’s been sexually assaulted, and she is bleeding to death,” a frantic Shortt told the 911 dispatcher.

Police Sgt. Robert McDaniel, who had already been acquainted with the family during Hicke's investigation, went to the house after the 911 call. The detectives concluded that the assailant must have climbed through a downstairs bedroom window and assaulted Landowski upstairs as her skirt and underwear were located on the floor. The girl then must have made her way down to the kitchen where the rapist stabbed her repeatedly.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | PublicDomainPictures
Representative Image Source: Pexels | PublicDomainPictures

After Hicke's name was cleared, the detectives looked into other acquaintances. They collected DNA samples from the site, which proved to be their biggest piece of evidence. Every time they suspected an individual, they took a DNA sample to match with the one found on the scene.

A breakthrough in the case occurred when a tipster asked the authorities to talk to the bus driver who took Landowski to her school. The driver then pointed investigators in the direction of Robert Barnes, another student who regularly took the bus.

No one apart from the driver raised any doubts about Barnes. "He’d practice on the bus with us on the way home,” one of Landowski’s friends recalled. "He was really, really good. He was a nice guy. He was normal, he blended in, and he made good grades.”

Representative Image Source: Pexels | yuri Klmyko
Representative Image Source: Pexels | yuri Klmyko

When McDaniel spoke with Barnes and requested he voluntarily submit a DNA specimen, the boy turned in a piece of chewed gum. DNA extracted from the  gum did not match the evidence recovered from the scene.

Analysis, however, revealed that the gum had been chewed by a girl. This appeared to show that Barnes had deliberately replaced his gum to deceive the detectives, and the investigation team immediately took him into custody.

Barnes then admitted to the detectives that he had gone to Landowski's house on the night of her death. He claimed to have knocked on her door before entering through a window. He also claimed that he saw a large man holding her hostage. Barnes alleged that the man forced him to rape Landowski and stab her.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | cottonbro studio
Representative Image Source: Pexels | cottonbro studio

The detectives seized the boy's computer and discovered videos of women being raped by an assailant breaking into their homes. They also found a news article about a woman getting sexually assaulted during a robbery, in which Barnes had photoshopped his face. The evidence, along with a DNA match, built a strong case against Barnes, and he eventually pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, attempted rape, aggravated sexual battery, abduction, and statutory rape.

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