Trina Murphy said she doesn’t buy it: “It’s a story that makes no sense.”
Twelve days after Murphy’s great-niece, Alexis, 17, of Shipman, went missing, the buzz lingered Thursday over an account of the events leading to her disappearance provided by the court-appointed attorney for the man charged with abducting her.
The story goes like this:
Randy Allen Taylor, 48, bought $60 in marijuana from a man who accompanied Murphy to his tiny camper set on a plot off U.S. 29 in Lovingston, Michael Hallahan, Taylor’s attorney, said Wednesday. The two men smoked marijuana and drank 12-ounce bottles of Icehouse beer inside the camper as Murphy looked on, Hallahan said. She neither smoked nor drank, the lawyer said.
Murphy and the man, whose name Taylor didn’t know, left in separate cars just before dark Aug. 3, turning onto U.S. 29 North, and Taylor never saw them again, his lawyer said. Murphy was last seen at about 7 p.m. that day, authorities said. Her Nissan Maxima was found in the Carmike Six parking lot off Gardens Boulevard several days after her disappearance.
Taylor’s lawyer said his client and Murphy had interacted in the past. She recognized him at the Liberty gas station in Lovingston and told him she knew someone who would sell him marijuana, Hallahan said. Taylor followed Murphy in a separate car, meeting the mystery man at a car wash, the lawyer said.
Hallahan said Taylor shared his account with authorities.
“They’ve made no public efforts to try to locate this male,” Hallahan said.
Authorities declined to comment.
Taylor described the man as black, in his early 20s, wearing cornrows and driving a 1990s sedan with 22-inch rims, Hallahan said.
Trina Murphy described that as convenient.
“It’s so socially stereotypical,” she said. “Of course, it would be a black man with cornrows and 22s. Come on.”
The case has garnered growing attention since the FBI joined state and local authorities in the search 11 days ago. Authorities arrested Taylor on Sunday after finding a strand of Murphy’s hair in his camper, Hallahan said.
Agents, state police and Nelson County sheriff’s deputies repeatedly have combed the property where Taylor lived. But authorities pulled out late Wednesday afternoon, shut down a mobile command post in Lovingston and shifted operations to a Charlottesville field office.
FBI officials remained relatively mum Thursday, reporting that authorities had located “several cell phones.” The FBI declined to elaborate.
Retired FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt said agents typically would operate out of a mobile command post as long as they needed to be close to a potential crime scene.
“There are still other potential scenes out there,” he said.
Van Zandt said Taylor’s account sounded like something that would “explain physical evidence away.”
Trina Murphy said she doesn’t think Alexis ever talked to Taylor, although it’s possible the two interacted in tiny Lovingston. She expressed dismay over social media chatter about Alexis’ tweets appearing to reference marijuana.
“None of us are painting this picture like she’s perfect,” Trina Murphy said. But she said she doesn’t believe Taylor’s claim that after facilitating a purchase of marijuana between him and the other man, Alexis tarried in Taylor’s ramshackle camper as the two men got high.
“She got you a drug deal and she stood there while you smoke and drink and doesn’t participate?” Trina Murphy said.
The case sounds similar to another one linked to Taylor — the 2010 disappearance of Samantha Clarke, 19, of Orange — Trina Murphy said.
On Tuesday, Orange County’s Commonwealth’s Attorney Diana Wheeler said in a news release that Taylor “remains someone we are very interested in learning more about” because he talked with Clarke “immediately prior to her disappearance.” Clarke never was found, and Taylor never was charged with a crime in that case.
“It sounds like a fantasy in a cheap dime novel,” Van Zandt said. “But it’s not cheap, because we’re talking about someone’s human life.”
“Alexis is a victim,” Trina Murphy said. “Samantha is a victim. Not him.”
Taylor is being held without bond in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail and faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted. A bond hearing is scheduled for next week.
Staff writer K. Burnell Evans contributed to this report.