Coming Fall 2018
Soon to be a
"One of the top 100 true crime books
of all time" -- Popsugar
The Book's Author
Author Ron Peterson, Jr. attended Radford University a few years after Gina Hall. A Communications major at RU, he first wrote about the case his senior year, as an editor for the university newspaper in 1987. He has been published in newspapers throughout the state and in publications for two Fortune 500 companies. His career includes work at the Virginian Pilot and Cox Media, where he earned the company's annual "Outstanding Performance" award. Peterson's background also includes managing corporate television advertising campaigns on CNN, Fox News and ESPN. He is a board member of the Hampton Roads Sports Media Hall of Fame. Peterson has been a guest lecturer at colleges throughout Virginia.
The Convicted Killer
Stephen Epperly, was a former Virginia Tech Hokie football player. Ruggedly handsome with a boyish mop of blond hair, he made a great first impression. But Epperly had a violent past, including two sexual assault acquittals. He admitted leaving the club with Gina Hall and taking her to a cabin at Claytor Lake, but said they parted ways amicably the next morning. He was convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to life in prison. It was Virginia's first "No Body" murder conviction -- and only the 4th in U.S. history. Epperly has been in prison for 40 years, having appealed his conviction to the Supreme Court level. He continues to claim his innocence and was denied parole in 2019.
John Preston & his tracking dog
provided the most dramatic testimony, the first time in Virginia history that dog tracking evidence was allowed in court. After being "scented" on a pair of Epperly's underwear, the dog followed a trail from Gina Hall's abandoned car under the trestle, across a railroad bridge over the New River and into the town of Radford. Following a trail where Gina's clothing was later found discarded, the dog entered a residential area, walked up to a house, and sniffed the front doorknob. "Who lives here?" Preston asked. "Stephen Epperly," was the answer. In later years, Preston's work in dozens of other cases was discredited and he was called a "fraud" by Anderson Cooper and Geraldo Rivera.
On June 28, 1980, Radford University freshman Gina Renee Hall left a Virginia Tech nightclub around midnight and was never seen again. Her car was found abandoned under a railroad trestle crossing the New River into Radford, with fresh bloodstains and hair in the trunk. The investigation led police to a secluded cabin at Claytor Lake, where there was evidence of a violent attack. Crime scene technicians obtained over thirty samples of blood stains matching Gina's blood type. Former Virginia Tech football player Stephen Epperly was charged with her murder. Epperly became the first person in Virginia -- and only the fourth in U.S. history -- convicted of murder in the absence of a body, a confession or an eyewitness.
Everett Shockley, was the young Pulaski County Commonwealth Attorney who prosecuted the case. he had only been on the job severn months, just a few years out of law school at the College of William & Mary. He was advised by his peers not to press murder charges against Epperly without the body. Risking his career, Shockley indicted Epperly for murder and took an entirely circumstantial case to court, calling 37 witnesses and introducing over 90 evidence exhibits. He became the first prosecutor in Virginia history to gain a murder conviction without the body of the victim, a confession or an eyewitness.
The Best Friend
Bill King was a former Virginia Tech running back and teammate of Stephen Epperly. The pair had been close friends since childhood and were out on the town the evening of Gina's disappearance. King was house-sitting the lake house and provided Epperly access. He would later testify against Epperly at the trial. On the witness stand, King implicated his old friend in the murder, telling details of Epperly's activities on the evening in question. He also shared two incriminating statements made by Epperly the week after Hall's disappearance, contributing to the mountain of circumstantial evidence. King went on to coach high school football at Bayside & Green Run High in Virginia Beach in the 90's.
The Murder Victim
Gina Renee Hall, 18-years old, was a petite, beautiful and soft-spoken Radford University student. She was voted "Most Popular" in her senior class at Coeburn High. Gina went out for a night of dancing at a Blacksburg nightclub on June 28, 1980. She danced with a man named Stephen Epperly and was last seen around midnight, leaving the club with Epperly. Gina called her sister at 1:00 am from a secluded cabin at nearby Claytor Lake, telling her she was with a man named "Steve". Her discarded, bloody clothing was later found. In the four decades since her disappearance, the search for her remains has been the most comprehensive body search in Virginia history.
The Lead Investigator
Clarence "Austin" Hall, was the Virginia State Police officer who first questioned Stephen Epperly in the case. The bulk of Austin Hall's previous experience was in highway patrol, but after demonstrating strong investigative skills early in the case, he was appointed the lead investigator and also directed the search for Gina Hall's body. Working closely with Everett Shockley, Hall interviewed witnesses and gathered evidence to build the entirely circumstantial case against Epperly, with no direct evidence. Austin Hall's court testimony in the murder trial was especially damning.
The Surprise Witness
William "Bill" Cranwell was a former Hokies quarterback who once appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was a good friend of both Stephen Epperly and Gina Hall's father, John. Cranwell and John Hall were VT football teammates & roommates in the 1950's. Cranwell was a very successful Blacksburg businessman who made millions as a partner in HCMF. He also had a reputation as a man who friends could come to for help and advice in times of trouble. In a huge coincidence, Epperly visited Cranwell the week after Gina's disappearance and incriminated himself by asking a disturbing question. Cranwell informed the police and testified as a surprise witness in Epperly's murder trial. Cranwell later served on VT's Board of Visitors.