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The Reston Caper -- The Story

New -- 30 March 2009


The continuation of The Reston Caper by Sol Aris:



The Story


The story revolves around the murder of an 18 year-old girl named Gwen Ames, in downtown Reston, Virginia. And it would appear that today is a most opportune time to be writing about this. I have a couple of different accounts as to the exact date of the murder, but it happened either on June 21 or July 13 of 1972 - so we're right in time for the 35th anniversary. (Addendum: for the sake of exactitude, after these words had already been published on the Internet it was discovered that the murder actually took place on June 4th that year.) Maybe that is what's making me finally try and at least put together this summary - because the feeling that I have to write something down about it has been seriously nagging me for the past two weeks.

Gwen Ames' body was found strangled a mere fifty feet away from the front door of her house, next to a little decorative bridge over a side estuary of artificial Lake Anne in the center of town. The narrow estuary separated Gwen's exclusive neighborhood from Lake Anne Plaza, the commercial and social heart of Reston, where on that day the annual three-day Reston Festival was winding down with the main and final show. The Festival was being organized that year, like every year before and since then, by Gwen's mother - a Ms. Priscilla Ames, one of the socially leading and most likely also the richest citizens of Reston. (Gwen's father never enters the picture and my sources had no idea who he was, Priscilla was a single mother.)

Gwen was only 18 when she died, yet she had evidently been a regular user of heroin for something like two or three years already. This in itself is a bit unusual but not overly so - as teenage users of heroin are known throughout the US. Gwen however, did not hail from the ordinary social strata of young users, who come mostly from poor working-class or welfare families and inner-city ghettos. Not a rich and exclusive suburban household like Gwen's.

Remember we're talking about Heroin here, the "killer drug", well known as such among all drug users. It's nowhere near the same as other "social drugs" which were much more prevalent among many groups of young people in the late sixties and seventies - mostly marijuana and LSD. Aficionados of the latter two had always been completely different people than the heroin users, and the two groups seldom intermix, despite the lies being spread about this by the "war on drugs" people. Most everybody is aware of how dangerous and deadly heroin can be, and relatively few actually try it, usually only those who don't really care about life so much. 

Gwen's body carried no other signs of violence, so this was a "straight murder", not an attempted rape or robbery. The perpetrator was never caught, and according to the reports I heard, the murder was never properly investigated, but instead was apparently rather hastily moved back from the list of urgently pending cases. This was a bit strange, because Gwen's mother certainly had the social and political pull to see the investigation all the way through, had she really wanted it. On the other hand, she also had the pull in that little town to slow it down or shut it up altogether.

Therefore, my initial reaction when I first heard about this affair four years ago, was that Priscilla Ames didn't really care if the affair was investigated. The junkie Gwen may have become a serious embarrassment to her wealthy socialite mother. Maybe relations between the two had really grown strained towards the end and no love left between them at all, and it deteriorated to the point where the mother was actually relieved to see her go before things got really bad. Moreover, maybe the socialite mother got pregnant by mistake in the first place and never wanted this girl to begin with, which is what led fatherless Gwen to start using the death drug at an early age.  

I even played around with the idea that Priscilla herself may have engineered the "unwanted daughter's" removal, hired some contract killer. That was of course far-fetched and had no evidence for it except the curious lack of investigation. Nonetheless, I felt that my psychological theory about the mother-daughter relationship here seemed to be reasonable and I would've left it at that, except for one little thing. It seems that little Gwen was far from being the only one with this problem in Reston.

The town of Reston is a very special case in Virginia, and in the entire US. It happens to be the "first planned suburban community" planned from scratch as such, and it formed the basis of thousands of like places throughout America. It was founded in 1961, when a New York investor named Robert E. Simon bought all the farm-land in the area for 13 million dollars, and decided to build a "model community" there. (By the way, this was not the first attempt to build a planned community on the spot - in 1892 a "Dr. Carl Wiehle" also drew big plans to create a Utopian Town there, which never properly took off.)

According to what the history books say, the name of Simon's town was created from his initials RES, which he turned into a clever pun on the word "rest", as the town was supposed to be a place of refuge for busy Washington DC people returning home from work. So this particular town is named after its owner/founder. (It's said that he originally played with names like "Simontown", and it's unclear who suggested the Reston pun to him.)

In any case, it turns out that this Robert Simon also had a young daughter, named Margot. And from what I've been able to ascertain, Margot Simon had also died in the year 1972 at the age of 18. Her death appears to have been entirely veneered over, and nobody can tell me anything about it. My main informant about these events said that back then everyone thought for the longest time that Margot had gone away to a boarding school.

How's that for a coincidence - the daughters of the two leading citizens of this "model town", both dead the same year in the prime of their youth, when they should've been becoming very welcome debutantes at social parties around the high-ranking DC crowd. But unfortunately the coincidence did not end there. Margot Simon was also a heroin user, a fact known around town, and she was found in her apartment dead of a heroin overdose.

The apartment was located on the 13th floor of the famous "Heron House." Robert Simon started his "Reston Dream" by building this tall apartment building, and it's widely considered "the first existing example of Modern Virginian architecture." Simon said he was not superstitious and lived on the entire thirteenth floor, where his daughter also had her separate place. The Heron House stands on the south-west side of the Lake Anne Plaza "harbor", on a wide embankment leading south of the Plaza which is for some reason called "the Boardwalk" (though it's not on boards, just a regular paved avenue.) The House is located not two hundred yards away from the cottage in which Priscilla and Gwen Ames lived.

So we have the two leading young ladies of this little town, both of them hooked on heroin and dead the same year at age 18? Even if my witnesses got some of the facts wrong after all this time about the dates and ages of the victims, it was still a very chilling coincidence, to say the least. I began asking some more questions about the town and its residents, and quickly discovered that Gwen and Margot were merely the tip of the iceberg. 

Information about this was not easy to come by, everyone seemed to want to forget about that time and leave it in the past. I was getting all my answers on the particular point of drug-use only from one specific source. This person was living back home in Reston at this time and asking people questions, but finding it extremely difficult to get any answers. What eventually evolved however, was that the use of heroin among the young people in that town back in the late sixties - early seventies was *extremely* widespread, it was like every other teenager was on it, and possibly even higher than that.

Many of these people managed to drop their habit later and came back to life, and some of them even still live in the Reston area - these are the ones that I wouldn't want to get hurt today for their "stained" past. But I have also been able to amass a list of about twenty people, all of them from approximately the same age group, and ALL OF THEM from Gwen Ames' immediate crowd of close friends - who have all died from heroin or heroin-related causes between then and now. It's like, there is really nobody left alive now, aside her aged mother Priscilla Ames, who knew Gwen Ames personally and can tell us anything about her. The same can be said about Margot Simon - all her old cronies and friends are dead, but her old father Robert Simon is still alive (and apparently well) at close to 90.

This little statistic certainly gave me pause and made me consider all this a lot more seriously. Mind you, we're talking about a town of less than ten thousand residents in those days, with just one regional High School there that served three settlements. Their graduating class was probably not more than a hundred - hundred and fifty kids tops! And suddenly something like twenty percent of that graduating class is dead from heroin? And not just "any" twenty percent, but the Leading Percentile, people who should have by all rights become the foremost citizens of that town when their time came.

This whole thing was really becoming to sound very unusual. What the hell happened in that particular little town, that did not happen at other places, to make heroin use so prevalent there among the teenage rich and famous? Nobody could tell me this, and the only way to continue investigating was to search for further anomalies or unusual things in that town and in the surrounding area.

And at this point, I think I'll turn this story into installments, because it's really way, way too long. So let me just mail this first part off and catch some necessary z's at this time, but I promise to be back very soon with more, as the time has apparently come to put it all down.

Regards for now,

Sol July 11, 2007

2 -- Sources and People



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