Crime & Courts

‘Until justice is done.’ Vigil held for girl slain 55 years ago, area’s oldest cold case

Family and friends still trying to heal from 54-year-old murder case

The case of Virginia Williams remains unsolved after 54 years but family and friends are beginning to heal.
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The case of Virginia Williams remains unsolved after 54 years but family and friends are beginning to heal.

When Bobby Donaldson, a historian of black communities and civil rights, spoke at a vigil for Virginia Williams, he evoked the spirit of Frederick Douglass.

“We, our people, must keep the past alive until justice is done,” Donaldson said to a crowd in a community center in the Booker Washington Heights neighborhood, quoting Douglass.

He told the crowd they had to keep Virginia’s spirit alive until justice is done.

Virginia Williams was raped and killed in 1964 at 13 years old about a mile from her home in Booker Washington Heights. The killing is the oldest cold case in the Midlands. While investigators have had leads over the years, no one has ever been charged with the crime.

On Saturday, family of Williams, childhood friends and other relatives gathered to, as Donaldson said, “mark a resurrection” and celebrate Williams.

Columbia Police Chief Skip Holbrook, Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and their cold case investigators as well as city council members Ed McDowell and Tameika Isaac Devine also attended.

“Like you’ve never forgotten her, we’ll never forget her,” Lott said to the crowd.

The event was marked with music, praise dances, poetry and a candle-lighting ceremony.

“A lot of love has been poured into this day of celebration,” said Freddie Johnson, a childhood friend of Williams.

Johnson remembered her friends from their school days together, recalling a time she once saw Virginia playing football with the boys and decided to join. Johnson, just a small kid then, end up in the bottom of a dog pile, coming out of the scrum with a bloody nose, scraped arm and a broken pinky that never healed right.

“Virginia helped me to the office and told me to hold my head back,” Johnson recalled.

It’s a small memory but one that still keeps Virginia alive today.

“She was my shield and my hero,” Johnson said.

After the event, Columbia Police Department investigator Kevin Reese urged that people contact him at (803)545-4304 if they have any information on the death of Virginia Williams.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.