By Marty Gordon
For 40 years, the disappearance of Radford University student Gina Renee Hall and the whereabouts of her remains have remained a mystery. Now, an invention by University of Tennessee professor Arpad Vass may have led to the discovery of Hall’s remains.
An RU freshman from Wise County, Hall was living with her older sister, Diana, then 21, when she went missing on Saturday, June 28, 1980. She 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 more than 30 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. He remains in prison serving a life sentence.
For months, investigators searched for the college student’s body. A tracking dog led police along railroad tracks from a site in Pulaski County and across the New River to Epperly’s mother’s home in Radford, but no remains were ever found. Her car was found abandoned under a railroad trestle on Hazel Hollow Road.
Over the years, Diana Hall Bodmer has been a fierce advocate for justice for her sister. Media reports have reported what came out of the trial, but she believes there is much more to tell. “I want and need to tell Gina’s story,” she said, calling most of what’s been repeatedly reported lies.
Bodmer’s relentless pursuit led her to bring in cadaver dogs and Vass, an anthropology professor.
Vass has invented a machine to detect DNA buried beneath the surface of the ground. It was his machine, according to Bodmer, that led to a discovery.
“His patented instrument will be a world changer when the system comes to realize its capabilities,” she said. “I believe this instrument will not only help with criminal cases, especially cold cases, but could help prevent crime. Imagine the moment a child is lost or abducted, and an instrument has the ability to ﬁnd that child before their life is lost. That is a world we all need,” she said.
From her own research, Bodmer was able to narrow down specific areas to search. She took Vass to a high point in Pulaski County and then to locations in around the area. In each instance, the professor zeroed in within feet of each place where DNA was found.
The cadaver dogs then confirmed the exact locations to dig. “We have since found one more place just a few weeks ago that needs validation and most likely, excavation. My knowledge of Gina’s case helped me to understand the relevance of these locations that registered positive,” Bodmer said.
Upon analysis of the dock near the Claytor Lake cabin, Vass’ machine responded to possible DNA associated with Gina and pointed to a specific corner of the house where a utility room is located.
The investigation has confirmed eight different locations located throughout the area that have a familial match to Gina’s DNA.
“There are still a few more areas I want to scan and rule out before we are completely ﬁnished,” Bodmer said. “Six of these conﬁrmed locations also register for human Caucasian bone in the same, exact place. I have only excavated one of the six and human bone was found. I also have kept the surrounding dirt from that excavation that registers positive for Gina’s organic matter.”
Those containers sit at Bodmer’s home as she works to find a lab capable of detecting human DNA in the dirt and identifying the human DNA as Gina’s.
“Advancements in forensic DNA are amazing,” she said.
“I have also suggested the same forensic exercise (involving Vass’ machine) would be quite telling for the Epperly homeplace. I am hopeful that our work there a few weeks ago will result in valuable evidence and give the authorities something to build upon – if they will act,” Bodmer said.
A book released two years ago by Ron Peterson, “Under the Trestle,” sparked new attention to the case.
This past year, Bodmer published her own book “The Miraculous Journey: A Day Made in Heaven,” which takes a look at Gina’s life and how Bodmer dealt with the loss.
Bodmer has also released several YouTube videos outlining her own findings. This includes work to find her sister’s remains.
“Because I have not yet released the companion book ‘Web of Lies Unveiled: A Day Made in Hell,’ I wanted to go ahead and provide some of the hour-by-hour factual details of Gina’s case in a format free to the public so others can begin to validate the truth for themselves,” she said.
According to Gina’s sister, learning the facts buried in the boxes of paper for four decades helped to conﬁrm the version of that tragic night that Bodmer always knew was true: her sister did not leave with Epperly willingly.
Case files included testimony from two women who were at the Marriott on that tragic night. They reported Gina Hall being harassed and even seeking safety at their table.
Testimony at the trial said Gina left the Marriott with Epperly. Bodmer argues that simply did not happen. She points to a driver side handle of Gina’s car being ripped off from the inside in an effort to keep someone from opening the door.
Bodmer believes Gina pulled the car over near McCoy Road just off Prices Fork Road after Epperly followed her there when she left the night club.
“These videos are ‘For Gina’ so that her voice can be ﬁnally heard,” Bodmer said. “I share the many facts from her case that were never known to the public until now. Facts that paint a very different true picture of that tragic night when Gina, an 18-year-old young lady, was abducted, raped and violently beaten to death by her 28-year-old killer – a premeditated murder.”
Because of the large amount of blood found at the Claytor Lake cabin, where police say Gina was killed, Bodmer is convinced her sister’s body was dismembered and disposed of in several locations. Her files show testimony from a farmer who told police he found two men, one resembling Epperly, in a creek along his property cutting up something. The men allegedly told him they were cutting up fish bait. That farmer has since passed away, but relatives repeated the story to Bodmer in 2016.
“I believe that was Gina,” she said. “That was the trigger point of my quest for truth. It was the summer of 1980 all over again, but this time I had the advantage of facts from her case ﬁle.”
Other familial matches of a second victim have possibly been found in the vicinity of where Gina’s organic marker was found. They have been and conﬁrmed by the cadaver dogs.
One of the two locations was a short distance up-creek from where Epperly was witnessed to have been “cutting bait.” And of most interest, near the remote valley where Bodmer excavated for Gina, the cadaver dogs identiﬁed not only the possible location of the second victim’s burial place, but three other places of interest for unknown cadavers nearby.
Bodmer believes the search points to more victims besides her sister.
“The third positive hit on this second victim registered as both her and the presence of human bone – both Caucasian and African American. I want to help other families have the peace I now have just by knowing the truth,” Bodmer said. “I believe Epperly is a serial killer who followed the same ritualistic patterns for at least four years, and I hope that we will learn more about his crimes against other victims. And not only his crimes, but also the crimes of others.”
She now shares optimism that the truth about what really happened on her sister’s final night and her sister’s final resting place will be found.
“We can only hope that those who still hold pieces of the truth will step up and do what is right. We can only hope that people outforproﬁt will stop sensationalizing the murder of my sister which only continues to fuel her killer’s arrogance and conﬁdence,” Bodmer said.
Epperly receives two parole opportunities for release every 1-3 years, and that includes geriatric parole, which was denied earlier this year.