By Marty Gordon
Radford University student Gina Hall disappeared on June 30, 1980 and has not been seen since. Hall had been with Epperly that night at a house at Claytor Lake, but according to him, left and was headed home. A Pulaski County jury convicted Stephen Epplerly of her murder sentencing him to life in prison.
More than 90 pieces of evidence were presented at the trial of Stephen Epperly, but none of it included the body of the 18-year-old girl.
Epperly has remained silent, and investigators have yet to locate Hall’s remains.
Over the years, there have been several searches and digs of property along the New River. Her car had been found abandoned near a railroad trestle on Hazel Hollow Road.
Bones were found in a cave off Little River and others in a well on a Pulaski County farm. But none was proven to be Gina Hall.
There has even been psychics who have led police to sites including the grounds of the former St. Albans Hospital nearby. The latter was featured on a recent “Ghost Hunters” television show. Still with no result.
But an active Radford police investigator is not letting Hall go unforgotten. Lt. Andy Wilburn has visited the gravesite marker for Hall. Of course, there is no body resting there.
“I’ve stayed involved because I believe in my heart, it’s a tragedy that she hasn’t been found. I’ve said it before and it still rings true, there is a grave in Coeburn with no body in it. I just want to take her home,” he said.
A new book called “Under the Trestle” has piqued new interest in the case. For Wilburn, it has always been on his mind.
Wilburn is one of the people author, Ron Peterson, sought out featuring him in the last chapter of the book.
The investigator grew up in Giles County and was only 11-years-old when the Hall murder topped the headlines.
In March 2007, Wilburn investigated the mysterious death of Lori Pleasants, another RU student. That case had kept police searching for answers. While they had a body, they had no real suspect in the case. It remained cold until an individual stepped forward after a conversation with the suspect.
Six years later, they arrested Bill Gutersloh who had been a bouncer at a Radford bar. He was convicted of Pleasants’ murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Wilburn is hoping this is an example of what could happen in the Gina Hall case – someone knows something.
After the guilty verdict of Gutersloh was read, Wilburn’schief at the time, Gary Harmon, was very emotional and relieved they had solved the case.
He thanked Wilburn for his work on the case and said, “Now go find Gina Hall.”
“I wasn’t sure if he was just riding an emotional wave or if he was serious, but I had never heard the name Gina Hall before,” Wilburn said.
That started his work on the case, reading what little his department had of the case file and spending the next few years going back and forth to Wytheville to read and learn about it. The Virginia state police had worked the case and had the original files.
Last year, the former home of Epperly’s deceased mother was sold. Wilburn approached the new owners and brought in ground-penetrating radar, or GPR – high-tech equipment that was not available in the 80s.
The equipment showed an abnormality in the back yard. Wilburn dug there but found nothing. The technology has been proven to be successfully in the many cases as it uses radar pulses to image the subsurface.
“I have used the ground-penetrating radar on two occasions in the case. I worked with Dr. Boyd and Dr. Herman at Radford University who agreed to bring the equipment out for two areas of interest,” Wilburn said. “The first site was very intriguing and was identified by someone who came forward. It was on the edge of Radford University property and just made sense with the details of the case.”
But nothing concrete was found. He has also used cadaver dogs on several occasions as well. “We have dug in several locations, only one with heavy equipment, the rest were by hand and it was at the first site GPR was used,” the investigator said.
Without a doubt, Wilburn believes Gina Hall can be found.
“I believe there is someone out there with information that can lead me to her. They haven’t come forward most likely due to fear. Epperly was known to have threatened people who testified against him and many people I have interviewed still fear that he will be released and come after them. It’s also possible that people with information may not come forward because they feel they will get into some sort of trouble for not cooperating sooner,” Wilburn said.
He often feels on the verge of uncovering something. “This case rocked this small community and there were some very important people in the middle of it all. Some of the tips I have received are interesting, unbelievable, outrageous and then one will come along that really piques my interest.”
Both Wilburn and author Peterson hope the new book’s release will spur some new leads in the case.
“My hope is that the book generates publicity for the case, which motivates some person out there — maybe someone with an age-old “lead” or clue — to come forward to the authorities and share that information,” Peterson said. “In my research, I learned that many people believe that in the 48 hours after Gina’s murder, Epperly may have had an accomplice in disposing of Gina’s body. If that is true, then obviously that person knows where Gina’s remains are.”
Closure is the key word for both men.
Wilburn doesn’t believe in coincidences and too many things have happened along this journey that make him believe she can and will be found.
“If not by me then by someone,” Wilburn said. “I describe this case as a huge puzzle, and I’ve collected hundreds of pieces of it. Just when I think I’m close – and I believe I have been close – more parts of the puzzle are revealed with additional missing pieces.”
If you have information in the Gina Hall case, contact Lt. Wilburn at 731-3624.