By John Patterson
Twenty-five years ago today, Mike Whetsell, a 55-year-old handyman living on Catoctin Circle in Leesburg, left his house to pick up a paycheck. Before returning home, he called his daughter Sherry, six months pregnant at the time, to talk about dinner that night. Driving home, he lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a fence near the intersection of Edwards Ferry Road and Plaza Street.
In the ER, the doctors pulled a bullet out of his head. Somebody shot Whetsell on his way home, intentionally or accidentally. That shooter has never been found.
“I think [not having closure] is the hardest part about the whole thing, the only thing I want is closure,” his daughter Sherry Riley said this week. “I just want to know who did it, and why they did it.”
Providing those answers is now a top priority for the Leesburg Police Department. After getting an indictment last summer in a 28-year-old murder case, Whetsell’s death is the only cold case left on Leesburg PD’s books.
The police department took questions from the press Thursday to draw attention to the unsolved case.
“We’ve had very little information provided on this case,” Lt. Jamie Sanford said. “The importance with tomorrow (June 16) being the 25th anniversary is to push forward to get people to remember that this terrible thing happened. Because somebody out there knows something and we need someone to come forward and tell us what they know.”
The investigators are especially motivated because Riley works as a 911 dispatcher for the department, which sits just a few blocks from the scene of the crash. That day she drove past the car wreck on her way home. The police stopped her from approaching the vehicle, but she could see his blood on the asphalt. Two days later, she held his hand when he was taken off the ventilator and passed away.
“I applied here because I thought I could make a difference, after what I’ve been through with my dad,” Riley said. She’s worked for the department for 13 years.
The case is personal for those at Leesburg PD because it’s impacted one of their colleagues, Sanford said. “We obviously feel the pressure we’re putting on ourselves to get some answers for Sherry and her mom and her brother,” she added. “They deserve to have answers and we’re not going to stop until we’ve done everything we possibly can to get some closure for them on this case.”
Michael’s wife, Bonny, described her husband as a generous man, always willing to help everybody. “He didn’t care who it was, he’d help him,” she said.
“He would give you his shirt off his back. Always happy, go-lucky. Instead of going to the grocery store once a week he’d go every night to get fresh meat for dinner…just the best man ever,” Riley added. “You could ask any person on the street, they’d say the same thing.”
Bonny found out about Michael’s crash when the 9-year-old boy she babysat called her that day and told her something happened to him. The boy had chased the responding fire engines to see where they were headed.
Michael was shot on the couple’s 28th wedding anniversary, and he was buried on Father’s Day.
The Whetsell family remains confident that they’ll find the answers to Mike’s death.
“Somebody out there somewhere knows something,” Sherry Riley said.
Anyone with information about Whetsell’s murder can contact the case’s lead investigator at 703-771-4521 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To remain anonymous, call the Leesburg Crime Line at 703-443-8477. Informants may be eligible for a $25,000 reward.
John Patterson is an intern with Loudoun Now. He is studying English and economics at the University of Virginia.