true crime

Repost: Weird murder stories from my college town

What the hell… I’m on a roll with the reposts. Here’s one that appeared on April 24, 2014 and is relevant to true crime.

Last night, while lying alone in bed, I re-posted on Facebook an old blog post I wrote last year about Farmville, Virginia, the town where I went to college.  Most people who have been to Farmville would say it’s kind of like Mayberry.  It’s a rural town in south central Virginia surrounded by beautiful country… lots of trees, nice people, and the Appomattox River.  I enjoyed my four years at Longwood College, now known as Longwood University.  Twenty years post graduation, I still have a lot of friends from my college days.  Last night, we were reminiscing about Farmville.

My friend Donna reminded me of a bizarre murder that took place there just five years ago.  I remembered it well, actually, because only a few days ago I was trying to find out if anything new had happened to the perpetrator of a quadruple homicide in Farmville.  It happened in September 2009, just as Bill and I were coming back from Germany.  Dr. Debra Kelley, a sociology professor from Longwood, was about to go on sabbatical.  Her estranged husband, Mark Niederbrock, was a local pastor at a Presbyterian church.  They had a 15 year old daughter named Emma who was a fan of “horrorcore” music. 

That September, the family went to Michigan with Melanie Wells, one of Emma’s friends, and a young man named Richard “Sam” McCroskey, who had come to visit from California.  McCroskey was an aspiring horrorcore/rap musician who went by the name “Syko Sam”.  He and Emma had met online.

After the trip to Michigan, the group went back to Farmville.  Dr. Kelley had a house on First Avenue, which is very close to campus.  Apparently, despite her background in sociology and criminal justice, Kelley was not suspicious of McCroskey.  Looking at his photos, he doesn’t seem all that threatening.  In fact, Bill even said the young man resembled him when he was a teen.  Must be the Irish blood.

Evidently, Sam and Emma were dating, though their relationship may have been about to go on the skids.  McCroskey apparently became upset about some text messages Emma sent that indicated they weren’t as exclusive as McCroskey expected.  He became very distraught.  Late in the evening on September 14, 2009, McCroskey drank beer, smoked marijuana, and possibly took painkillers.  Then he attacked the three women sleeping in the house.  He started with Melanie Wells, who was sleeping on a sofa, then Dr. Kelley in her upstairs bedroom.  Finally, he attacked his girlfriend, Emma.  All three victims were killed by a maul, a heavy hammer used to drive stakes or wedges.  None of the women woke up as McCroskey carried out his attack.  None had defensive wounds.

Three days later, at about 5:00pm, Mark Niederbrock arrived at the home.  For some reason, McCroskey stayed there with the three dead bodies.  He attacked Niederbrock with the maul.  Then, once his girlfriend’s father was dead, he moved his and Wells’ bodies into Emma’s room and tried to clean up the mess.  At one point, he videotaped himself, saying that he needed to kill himself to pay for what he’d done.

Ultimately, the suicidal feelings passed and McCroskey tried to flee.  He stole Niederbrock’s car and was eventually pulled over.  The police officer, unaware of the murders, issued McCroskey a summons for driving without a license, but did not arrest him.  McCroskey was later found sleeping in the baggage claim area at Richmond International Airport.  He was eventually charged with six counts of capital murder.  Though he could have been sentenced to death, he ended up getting life.  He is now at Red Onion, a supermax prison in Pound, Virginia.

I didn’t know it until last night, but there was another notorious murder in Farmville years before.  In the year 2000, local businesswomen Suzanne Arena and Susan Varner, who had run a wildly successful antique business in downtown Farmville, were murdered by Susan’s ex husband, Reggie Varner.   

I remember their business, Suzi’s Antiques, which was located downtown and had all kinds of cool vintage clothes the women had picked up in antique stores all over southern Virginia.  I never went in the store myself, though I had seen the storefront a lot of times.  It never seemed to be open.  But Suzanne Arena and Susan Varner were friends with many famous people because their finds were used in many feature films.  Indeed, I remember in 1992, the movie Sommersby was partially filmed in Farmville and Lexington, Virginia.  Richard Gere, Cindy Crawford, and Jodie Foster were all very temporary Farmville residents when that movie was made.  No doubt, that was what helped Hollywood discover the local antique business, and they eventually started rubbing elbows with the likes of June Carter Cash and Donna Karan.

This was yet another case of a love story gone awry.  Susan was married to Reggie Varner in 1978.  While Suzanne and Susan had their antique business, Varner was a local farmer and apparently very attractive to the ladies.  He was also apparently a bit on the old fashioned side.  It was hard for him when the business took off and his wife started making more money than he did.  He was also allegedly very envious of the close relationship Suzanne and Susan had.  Susan and Reggie divorced in 1996. 

When Susan started dating another man and spoke about marrying him, Reggie Varner went off the deep end.  In the course of one violent afternoon in July 2000, Reggie Varner took the lives of his ex wife and her mother with a heavy, sharp instrument…  an axe.  Apparently, Varner was later found incompetent to stand trial.  He died April 15, 2005.               

There are other weird stories about my college town.  For such a small place, there has been quite a lot of intrigue there over the years.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed my time in Farmville and never knew of most of the crazy stuff that happened there.  To me, during my college years, it was a pleasant college town featuring nice people and beautiful countryside…  and it seemed like a very safe place to be.  Perhaps ignorance really is bliss.

And the original comments…

AnonymousAugust 21, 2014 at 1:11 AM

In the early 90s the Town’s commonwealth attorney murdered his wife. In the late 90s a well known doctor murdered his wife (also a well known doctor) and committed suicide. FarmVille is one crazy town. I grew up there and it seems like at least twice a decade there is one, gruesome, high profile murder.

  1. knottyAugust 21, 2014 at 6:31 AMWow, I didn’t know about those cases! 

Malfunctions and MerrimentAugust 20, 2017 at 5:27 AM

News articles state Susan was killed in a house on the 45? Does anyone know location? 

UnknownSeptember 23, 2018 at 7:56 AM

Growing up I lived in a house across the feild from Susan’s home and my cousin and I watched him walk into the house with the ax. We didn’t think anything of it at the time seeing that it was a farmhouse after all. Years later I tattooed the current owners of the home the Psycho Sam murders took place in.