In 2006, 32-year-old Robert Eric Wone had everything going for him. He was a graduate of the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Law School, president-elect of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and a hotshot lawyer in Washington DC, he had a beautiful home in Oakton, Virginia, and had a happy life with his wife, Katherine. He was well-liked and successful, and it seemed that the sky was the limit for this young man, the future laid out for him and looking bright. However, there seem to have been menacing dark shadows lurking along that path to the horizon, and Wone would end up becoming one of the strangest unsolved mysteries in Washington D.C. history.
On August 2, 2006, Wone was in downtown Washington D.C. working as general counsel at Radio Free Asia, and he ended up working late. The commute home was a long one, and rather than drive tired all the way back to Oakton he made the decision to stay with his friend Joseph Price, who was also an attorney and an old buddy from his college days. Price himself happened to be a gay rights attorney and was very openly gay, living in a three-way relationship with two other men, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward. Although Wone was straight, he had no problem with any of this, and when he arrived at Price’s swank townhouse in the Logan Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C. at approximately 10:30 PM for an overnight stay there was no reason to think anything odd would happen or that there was anything strange about it all. Yet this would soon change.
Just about an hour after Wone arrived, neighbors were startled by a sudden scream coming from the Price house, and right after this there was a call placed to 911 by Zaborsky, who in a panic told the operator that there was an intruder in their house and that this stranger had stabbed their friend. During the call, Zaborsky was described as totally freaking out and babbling on about how much blood there was everywhere. The operator stayed on the line with him and was still with him when paramedics arrived, who found Wone in a second-floor bedroom lying on his back upon a fold out bed. There were three stab wounds to the chest and abdomen, and Wone was very, very dead. The condition of the bed itself was odd, as a pillow was neatly placed under Wone’s head and the sheets were all clean and folded, with no sign of a struggle at all. Oddly, despite Zaborsky’s claims there was not much blood at the scene at all, and it seemed as if the body had actually been washed after being stabbed. At the foot of the bed were found all of Wone’s belongings, including his Blackberry, cell phone, watch, night guard case, and two wallets stuffed with cash. Next to the bed was a table with a bloodied knife and towel upon it, the knife presumably the murder weapon.
In the room with the body was Price himself, who told the paramedics that he had run into the room when he heard a scream to find his friend stabbed. When police arrived, they came to the conclusion that Wone had been likely stabbed and killed somewhere else in the residence, and that considering the pristine state of the bed had probably been washed and laid down on the bed. A closer examination of the body proved that he seemed to have indeed been washed after death, and adding to the mystery were seven needle marks on his arm that could not be explained and there was also evidence that he had possibly been sexually assaulted. When questioned about all of this, the other men would admit that indeed Wone had been attacked on the patio while they were sleeping, and that it was them who had moved his body upstairs. This didn’t make much sense to the authorities, clashed with what Price had said, and they were immediately suspicious of the three. Another oddity was that, despite the original panicked 911 call, all three men seemed remarkably calm and composed considering their friend had just been stabbed to death, also reportedly doing little to cooperate. To the authorities it looked like they had killed Wone and cleaned up the crime scene before calling 911, and they were considered definate suspects.
In the aftermath of the death, the crime scene was more thoroughly searched and a full autopsy was carried out on Wone’s body, which turned up myriad new details. The residence was found to contain various examples of sexual S&M related paraphernalia, and while this wasn’t necessarily any evidence of wrongdoing or foul play, the coroner would turn up evidence that Wone had been physically restrained and that some of these devices had been used on him, something which the three suspects adamantly denied. There was also evidence found that someone had washed their bloody clothes in the washing machine, and it was found that the knife found by the bed was likely not the actual murder weapon. As to the needle marks, it was speculated that they had been from administering some sort of drug to incapacitate Wone, although what drug had been used could not be ascertained. The stab wounds themselves were found to be so perfectly placed and clean that it was obvious they had been inflicted on a prone victim unable to fight back or defend himself. Despite all of this, there was not enough evidence to level murder charges at the suspects, and they were instead brought to trial on charges of obstruction of justice and evidence tampering. Meanwhile, the case was attracting great public scrutiny due to the lifestyle choices of the three men involved, who were active members of the LGBT community. Making it all even weirder was that three months after the murder there was a burglary at the Price residence, in which Joseph Price’s own brother and an accomplice made off with more than $7,000 of electronic equipment.
At the trial, prosecutors pushed the angle of foul play, saying that Wone had been paralyzed with a drug, sexually assaulted, and killed by the three defendants, but the three never changed their story. To them it was an intruder who had done it, even though it seemed impossible that someone could have snuck in there, killed Wone, cleaned the crime scene, and snuck back out again without anyone noticing. In the end, in 2010 all three of them were found not guilty of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and tampering with evidence, despite refusing to testify, although there was still much doubt about the intruder explanation. The presiding judge Lynn Leibovitz would later lament that she was almost certain that the men must have at least known who killed Wone, but that there had just not been enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. She would say:
It is very probable that the government’s theory is correct, that even if the defendants did not participate in the murder, some or all of them knew enough about the circumstances of it to provide helpful information to law enforcement and have chosen to withhold that information for reasons of their own. Nevertheless, after lengthy analysis of the evidence, I conclude that the government has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the essential elements of obstruction of justice or evidence tampering.
The following year they were brought up by Wone’s wife in a civil wrongful death case, which they settled out of for an undisclosed sum. The case has gone on to become much talked about, and has accrued a reputation for being one of the strangest unsolved murders Washington D.C. has ever seen, constantly picked apart by amateur sleuths to this day. There has never been any closure on this, no one ever officially charged in relation to the death, and we are left with many questions and very few answers. What happened on that evening? Why was Wone killed and by who? Why was he cleaned and placed on that bed and what really happened before that? What is the meaning of all of the strange clues? Were the three original suspects really innocent, or did they have some part to play in it all? For now we don’t know, and the solution of the murder of Robert Wone remains a frustratingly evasive specter.