Phone call infuriated murder suspect

A phone call made by Larry Bill Elliott to the object of his obsession Jan. 2, 2001, set in motion the murders of a young Woodbridge couple, according to testimony given in Prince William Circuit Court on Thursday.

Rebecca Gragg, 34, testified that she received the call from Elliott on her cellular phone while sleeping at a rest stop on her way back from Florida to her home near Woodbridge. However, because of her groggy state and a bad cellular connection she said she mistook Elliott for Robert Finch, a former boyfriend and father of two of her four children.

Elliott, 52, is accused of shooting Robert Finch, 30, and his girlfriend Dana Thrall, 25, inside their town house in the early morning hours of Jan. 2, 2001. He faces the death penalty if found guilty of capital murder.

Prosecutors contend Elliott considered Finch an obstacle toward a romantic relationship between himself and Gragg.

Gragg said she talked with Finch while she was in Florida because she wanted to tell him she wouldn’t be home on time and would have to deliver the children to his house a day late. The two had what Gragg called a “tumultuous” relationship while dating and later had been involved in a heated custody battle over their two young children.

“Rob was telling me he had been by my house and that he didn’t believe that I was not home and that it was B.S.,” Gragg stated regarding the phone call involving the mistaken identity. “He said he had driven by my house and was at the 7-Eleven [near Gragg’s house].

“I said I was sorry that I was late … he got pretty emotional and told me that he loved me and I said ‘I love you, Rob.’ I also told him that I didn’t see how things could work between us ever again … He went ballistic, and he said ‘What did you call me?’ I said ‘Rob’. That is when he said ‘I am tired of this s–t. I am going to take care of it right now.'”

When she hung up the phone, Gragg said, she stopped and thought about it because what he said didn’t fit.

“It made more sense that it was Mr. Elliott,” Gragg said. “I called back but did not get an answer. I am not sure how many times I called back. At that time I went to look for coffee … I then got back in my car to head home.”

Gragg and her mother, Laura Didion, were the two main witnesses to appear in the Elliott case Thursday; both were called by the prosecution. Both described how during the 11/2-year relationship between Elliott and Gragg, Elliott spent an exorbitant amount of money on Gragg, up to about $400,000. Gragg said Elliott paid for three homes, a car, a credit card, legal fees to help with child custody, private school for Gragg’s children and furniture during the peak of the spending.

The former stripper and escort stated she had met Elliott through an adult Web site in the late 1990s on which Gragg had advertised for a type of “sugar daddy”. She said she made it clear to him she did not want to be with him sexually, and Elliott had also made statements to police that their relationship was not an intimate one.

Conversations throughout the day between Gragg and Elliott led Gragg to believe he had done something to harm his wife, Gragg said.

“He said our problems had been taken care of and that we could start our life together,” Gragg said. “[When I asked what he meant, and what had happened] he said it didn’t have anything to do with me, but that it was all taken care of.”

Both Gragg and Elliott were married to other people during this time. Although Elliott lived with his wife in their Hanover, Md., home, Elliott told police his relationship with her was strained.

Gragg didn’t testify as to what Elliott’s opinion of her husband was, except to say he was jealous of all her relationships current and past. She said Elliott singled Finch out because he found out the two had a sexual encounter in October 2000 and when Elliott questioned her about it she told him she still loved Finch.

“He asked why did I have feelings for this man considering what he had done to me, and said that he would treat me like a queen,” Gragg said.

Police began to question Elliott in the murders of the Woodbridge couple after officers went to question Gragg about the killings Jan. 3. Gragg was in Florida at the time; however, police noticed a car in front of her home that was registered to Elliott.

They then linked Elliott as the owner of a truck that had been reported as a suspicious vehicle in Thrall and Finch’s Rollingwood Village community at about 4 a.m. on Jan. 2.

Elliott, who formerly served in Army intelligence, was questioned for approximately 15 hours by Prince William police after they asked him to follow them to a Maryland police station Jan. 3. He told police he was in the Rollingwood Village area Jan. 2 to do surveillance on Finch in hopes of catching him using drugs. If he could find evidence of drug use, Elliott admitted, it would help Gragg win an upcoming custody battle. He never admitted any involvement in the murders, and pleaded not guilty. Gragg testified that Elliott never told her he killed Thrall and Finch, but had only alluded that he had harmed someone.

Elliott’s court case began Monday and is scheduled to last until the end of July. Defense Attorney William B. Moffitt stated in court Thursday that he plans to file motions today because of discrepancies between police interviews with Gragg, and what she said on the stand in court. The trial will resume Monday with Moffitt’s cross-examination of Gragg. Judge William D. Hamblen will also hear Moffitt’s motions Monday morning.

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