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On Your Side Investigators: Police release details on Golden Years investigation

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

Just days after an NBC12 investigation about a detective saying he was ordered to cover up two murders, the Commander of Major Crimes at Richmond Police headquarters has responded.

The department even went back through its archives and opened up the old case files for the Golden Years killings. The agency says the deaths continue to be considered natural causes, but the agency released the names of the deceased.

"She was murdered, and I covered it up. I was ordered to cover it up," said former Richmond Police detective Sgt. Ron Reed, talking about the death of 81-year-old Rachel Henshaw.

Police just released her name for the first time. She died on June 20 at Kensington Gardens, an old nursing home that shutdown years ago.

Over a series of interviews in the last several months, Reed cleared his conscious to us. He says convicted serial killer Leslie Leon Burchart admitted to killing Henshaw in her bed.

"He said, 'I went in the room, she was suffering, so I thought she needed to die,'" said Reed. 

Police were called because the nurse that discovered the body also said she saw a man, she later identified to Reed as Burchart, leaving the room. The medical examiner ultimately ruled the death natural causes.

Reed says Burchart also described strangling a homeless man with his shirt behind a grocery store on West Broad Street. He says the medical examiner ruled that death alcohol poisoning. Police released Tuesday that the man was 47-year-old William R. Merrill. His body was discovered at 800 North Allen Avenue on June 18, 1996.

"[Burchart] told me, 'The guy was just like me. He was suffering and I took my shirt off, put it around his neck and choked him.'" said Reed.

Reed claims he was ordered to cover up the deaths after Burchart confessed. He says he was told it was because the city's homicide rate was already so high. He left the force the following year, retiring much earlier than he planned. He says his two-decade old secret haunted him. He came forward because, "I want to apologize to [the family of Henshaw] for what I did wrong," said Reed while choking back tears.

The Richmond Police Department issued a written statement about our investigation. Captain Emmett Williams, Commander of Major Crimes wrote, "The Department has located and reviewed the files of the two death investigations in question. It shows investigators were aware of both cases during the period of the Golden Years murders but they remained classified as natural deaths. The files were reviewed again in 1998 as part of a global review of all the death possibly related to Mr. Burchart. The documentation related to that review is detailed and thorough. In early 1999, investigators resubmitted those two cases to the medical examiner who ruled there was not enough evidence to reclassify them as homicides."

Burchart was diagnosed a schizophrenic. He was off his medications during his killing spree. He eventually pleaded guilty to seven killings, during a six-month time frame in 1996. There was never any DNA evidence that tied him to the killings. The cases were all built around his confessions and the details he knew about those deaths.

Based on Burchart's confessions to him, Reed remains certain Burchart also killed the homeless man, William Merrill, and the woman at the nursing home, Rachel Henshaw. Reed says he doesn't care if the police ever reclassify the deaths. He simply wants to find Henshaw's family and apologize.

"I wouldn't be trying to get a hold of these people if I didn't know that he killed that woman at Kensington Gardens. They called me every week for months, wanting to know if there's any change, and I didn't tell them the truth," said Reed.

We've also spoken with several former Richmond Police detectives during the course of this investigation. Not a single one has challenged Reed's version of events. All of them have stood by his character. Several have indicated they believe Burchart had more victims than we know about.

Burchart died in prison at age 52.

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