On April 10, 2008, Navy sailor Chris Shortt discovered his step-daughter Meghan Landowski stabbed to death in their Portsmouth, Virginia home. Meghan was 16 years old and from the looks of the crime scene, there was a struggle; Meghan fought back. Investigators learned the killer used a knife from the family’s kitchen. They found it in a gutter down the street. The police didn’t know who committed the murder but they believed it was personal and Meghan knew her attacker. Chris and Angie Shortt believed Robert Hickey killed Meghan and they called NCIS at Naval Station Norfolk to let them know what happened. NCIS questioned Hickey. Robert Hickey was a military officer who was on his way to the rank of Captain when he was accused of sexual assault by Meghan. Robert was a close friend of the family and NCIS believe he groomed Meghan for a sexual relationship. Meghan said Rob began touching her when she was 14 and by age 15, Meghan was having a sexual relationship with a 30-year-old man.
The family supported Meghan as she pressed charges against Robert but they learned from civilian investigators that Hickey’s crimes amounted to a misdemeanor in Virginia; he would spend 12 months maximum in prison. But Robert Hickey was a Navy sailor and subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Navy was investigating and planning to prosecute the case. When NCIS questioned Robert Hickey about Meghan’s murder, he invoked his right to silence. NCIS considered Hickey a person of interest because he had a lot to gain if Meghan died. Meghan feared Hickey because he had a lot to lose. But Hickey’s DNA didn’t match the DNA collected at the crime scene and NCIS had no proof that Hickey committed the crime. Nonetheless, Hickey was given an other than honorable discharge from Navy. The police also suspected Meghan’s high school friend Donald because they dated in the past but the DNA didn’t match him either. At least 80 people volunteered DNA. Investigators sent the DNA for further testing to determine the geographic ancestry identity and learned the DNA belonged to an African American.
This changed the direction of the investigation and detectives began looking for African Americans in Meghan’s life. One person who became a person of interest was a counselor at Norfolk Naval Station but this individual wouldn’t cooperate with the investigation. Five months after Meghan’s murder, every lead dried up and fear was building in the community. Then a community member planned a memorial walk to help generate new leads. It was at this point someone came forward with Robert Barnes’ name. Investigators learned Meghan and Barnes were on the same bus and both participated in an exclusive arts program at school. Robert played the violin and was on his way to becoming a success story. Robert was described as a nice guy who blended in; he was fully committed to his violin music. A friend suspected Robert liked Meghan and when she asked him, he admitted it. Detectives went to the school to speak to Robert Lee Barnes and asked for a DNA sample. Eventually he acquiesced and gave investigators a used piece of gum.
The DNA was tested and the crime scene investigators reported the DNA submitted by Robert Barnes actually belonged to a girl; the police needed to talk to Robert again. In this interview, Robert Barnes admitted he was in Meghan’s house on the day of the murder. He said he went to Meghan’s house and climbed through the window after no one answered the door. He said he walked into a crime in progress; the perpetrator was wearing a mask and holding Meghan at gun point. Robert said the masked man asked him to have sex with Meghan, asked him to stab Meghan, and cut him to leave his DNA at the scene. The police believed that Robert Barnes was making this all up and arrested him. Robert’s DNA matched the DNA at the crime scene. Given the mountain of evidence against him, Robert’s defense attorney asked for a plea deal. Robert Lee Barnes pleaded guilty to first degree murder, attempted rape, aggravated sexual battery, abduction, and statutory burglary. In return, Barnes will be eligible for early release from prison in 42 years. Meghan’s parents were relieved there would be no trial.
Source: ‘The Call’ Dateline NBC
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Unusual Suspects Premiered ‘Last Dance’ on Investigation Discovery: Navy Dependent Meghan Landowski Found Stabbed to Death in Virginia Home (January 11, 2015)
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Dateline NBC Premiered ‘The Call’: Navy Dependent Meghan Landowski Found Stabbed to Death in Portsmouth, Virginia Home (May 10, 2019)
48 Hours NCIS: To Catch a Killer | CBS
Dateline Episode Trailer: The Call | Dateline NBC
Last Dance | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (website)
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Last Dance | Unusual Suspects | Investigation Discovery (Amazon)