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Western Virginia cases inspire popular books, television series

Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 10:56 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Ron Peterson Jr. was a student at Radford University in the mid-’80s.

“I’d heard about the Gina Hall case then,” Peterson recently told WDBJ7. “It was just one of those things that had always stuck in my mind.”

Years later, when he decided to write a book, he returned to the disappearance of the Radford University student, and the investigation of Stephen Epperly. The former Virginia Tech football player was the first person in Virginia convicted of murder without the body of the victim ever being found.

‘Under the Trestle’ would lead to Hall’s second book, when the lead investigator on the Gina Hall case suggested another.

“He said if this book does well, you’ve got to write about Wally Thrasher,” Peterson said. “And my first comment was who is Wally Thrasher? And he took about ten minutes to fill me in, and I was hooked.

‘Chasing the Squirrel: the Pursuit of the Notorious Drug Smuggler Wally Thrasher’ was released in 2020.

“The deeper I dug into the story, the more amazed I was about the twists and turns,” Peterson said, “and you know it’s something if you wrote a novel or made a fictional movie about it, a lot of people would think it’s too far-fetched.”

The story of drug-running between South America and southwest Virginia, and the exploits and disappearance of Thrasher, is now being adapted by Urban Legends Film Company for a television documentary series that will likely air on a streaming service.

But Peterson said one of the biggest payoffs for him, has been getting to know the investigators involved in the cases he’s profiled.

“To get to know some of them as well as I have, and learn a little bit about what they do, hear them tell the stories about it, just makes me realize how interesting it was and how dedicated they were, to for example, keeping drugs out of southwest Virginia,” Peterson said.

The working title for the documentary series is “Where’s Wally?’

Peterson said it should reach our television screens in a year or two.

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