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Suspect in UVa kidnapping previously attacked another woman

James Robert Allen has been charged with abduction and, now, malicious wounding in the Charlottesville Circuit Court for the attempted kidnapping of a UVa student last fall.
Randi B. Hagi
James Robert Allen has been charged with abduction and, now, malicious wounding in the Charlottesville Circuit Court for the attempted kidnapping of a UVa student last fall.

A grand jury handed down a new indictment on Tuesday, adding a charge in the case of 41-year-old James Robert Allen. Allen stands accused of abducting a University of Virginia student last year before she was able to escape his truck. And court documents from a 2008 Fauquier County case reveal this to be at least the second incident in a pattern of violent behavior. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

On the evening of October 4th, a man got a female university student into his vehicle before crashing into multiple cars and trees on Cabell Avenue in Charlottesville. The student was able to fight her way out. The suspect fled on foot, starting a manhunt that mobilized the Charlottesville Police Department, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals, Virginia State Police, and other agencies. Allen was arrested in Louisa County the following day on charges of abduction and strangulation. Law enforcement said the victim and Allen did not know each other.

James Robert Allen was arrested in Louisa County the day after the student escaped her kidnapper.
Charlottesville Police Department
James Robert Allen was arrested in Louisa County the day after the student escaped her kidnapper.

A grand jury indicted Allen on a new charge of malicious wounding on Tuesday. Malicious wounding is punishable by up to 20 years in prison; abduction by up to 10. The Commonwealth had previously dropped a strangulation charge, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Allen is scheduled to appear for arraignment on March 12th, and if he pleads not guilty, a trial date has been set for May 20th.

The Daily Progress reported in October that the wrecked vehicle was Allen's work truck, and both his and the victims' personal belongings were found in and around the white Ford F450. The report includes excerpts from an affidavit filed in the case, which describes the victim as being found with duct tape around her wrists. She told investigators she was attacked and choked while on a routine walk home, and could not remember how she ended up in the truck.

Another attack, 15 years prior

Court documents, social media accounts, and property records begin to paint a picture of Allen's life and criminal history. Allen has several convictions for breaking and entering and grand larceny in Fauquier County, with the earliest crimes having been committed in 2001. Then, he was a recent graduate of Liberty High School in Bealeton. He was also convicted of a 2011 shoplifting charge in Albemarle County. Throughout the years, Allen is recorded as living in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties. His most recent address is in Suffolk, where he bought a home in 2016 in a residential neighborhood surrounded by woods and farmland. He's worked in highway and bridge construction for at least two companies.

In a case with several chilling similarities to the crimes he is currently charged with, Allen was convicted of attacking a woman in Fauquier County over 15 years ago. Documents and trial transcripts filed in the Fauquier County Circuit Court establish the timeline of this violent attack.

On July 7th, 2008, a woman stopped at the Warrenton Health & Aquatic Center after getting off work. She went for a walk and was talking to a friend on the phone. A man ran up from behind and grabbed her, knocking the phone out of her hand. She said she was able to get a look at his face and clothes before he threw her to the ground, choking her and slamming her head down until she lost consciousness. When she came to, she saw Allen nearby, and recognized him as her attacker. She got away and called 911. Police officers came and arrested Allen.

He was charged with abduction and malicious wounding.

At the time, Allen lived in the town of Washington in Rappahannock County, and worked for a highway and underbridge construction company based in Culpeper. Allen claimed, at the scene and at trial, that he had been driving by the aquatic center when he saw another man – who matched his description – attack the woman, and he ran the other man off. The Commonwealth's evidence included photos of the victim's injuries, photos of injuries on Allen's arms, and audio from the 911 call.

The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, resulting in a mistrial. Prosecutors retried the case in February 2009. The judge dismissed the abduction charge in the second trial, saying, "there has to be something more in an abduction than simply being engaged in this combative situation and assaulting someone … you have to seize and detain."

This jury then convicted Allen of a misdemeanor assault & battery – apparently believing that Allen had been the man who attacked this woman, but not to the threshold required by the malicious wounding statute. He was sentenced to a year in jail, the maximum for any misdemeanor, and one year of probation.

One week after the attack at the aquatic center, Allen was arrested again on multiple breaking and entering and burglary charges. He was sentenced to one and a half years in jail and two years' probation for those crimes.

A map depicting places Allen has lived, studied, or worked (yellow); stopped or passed through around the time of an alleged crime (orange); or allegedly commited a violent crime
WMRA, Google Maps
A map depicting places Allen has lived, studied, or worked (yellow); and stopped or passed through around the time of an alleged crime (orange). The red markers denote the locations of the 2008 and 2023 attacks.

Could there be other victims?

The prosecutors in the current and previous abduction cases declined to do interviews with WMRA. I had hoped to ask them whether the similar, violent nature of the two crimes committed 15 years apart could suggest there had been other victims in the meantime. If there are, Allen has not been charged in connection with them. It's also possible victims never came forward – the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey indicate that over half of all violent crimes and three quarters of sexual assaults, specifically, are not reported to the police.

However, a WMRA review of missing persons and cold cases around the state did turn up one unsolved disappearance where the timeline puts a missing woman in proximity to Allen's stomping grounds.

In November 2011, 22-year-old Longwood University student and Madison County resident Lauren Susann Smith was last seen on security camera footage at a Culpeper convenience store. The Madison Eagle reported that Smith had taken her cell phone and purse but no other possessions, and was supposed to be dropped off at a home in Madison County where she worked for a cleaning service. Authorities later said they were not certain if she had made it to the home. One of her housemates reported her missing.

According to one of his burglary convictions, Allen was living one county over in Bealeton at this time. He would have been familiar with the Culpeper area – he had worked for a highway construction company based in town, and told investigators in 2008 that he had attended some high school there. The Madison County Sheriff's Office has not responded to WMRA's requests for an interview about Smith's case and whether Allen could be a person of interest.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.
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