Va. fam­ily strug­gles to un­der­stand why World Bank re­tiree was killed

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY JUSTIN JOUVENAL

The re­tired World Bank econ­o­mist and his wife found a refuge in their large home on an idyl­lic bend of the Po­tomac. Jo­han de Leede, 83, tended flow­ers, took grand­chil­dren out on the river in a flotilla of lit­tle boats and sparred with guests over pol­i­tics around a crackling fire.

De Leede was hap­pi­est when the house was full, and so it was one night last March when a gun­man crept up be­hind the res­i­dence in Fair­fax County, his fam­ily said. De Leede sat drink­ing a warm milk and eat­ing a ba­nana in front of the TV in his living room.

While his wife and her rel­a­tives slept in nearby bed­rooms, the gun­man un­leashed a bar­rage of gun­fire, hit­ting de Leede mul­ti­ple times in the back just af­ter 1 a.m., the fam­ily said. De Leede later died, and his killer slipped into the night.

Nearly 11 months later, the de Leede fam­ily said in their first pub­lic com­ments about the killing that it makes no more sense to­day than it did that night. Who

would tar­get an el­derly man qui­etly living out his golden years? They hope speak­ing out can help crack the case.

The cir­cum­stances have made the slay­ing of the avid out­doors­man and civic ac­tivist one of the most mys­te­ri­ous in the D.C. area. Fair­fax County po­lice re­vealed this month that a pickup truck was seen leav­ing the neigh­bor­hood near de Leede’s home on River Drive in Lor­ton on the night of the killing and asked that any­one with in­for­ma­tion come for­ward.

De Leede’s slay­ing would be tragic un­der any cir­cum­stances, but the fam­ily said the lack of an­swers has lent it a spe­cial cru­elty.

Lies­beth de Leede, 78, who was mar­ried to Jo­han for 56 years, de­scribed her­self as “lost” in a note to The Wash­ing­ton Post. She said she was too dis­traught to sit for an in­ter­view, but her daugh­ter-in-law did agree to speak for the fam­ily.

The de Leedes said the home that was the cen­ter of the fam­ily’s life, where Jo­han de Leede joy­fully tripped over his grand­chil­dren’s toys and they warmly shared large gath­er­ings at Christ­mas, has be­come a place of mourn­ing.

“I do not feel at home,” Lies­beth de Leede wrote. “The last thing Jo­han would have ever imag­ined is to die in this way in a house he loved so much.”

The de Leede’s res­i­dence sits in an up­scale neigh­bor­hood of $1 mil­lion homes on the Mason Neck penin­sula, which is about 45 min­utes south of the Dis­trict but feels much far­ther away be­cause of its bu­colic beauty. The home has views of the river, which laps at the back yard.

Jo­han and Lies­beth were born in the Nether­lands and em­i­grated to the United States in 1970, when he got a job at the World Bank. De Leede spent 25 years work­ing on im­prov­ing eco­nomic in­fra­struc­ture in Su­dan and other African coun­tries be­fore re­tir­ing. He helped spear­head the Mason Neck Trail project in the area. He had four chil­dren and eight grand­chil­dren.

The night of the killing un­folded with lit­tle in­di­ca­tion of the trou­ble to come, said Susie Paulde Leede, de Leede’s daugh­ter-in­law. On March 10, de Leede and his wife were host­ing her sib­lings, who were vis­it­ing from abroad.

The cou­ple and the three house­guests had a lively din­ner that night, be­fore ev­ery­one ex­cept Jo­han de Leede turned in about 11:30 p.m., Paul-de Leede said. Shortly af­ter 1 a.m., Lies­beth de Leede wrote she was awoke by the sound of gun­fire.

At first, Lies­beth thought the shots had come from a pro­gram her hus­band was watch­ing on TV. She found de Leede ly­ing on the floor. She thought he had fallen.

But in the min­utes that fol­lowed, Lies­beth no­ticed bro­ken glass and blinds. She re­al­ized with grow­ing alarm that Jo­han had been shot.

The fam­ily said it ap­pears de Leede was sit­ting in a chair in the living room when he was struck by the bul­lets. They said it ap­peared the shooter re­mained out­side and fired through a back win­dow of the house.

Paul-de Leede said the fam­ily be­lieves de Leede then stag­gered out of the chair and fell. Jo­han was hit in the back three or four times, and other bul­lets were dis­cov­ered in the home, Paul-de Leede said.

The slay­ing touched off a mas­sive search for the as­sailant. Fair­fax County po­lice combed the prop­erty and sur­round­ing ar­eas with dogs and a he­li­copter, but the per­pe­tra­tor was never lo­cated.

The de Leede fam­ily was in shock as the story played out on the lo­cal news the next morn­ing. The fam­ily had watched count­less news re­ports about mur­ders, but now they were the ones fea­tured.

“On the ban­ner at the bot­tom of the screen was his name,” Paulde Leede said of her fa­ther-in-law. “It’s just sur­real. The phone starts ring­ing, and peo­ple are check­ing in to see if it’s true.”

That day, Fair­fax County Po­lice Chief Ed­win C. Roessler Jr. ap­pealed for the pub­lic’s help, call­ing the case a “true mys­tery.” In the months that fol­lowed, po­lice can­vassed the neigh­bor­hood, set up a check­point, put divers in the river and filed a search war­rant for cell­phone numbers that had pinged a nearby tower on the night of the killing.

Sec­ond Lt. Ron Haugs­dahl of the Fair­fax County po­lice homi­cide unit said po­lice have yet to dis­cover a sus­pect or mo­tive, de­spite on­go­ing ef­forts. He re­newed the chief ’s call for as­sis­tance, men­tion­ing the pub­lic could pro­vide tips anony­mously via the CrimeStop­pers pro­gram.

“As far as ac­tive sus­pects, we still do need the pub­lic’s help,” Haugs­dahl said. “Mainly, it’s be­cause we haven’t had any breaks in the case to link ev­i­dence we’ve found at the scene to a sus­pect.”

Haugs­dahl de­clined to dis­cuss the ev­i­dence, say­ing it might jeop­ar­dize the probe. He did say a neigh­bor saw a dark, full-size pickup truck leav­ing the area quickly with its lights off on the night of the shoot­ing. He said it re­mains un­clear whether the truck is tied to the crime.

Haugs­dahl said po­lice are also still work­ing to un­ravel an­other mys­tery about the case: Did the killer ar­rive at the scene by land or wa­ter? They haven’t been able to ar­rive at a de­fin­i­tive an­swer.

Like the po­lice, the de Leede fam­ily has spent months turn­ing over the killing in their minds. Paul-de Leede said they have failed to find any en­e­mies, fi­nan­cial is­sues or feuds in de Leede’s past that might have led him to be tar­geted. That has left them ap­pre­hen­sive: Could the per­pe­tra­tor strike again?

De­spite the fears, Paul-de Leede said their lives have be­gun to set­tle into a new nor­mal. They try to re­mem­ber de Leede as he lived, not as he died, for the ben­e­fit of the grand­chil­dren. The fam­ily is work­ing to re­claim the house they love so much.

Still, find­ing the killer would bring some sense of clo­sure.

The week af­ter de Leede’s slay­ing, the fam­ily held a me­mo­rial ser­vice at­tended by mourn­ers who came from as far as Europe and Ja­pan. Paul-de Leede said each mourner dropped a flower in the river that de Leede loved so much.

“You are al­tered,” Paul-de Leede said of the killing. “Maybe you don’t see things as nicely as be­fore. Our bub­ble has been burst.”

COUR­TESY OF THE DE LEEDE FAM­ILY

Jo­han de Leede was fa­tally shot last year in his Vir­ginia home.

AN­TO­NIO OLIVO/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Po­lice ve­hi­cles line the street near Jo­han de Leede’s home in March af­ter the re­tired econ­o­mist was fa­tally shot. Fair­fax County po­lice have not es­tab­lished a mo­tive and are ask­ing for the pub­lic’s help.

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