Updated: Suspect fatally shot in Virginia Beach was wanted in 1992 killing near Sugarloaf Mountain

Updated: Suspect fatally shot in Virginia Beach was wanted in 1992 killing near Sugarloaf Mountain

Montgomery County police confronted man Wednesday during attempt to arrest him

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Montgomery County police said on Thursday that authorities had fatally shot Hans Huitz, 51, who was a cold case homicide wanted for killing 57-year-old James Essel in 1992 near Sugarloaf Mountain. Essel, police said, owned the Sugarloaf Mountain Market.

Photo via Montgomery County police

In Virginia Beach, Va., on Wednesday, Montgomery County police detectives confronted a man wanted in connection with a 1992 killing of a store owner near Sugarloaf Mountain.

The homicide suspect — Hans Huitz, 51 — was in his vehicle near his home on Maitland Drive in Virginia Beach. When he “presented a firearm” as police tried to get him to surrender, officers fired at him, according to a city of Virginia Beach press release. Huitz died.

Huitz was suspected of killing 57-year-old James Essel on March 22, 1992, at Sugarloaf Mountain Market at 23800 Old Hundred Road in Comus, which is near Clarksburg. Authorities believe Huitz stabbed Essel to death during a robbery.

Montgomery County police were members of a U.S. Marshals task force that tried to arrest Huitz, Virginia Beach police said.

Officer Rick Goodale, a Montgomery County police spokesman, said Thursday that he didn’t know how many county police detectives were on the scene Wednesday and which, if any, fired shots.

Police said the Montgomery County detectives were placed on administrative leave, a standard procedure during the investigation of a shooting by a police officer.

Goodale referred all other questions to Virginia Beach police, who are conducting the investigation into Huitz’s death.

Virginia Beach police could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

Police have said Essel, the owner of Sugarloaf Mountain Market, was found dead by a customer, who called 911.

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James Essel (photo from Montgomery County police)

An autopsy performed the day after the killing found that Essel had 29 stab wounds; a medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, police said.

Police have been trying to track down more information about the killing in the years since.

In 2016, they released new information about the case and asked for the public’s help in solving the cold case. Police said then that they thought Essel was stabbed during a robbery based on evidence at the scene. They also said they thought the killing took place between 5:30 and 6 p.m. that day.

In 2017, police found additional information through DNA analysis and other “investigative techniques.”

That year, Montgomery County said they had sought the service of Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company in Virginia. Parabon specializes in DNA phenotyping, which is using DNA evidence to predict physical appearance and technology.

Using blood the suspect left at the scene, Parabon created a composite image of how the killer might have looked — eye color, skin color, freckling, face shape, according to a 2017 police press release. One image was created at age 25 and another at age 50.

Police said on Thursday that Huitz was identified as a possible suspect at the end of January.

On Monday, Montgomery County detectives, with the help of Virginia Beach police, obtained a warrant for a cheek swab DNA test of Huitz, to compare it to DNA from the blood left at the scene. Police said they obtained Huitz’s DNA sample on Tuesday and it matched with the sample from 1992.

Police said a task force of detectives attached to the U.S. Marshals Service tried to arrest Huitz on Wednesday and charge him with first-degree murder, felony murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon.

Bethesda Beat Managing Editor Andrew Schotz contributed to this story

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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