By CALVIN PYNN
A camera crew for “Ice Cold Killers,” a documentary television series profiling true murder cases on the “Investigation Discovery” channel visited Pulaski earlier this week to cover one of the area’s most notorious murders.
The show’s episode will focus on the 2000 murder of Tara Rose Munsey, a 16-year-old Radford High School student who disappeared after leaving work at the Fairlawn Taco Bell. Her body was found in a ravine next to the railroad tracks in the Parrott section of Pulaski County.
According to David O’Donnell, the show’s executive producer, the episode is expected to air in either January or February 2015. He said Munsey’s case caught Investigation Discovery’s attention due to the close impact it had one the local community.
“It’s like everybody had known Tara, she’s just your normal all American high school kid who was just ripped away for absolutely no reason whatsoever,” O’Donnell said.
“We were really moved by how the community rallied behind the family and did everything they could first to find her, and then when they had found her she had been killed, then to find justice,” he added. “It’s just a really powerful story.”
Munsey’s killer, an acquaintance named Jeff Thomas, was found guilty of the teenager’s murder and is currently serving a life sentence without parole at Nottoway Correctional Center. His involvement in the murder was linked to shell casings found near Munsey’s body, as well as DNA evidence found on detached cigarette filters, which Thomas had a habit of pinching off, according to Pulaski County Sheriff Jim Davis.
Davis, along with Sgt. Bill Ritter, and Commonwealth Attorney Mike Fleenor were interviewed for the episode. Munsey’s friends and family, including her father, Bill Munsey, were interviewed as well.
“Her father put a lot of effort into that, and his interview was so touching, her brother too…amazing,” said Meg Farrage, the show’s field director who conducted the interviews. “It’s still so tough for them, understandably.”
According to O’Donnell, the episode’s production depended on Munsey’s family’s willingness to participate, as with any victim’s family they speak with during filming.
“We only do stories where we have the cooperation of the victim’s family, we want to make sure that they want the story to be told,” O’Donnell said. “When we reached out to Tara’s Dad, he wanted to share her story, so we went ahead with it.”
Davis said he was hesitant about cooperating with the episode’s filming, however, he got on board once he learned that Munsey’s father and brother were willing to pursue the show. He said their reasoning was to prevent another tragedy like this in the future.
“It started as a tragedy, it will always be a tragedy,” Davis said. “I still feel our department was truly successful in pursuing this case, and I feel gratified that it came to such an outcome, and we resolved the case, and he will never ever hurt another innocent teenager again.”
Davis said that he still keeps in touch Bill Munsey, meeting him over coffee every year. Munsey’s mother, Kitty Irwin, passed away from cancer just a couple years after the teenager was murdered.
In the years following the murder, Davis said numerous television programs similar to Ice Cold Killers have contacted the Sheriff’s Office for consultation about the case. This is the second time Davis’ office has agreed to participate, the first time being when a camera crew came to film an episode for the truTV series “Forensic Files” in 2010.
“We’ve had to relive the case each time they’ve asked us to do this,” Davis said. “Numerous times, it brings back all the memories, the distress, the hours, and the extreme pressure we worked under.”
“It’s just one of those things where you’re glad it’s over,” he added.
According to Farrage, the camera crew will not visit the site where Munsey’s body was found. However, they may film some of the evidence found pending permission from the court.
Reenactments of the events depicted in the episode will be filmed at the studio for the show’s production company M2 Pictures, in Hampton, Va.