Bradley Casteel was a Big Stone Gap native who fell on hard times in Norfolk, Virginia. He worked in a prison camp for a public drunkenness conviction in May of 1947. A dark secret began to plague his mind. He couldn’t sleep or rest from the weight of his guilt. Casteel went to Detective Leon Nowitzky with a full confession.
In 1941, Casteel was stationed at Ft. Meade in Baltimore, Maryland. He eventually decided he no longer liked military life and went AWOL. He wandered around the big city, amazed by life outside southwestern Virginia. He eventually wandered into a bar and met a beautiful barmaid named Anne Richardson.
The two began a passionate relationship. It wasn’t long before Casteel wanted to bring her home to the mountains. They returned to Big Stone Gap and lived together in a remote cabin. Things were great for a while, but Anne grew homesick for the bustle and lights. She grew despondent as time passed, and he resented her for her sorrow. The two fought more often about leaving the mountains. The violence escalated for several weeks, and ended when he shot her. He carried her body for a mile-and-a-half and buried it in Bone Hollow. He buried the murder weapon fifteen feet from her grave.
He wandered for a time afterward, and went as far as West Virginia. Running didn’t improve his spirits, so he returned to Ft. Meade. He was given a few months in the guardhouse as punishment and sent to the Pacific theater. He was honorably discharged from military service in 1944.
After the discharge, he traveled and took odd jobs to support himself. He visited Big Stone Gap in January of 1947. While there, he visited Anne’s grave to see if anyone had discovered her grave. No one had. He left the region, but she stayed on his mind.
He eventually found work with an oceanic tugboat service in Norfolk. Unfortunately, the tugboat sank, and took his money and personal possessions with it. The tugboat firm promised him a check to cover what he lost. He told the authorities he would probably need that money to retain an attorney.
Kinks in the Yarn
It was an astounding story of drama, passion, and murder. Detectives immediately began investigating to see if there was a case. Norfolk authorities contacted the Baltimore authorities, as well as the Wise County authorities. Casteel’s time at the camp was over, but they held him on suspicion of murder. Casteel didn’t object, but it wasn’t long before the beautiful and tragic yarn began to unravel.
Baltimore authorities reported there was no missing person named “Anne Richardson.” Wise County authorities also reported there was no such place as “Bone Hollow.” When pressed on the issue, Casteel himself couldn’t even remember exactly why he shot her.
Authorities interviewed his two sisters who lived near Big Stone Gap. They said “Bone Hollow” was an informal name for “Boneyard Hollow.” This small hollow was about a mile outside Appalachia. It was named Bone Hollow because local slaughterhouses dumped their refuse there for the wild animals.
Both sisters remembered Casteel’s visit in July of 1941, but neither recalled any girl. Casteel’s brother-in-law stated he’d seen Casteel with a girl, but only a few years earlier, not as far back as 1941. The sisters told authorities Casteel had just turned 23, not 30, as he’d said.
Virginia State Police brought Casteel from Norfolk to Big Stone Gap to search for her grave. Wise County authorities had given up on locating it. They began walking up the hollow, but Casteel decided he didn’t like it. The case had received far too much attention and he wouldn’t cooperate until things calmed down. They returned to Norfolk and waited until the craze subsided. The authorities continued to hold Casteel, but he made no effort to get released.
The Yarn Disintegrates
Despite a growing number of conflicting facts, the investigation continued through January of 1948. Authorities again brought Casteel to rural Virginia, only this time, little attention was given to the event. Baltimore authorities still hadn’t located records of any Anne Richardson. No one in the mountains had found any grave.
They were almost at the spot in the woods where Casteel said he buried her when he stopped. He told authorities it was all a hoax. No reason was given for his dishonesty, but it is assumed the authorities eventually let him go.