Murder case sent to Frederick grand jury
WINCHESTER – A Berryville woman charged with first-degree murder appeared in Frederick County General District Court on Friday for a preliminary hearing in her case.
Frances Charlene Moss-Hopkins, 56, was charged with first-degree murder on June 21 after Frederick County Sheriff’s Office investigators recovered the remains of Peg Sinclair, 85. Sinclair was reported missing from her home near Lake Frederick on June 18. Moss-Hopkins was her caregiver.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Ross Spicer asked questions of Sinclair’s daughter, Lisa Gilkerson, during the hearing.
She said she had seen her mother before she left the home they shared for work at around 5 a.m. June 17. When she returned in the evening, Moss-Hopkins had told her that Sinclair was sleeping and Gilkerson went into her bedroom, shut the door and turned on her television at around 7 p.m. She later said that she was tired, fell asleep quickly and slept heavily.
Gilkerson recounted waking up at around 3 a.m. and seeing a note left by Moss-Hopkins, which was submitted as evidence. She messaged Moss-Hopkins but said she didn’t check on her mother at the time because she didn’t think anything was amiss. When she went to check on Sinclair at around 5 a.m., she said her bedroom door was locked, but also said Sinclair would sometimes lock her door.
Gilkerson said she fell back asleep at around 7 a.m. and woke up after 10 a.m. When she returned to Sinclair’s bedroom, Gilkerson again found the door locked. Using a key to open the door, she discovered her mother was missing and the bed was stripped.
Investigator Alissa Hipple of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office said that after responding to Sinclair’s house for the missing person call, she spoke with Moss-Hopkins about what had happened. Moss-Hopkins said Sinclair had become ill and had sliced her finger while cutting fruit. Moss-Hopkins said she then had to clean Sinclair and the house, dropping soiled rugs off at a dry cleaner in Berryville.
According to Hipple’s testimony, Moss-Hopkins said she had offered a woman and her son a ride to West Virginia early June 18 after seeing their broken-down car. When she dropped them off to a Hispanic male at a location in West Virginia, she said he offered to dispose of her garbage and soiled linens for her.
Hipple said that on June 21, Moss-Hopkins agreed to give her and another investigator assistance in finding the location where she dropped off the linens. With her directions, Hipple said they first traveled over an hour’s journey to Oakland, Maryland, but said Moss-Hopkins seemed confused and was not able to find the location in question. After heading back to Winchester, Hipple said Moss-Hopkins started to become extremely upset.
Hipple confirmed that a tape recorder was running while she drove around to Moss-Hopkins’ directions. Hipple then read transcribed segments of what Moss-Hopkins said on the recording. Statements she read included, “It had to be something I did,” and “I had some kind of breakdown and did something to her.”
According to the transcriptions, Moss-Hopkins said the only lie she told law enforcement earlier was that Sinclair had cut her finger.
“Please shoot me in the head,” Hipple read from the compiled transcriptions. “I won’t be able to live the rest of my life in peace.”
“She’s…not in one piece,” Hipple also read. “I don’t know how many pieces…I think it’s two.”
Answering questions from the defense, Hipple confirmed that Moss-Hopkins was crying copiously and had trouble answering questions. Hipple also confirmed that Moss-Hopkins said she was without some of her prescriptions and that during the latter part of the drive, she had expressed that she was suicidal.
Investigator R.T. Swartz of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office testified that he was following behind Hipple’s vehicle starting in the late afternoon of June 21. He said he stopped in the same location Hipple’s car did, and that an “upper torso” and “lower torso” were found 20 to 25 feet away from each other near the area.
The defense made a motion to strike on the first-degree charge, but Spicer said there was evidence for premeditation – a quality that separates first- and second-degree murder. As defined by Virginia code, first-degree murder is a class 2 felony with 20 years to life imprisonment as punishment, while second-degree murder would mean five to 20 years imprisonment.
Judge William Eldridge IV certified Moss-Hopkins’ first-degree murder charge to a Frederick County Circuit Court grand jury. She was remanded into custody and will be held at Northwestern Regional Adult Detention Center.
Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org.