Ron Peterson Jr’s writing career began in high school, when the otherwise lackluster student showed a knack for writing “A” papers. With the encouragement of an English teacher at Bethel High named Helen Darnell, he joined the staff of the school newspaper as a sportswriter.
Ron attended Radford University, where he majored in Journalism/Communications. He played for RU’s first NCAA baseball team in 1985, and wrote for the university newspaper, serving as an editor his senior year. His first paid job as a writer was in RU’s public relations department in the Sports Information office, writing press releases. Soon came a sportswriter job at a local newspaper and free-lance work with regional papers and magazines. Ron’s thirty-year career in media includes leadership positions at the Virginian Pilot and award-winning advertising work at Cox Media, where he developed TV ad campaigns that appeared on networks like ESPN, CNN and Fox News.
In 2015, at age 50, Ron finally wrote his first book, Mercy Rule, a humorous retrospective of his college baseball playing days marketed as “Bull Durham meets Animal House." Ron was unsuccessful in securing a publisher, experiencing the typical rejection faced by first-time authors.
A year later, with help from an agent, Ron began another book project, exploring a compelling 1980 murder case that had fascinated him for years. He interviewed over 100 sources, including the police investigators who worked the case, the prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, trial witnesses; as well as friends and family of the victim and killer. The result was the 2018 best-seller UNDER THE TRESTLE, about the 1980 disappearance of Radford University student Gina Renee Hall and Virginia’s first “no body” murder trial. Hall’s remains were never found and her convicted killer, former Virginia Tech football player Stephen Epperly, has been in prison over 40 years for a murder he insists he did not commit.
UNDER THE TRESTLE was a surprise hit, reaching the top 10 on the national true crime best-seller list, alongside books by John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell. It was selected one of the Top 100 true crime books of all time and featured in several broadcast TV news segments, as well as the country's #1 podcast, Crime Junkie. More importantly, UNDER THE TRESTLE re-ignited interest in the Gina Hall case. At book tour and college lecture events, Ron was joined by the key people in the book, former Commonwealth Attorney Everett Shockley, State Police lead investigator Austin Hall; and even Epperly’s two defense attorneys, David Warburton and Judge Woody Lookabill. Police Lieutenant Andy Wilburn, who re-opened the search for Gina’s remains, also helped promote the book, and pursued many new leads as a result.
Documentary film-maker Scott Mactavish of Mactavish Pictures acquired the film rights to UNDER THE TRESTLE in 2019 and the book is currently in development as a documentary movie with Peterson as Executive Producer. Mactavish's previous work includes the critically-acclaimed, MURPH THE PROTECTOR (2012), which received consideration for Academy Award nomination in four categories.
Ron published his second book in 2020, CHASING THE SQUIRREL, another true crime best-seller which tells the story of notorious Virginia drug smuggling pilot Wally Thrasher, a saga the Washington Post called “events befitting a James Bond movie.” Nicknamed “Squirrel” for his elusiveness, Thrasher made millions in the 70s and 80s, flying planeloads of marijuana and cocaine from Colombia, Mexico and the Caribbean into Florida and Virginia. In 1984, with authorities hot on the Squirrel’s tail, there was news that he had died in a fiery plane crash in Belize, his body reportedly burnt to ashes. Wally’s beautiful Portuguese-born wife, Olga, then became an informant, helping the DEA launch an undercover operation that resulted in the largest drug bust in Mid-Atlantic United States history, when over $150 million in drugs and cash were seized. The Feds focus then turned to finding Wally Thrasher, who US Marshals believe staged the allegedly fatal plane crash, faked his own death, and may still be living the good life in a faraway exotic land.
Peterson optioned the film rights to CHASING THE SQUIRREL to Los Angeles-based Urban Legends Film Company. The book is in development as a television series. Hollywood veteran Doug Tower is creative director, and Jeff Dolen, cinematographer for Primetime Emmy-nominated HBO documentary series McMillions (2019) is also attached to the project. Peterson is serving as Executive Producer.
Peterson is currently researching and writing his next book, another fascinating true crime story; working title: EYES OF A MONSTER: a detective’s relentless pursuit of cold case justice. The book explores the 1981 cold-case murder of Olivia Dare Christian, a beloved young schoolteacher who was killed in her Hampton, Virginia apartment on September 4, 1981. The murder went unsolved for three decades. In 2011, detective Randy Mayer re-opened the case and soon became obsessed with it. He developed a suspect he also linked to at least two other unsolved Hampton murders.; the 1972 murder of librarian Helen Sturges on Hampton's Chesapeake Avenue, and the 1982 murder of Christopher Newport University student Linda Sykes. The suspected killer was now in his 60s, still living in Hampton. Could Detective Mayer prove this man was a serial killer and bring him to justice? EYES OF A MONSTER has a projected release date of mid-2021.
Peterson is also a speaker on the lecture circuit, having served as a guest lecturer at colleges and universities throughout the Mid-Atlantic.
Ron and his wife Kathy reside in historic downtown Smithfield, Virginia. He is a board member of the Hampton Roads Sports Media Hall of Fame and past president of USA Swimming's Southeastern Virginia Aquatics. Peterson’s interests include landscape design, grilling and baseball. He roots for the Radford University Highlanders, where he and his wife were both NCAA athletes, and the William & Mary Tribe, where his son, Brooks, was a four-time CAA conference swimming champion, as well as the James Madison University Dukes, where his daughter, Trudy, is currently an education major.