Forensic Files Wiki

Virginia McGinnis was born in Ithaca, NY in 1937.


Virginia committed several crimes throughout the course of her life. Among them were multiple cases of insurance fraud, suspected arson, and at least one known murder.

Investigators were never able to definitively prove that she committed a number of crimes they suspect she did. Particularly fires- as several of her former residences burned to the ground.

However, Virginia McGinnis is known to have collected on several different kinds of insurance policies over the years.

The unofficial, but pretty much definitive opinion among law enforcement and criminal detectives is that Virginia McGinnis had been a sociopathic serial killer.

She is best known for the murder of Deana Wild- the most gruesome crime she is proven to have committed. That murder took place on April 7, 1987. Her then husband BJ took part in the murder.

The Deana Wild murder was featured in the Forensic Files episode: 'the Financial Downfall'.

Wild's name was changed to Donna Hartman for TV audiences.

Virginia and BJ McGinnis murdered Deana Wild at Big Sur, California overlooking the Pacific Ocean by pushing her over the cliffs. A more than two hundred foot drop that she could not have survived...

The couple then tried to paint her death as an accident, which is not unlikely at Big Sur. People fall off the cliffs all the time after losing their footing.

At first, the McGinnis account was accepted without much question. BJ and Virginia had rushed to a nearby convenience store moments after the murder to report Deana had fallen.

However, investigators asked to see the camera containing pictures taken by Virginia McGinnis on the day of Deana Wild's death.

The pictures unfolded a disturbing story. In one of the photos, Deana appeared off her guard and dazed. She had appeared alert and energetic in earlier pictures.

Even more damaging for BJ and Virginia was the last photo taken of Deana alive, moments before her drop from the cliff.

BJ had his arms around Deana, and had turned her toward the cliffs facing the ocean. She showed no signs of being able to resist and was slumped across BJ's arms- clearly disoriented.

Investigators believe that Virginia McGinnis took this incriminating photo because she wanted to revisit Deana's murder in the future and relive the thrill.

However, the pictures were not enough evidence to prove in court that an actual murder had taken place. A little digging showed that Virginia McGinnis had taken out a 35,000 dollar life insurance policy on Deana just one day before her death.

35,000 dollar policies are such a small claim that most insurance companies don't investigate before paying the premiums out.

The police now had motive, but only the pictures as any kind of proof.

In a twist of fate, the coroner who had performed the autopsy on Deana Wild's body had taken a sample of her blood for records.

Authorities successfully petitioned a judge to release the blood sample to them for testing. The sample was analyzed and Deana's blood showed significant levels of an anti-depressant called Amitriptyline. One of the drug's known side effects is drowsiness and disorientation.

Further evidence was lifted from the body itself. If Deana Wild had merely slid off the cliff as an accident, she would have tried to catch herself- causing severe lacerations on her fingers and palms.

However, the back of her hands were more severely damaged, while the fingers and palms barely had scuff marks.

Investigators suspected that BJ had failed to push Deana from the cliff in the first attempt. He, or possibly Virginia, then struck the back of Deana's hands with either a sharp or blunt object. She was forced to let go of the cliff and fell to her death.

With these facts in hand, investigators were ready to charge Virginia and BJ McGinnis for the murder of Deana Wild.

BJ McGinnis died in jail one day before the trial took place. Jurors heard evidence and arguments from the prosecution for three days during Virginia's trial.

Virginia McGinnis was convicted of Deana Wild's murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Prior to this crime, Virginia had been at the scene of other incidents and collected insurance premiums- causing authorities to believe she had killed before.

She collected a life insurance policy on her own daughter Cynthia Elaine Coates, who had been discovered dead by hanging in 1972. Virginia's daughter had been just three years old.

Authorities never managed to prove that Virginia had murdered her own daughter, but after the Deana Wild case later on- they believed she had.

On September 8, 1974; Virginia's former husband Sylvester Rearden died under mysterious circumstances. Authorities could prove nothing, so Virginia slithered off with more insurance money.

In 1986; Virginia's own mother Mary Agnes Hoffman died of a heart attack under suspicious circumstances. Virginia McGinnis collected insurance money yet again.

Only her next suspected murder of Deana Wild, carried enough evidence for a conviction.

Post-episode notes

Virginia McGinnis died in prison on June 25th, 2011. She was 74 years old. Without sufficient evidence- she never faced justice for the three other deaths authorities suspected had been murder.