That time a city councilman faked his own death

Feb 19, 2024 | by

Raymond D. Royall, Southside resident and owner of a Highland Springs auto dealership, ran for City Council in 1970 and came in 21st place. This was when the body was elected “at large” and the top 9 candidates were the winners. Royall made it to council three years later though – the 32-year-old was appointed to serve in late 1973 after Howard H. Carwile resigned to run for the Virginia House of Delegates.

There were no elections in 1974 or 1976. City Council elections weren’t held in Richmond between 1972-1976 by order of the United States Department of Justice following the city’s 1970 annexation of a swath of Chesterfield in an attempt to add more white voters.

The historic election of 1977, the first under our current ward system with 9 districts, saw Richmond’s first majority Black council and the city’s first Black mayor. At that time, the mayor was chosen from the council by the council.

Royall held his seat unelected until that 1977 contest – where he won a 3-way fight for the brand new 9th Council district seat.

Going into the 1978 elections, Royall was backed by the predominantly white citizens group “Teams for Progress” and was considered to be a potential mayoral candidate if a there was a white council majority. It was not to be – Royall was narrowly defeated by William I. Golding, Sr. that May.

Soon before he was to give up his office, Royall went to Tidewater to meet a perspective buyer for a 17-foot motorboat he wanted sell. The buyer never showed, so Royall took the boat out solo. The boat later washed ashore, empty and damaged, at a nearby naval base. A search was made, Royall’s body was not found, and he was presumed to have drowned.

Rumors of possible loan irregularities at Royall’s business sparked an investigation by the authorities and the Bank of Virginia seized the auto dealer’s inventory. Royall’s dealership owed the bank money that had been borrowed to buy new cars. The inventory was sold in July, and Chrysler terminated Royall’s dealership.

A memorial for Royall was held that July 11 at Manchester Baptist Church.

In September, four months after his disappearance, authorities were tipped to the fact that Royall had grown a beard, curled and dyed his hair red, and was going by Michael David Royall in St. Louis. Royall was able to flee before the FBI could apprehend him.

Once it became apparent that he was still alive and a fugitive, Royall’s wife filed for divorce that October.

Royall (“clean shaven and short haired”) surrendered to the authorities in early December, after maybe spending some time in New York.

The next year Royall pled guilty to loan fraud and tax evasion, and was sentenced to four months in jail and fined $1,000.

PHOTO via Richmond Mercury, Volume 3, Number 42, 25 June 1975

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