ELIZABETHTON, Ky (WCYB) - A group of high school students in east Tennessee made a big announcement Tuesday about an unsolved string of murders from the 1980s, one of which happened in Kentucky.
The sociology class from Elizabethton High School in Tennessee spent the semester studying a string of cold cases known as the "Red Headed Murders". In 1985, someone killed a woman and dumped her body in a refrigerator in the woods outside of Barbourville. For years, she was known to locals as the Red Headed Jane Doe.
The students in Tennessee connected her case with at least five others in Tennessee, West Virginia, and Arkansas.
They worked with detectives in the cases to develop a profile of the possible killer. The students say they believe the man was a truck driver who lived in or around Knoxville in the 1980s. They said it is very possible he is still alive and they have named him the Bible Belt Strangler.
"He thought no one would see him and he's eluded justice for almost 40 years, but the bible belt strangler is wrong. He made a mistake. Someone saw something. Somebody has heard something. The blood of these women spilled in the overgrown hedges of our nation's highways and interstates has gone unnoticed for too long," said sociology teacher Alex Campbell.
Representatives from Kentucky State Police and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations praised the class's work Tuesday.
You can read the profile below:
A high school sociology class in Elizabethton, Tenn. on Tuesday released a profile for the Bible Belt Strangler responsible for the Redhead Murders of the 1980s. In partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies, the class is calling on the public for tips related to the murders. Their goal is to help identify the five remaining victims and the killer.
After a semester of research and work with professional profilers and law enforcement, students were confident about their eight-page, 21-characteristic profile. Additionally, they developed a timeline leading up to the murders, and gave the killer a name – the Bible Belt Strangler. Their work was aired on the Out of the Shadows Podcast by producer Shane Waters, who has been independently investigating the murders with the same goal.
“These cases are difficult because five of the six victims are unknown,” said Waters. “They have no families speaking out for them, so being a part of this effort with the class and law enforcement – it’s kind of like we are able to take it on our shoulders and be their family. We’re all very passionate about this so hopefully people will hear this and become passionate and start talking about it.”
At the press conference Tuesday, the teacher Mr. Alex Campbell gave a summary of the profile and described the killer’s signature and modus apparatus. They determined the killer was a white male, born between 1962 and 1936, between 5’ 9” and 6’ -2”, weighing between 180-270. They believe he was a commercial truck driver frequently commuting near the Knoxville, Tenn. region on Interstate 40.
Campbell concluded his summary stating, “Bible Belt Strangler, we know you are out there. We know someone saw something, and after today, everyone knows we are looking for you. We are our sisters’ keepers; we are their family.”
Though law enforcement never confirmed the murders were related, many people believe that the killer’s MO and signature indicate a definitive correlation. Victims were female, between 17 and 45, red headed, weighed under 145 pounds, and were left along major highways in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Arkansas. Only one of six has been identified, though one North Carolina woman, Elizabeth, believes she is the daughter of the Knox County, Ky. victim.
Elizabeth provided a letter read by a student which explained her family background and why it is so important to identify these victims. “Honestly, I never gave up hope, but I didn’t think I would live to see this day, or to even be a part of this unraveling story,” she wrote. She closed the letter with words for her mother. “…All my life I hoped to find you alive and well. To greet you one day with open arms and wrap you in a tight embrace. To tell you that even in not knowing you, I have loved you.”
Students said the press conference was a powerful conclusion to a semester of hard work. Mason Peterson, a student who spoke at the event, said their ultimate goal is to identify victims and to find the killer. He thanked the media and law enforcement partners that have been supportive of this initiative and said they are one step closer to accomplishing their goal.
Anyone with information related to these six murders should contact the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-TBI-FIND. TBI will coordinate with state and local law enforcement agencies. Elizabethton City Schools, the 23 sociology students, and Mr. Campbell thank all media and law enforcement that have played an integral role in publicizing this story and standing behind the victims and their families.