A class of Tennessee high school students — who created a suspect profile for a serial killer, dubbing him the "Bible Belt Strangler" — may help make a break in a series of cold cases from the 1980s.
In Alex Campbell's sociology class at Elizabethton High School in northern Tennessee, the students used information from the Doe Network of missing people and examined a series of real-world unsolved murders for their semester-long project.
Campbell asked his students to take a look at at least 11 unsolved killings in Tennessee and surrounding states that had become known as the Redhead Murders.
The students were able to find close similarities in six of the homicides — where the victims were all slim white women with red or reddish hair, killed between 1983 and 1985. The victims, who died by being suffocated or strangled, were found close to major roadways, according to Knox News in Knoxville. Police believe the victims were mostly hitchhikers and sex workers, which made it harder to identify them and less likely for families to report them missing.
Only of one the victims was ever identified: Lisa Nichols, 28, from West Virginia. She was found dead near Interstate 40 in West Memphis, Arkansas in September 1984. The other remains were found in parts of Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. One of the unidentified victims (pictured here in an artists' reconstruction of what she may have looked like in life) was found in Campbell County, Tennessee near Interstate 75 in 1985. She had been bound and strangled.
Campbell’s students theorized that all six women were murdered by the same serial killer, likely a male commercial truck driver. The teens concluded that he may have stopped killing when he stopped working as a driver. Because the victims didn’t show evidence of sexual assault, they theorized that he may have killed them because he perceived them to be harmful to society, Knox News reported.
On Tuesday, the students held a press conference alongside representatives from several law enforcement agencies, including Kentucky State Police, according to The Elizabethton Star. At the presser, the students presented their eight-page profile on the potential suspect in a string of murders that has received little to no attention.
“He's eluded justice for almost 40 years, but the Bible Belt Strangler is wrong,” Campbell said during the press conference. "He made a mistake. Somebody saw something, somebody has heard something.”
At least, that is the hope of the class and of law enforcement.
"Bible Belt Strangler, we know you're out there," Campbell said.
During the news conference, student Aubrey Toncray read a letter provided by a 34-year-old woman named Elizabeth, who believes she might be the daughter of one of the unidentified victims, a woman who was found killed in Gray, Kentucky. In the letter, she said she had wondered for years about her mom — if she was alive, and if something happened to her that stopped her from ever coming home.
The students developed a profile of what they believe could likely be the serial killer’s characteristics: a white man born between 1936 and 1962, who stands between 5-feet-9 inches and 6-feet-2 inches and weighs between 180 and 270 pounds, according to WREG. The class thinks he could still be alive and living in Tennessee.
“Teenagers like us usually don't get an experience like this. We usually see it with many of the FBI, TBI, CIA or whatever law enforcement agency gets to do this. We never get to have this type of chance and it's wonderful that we have this chance," student Will Bowers told WREG.
The students’ project was also featured on the true crime podcast Out of the Shadows.
Anyone with possible information on this case is urged to call 1-800-TBI- FIND.
[Image: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children]