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After decades of searching, Indiana State Police say they've identified the so-called “I-65” or “Days Inn” serial killer.
Investigators said the late Harry Edward Greenwell was behind the rapes and murders of Vicki Heath, Margaret “Peggy” Gill, and Jeanne Gilbert. The women worked as clerks in motels along the I-65 corridor in Indiana and Kentucky in the 1980s.
Police said “investigative genealogy” led them to Greenwell as the common suspect in these decades-old cold cases.
Greenwell, who was born in Kentucky, died of cancer at the age of 68 in Iowa.
He was described in his obituary as “a man with many friends who loved his straight-up attitude, and his willingness to help anyone. His spirit will live on in many by good deeds he offered.”
But authorities say he was linked to numerous crimes, including the sexual assault of a woman in 1990 in Columbus, Indiana.
“Greenwell had an extensive criminal history and had been in and out of prison several times, even escaping from jail on two separate occasions,” Sgt. Glen Fifield with the Indiana State Police said at a news conference on Tuesday. “He was known to travel frequently in the Midwest.”
It began more than 30 years ago with Heath’s brutal murder in 1987. Her body was discovered behind a Super 8 motel in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Two years later, on March 3, 1989, Gill was murdered and sexually assaulted. The 24-year-old was the overnight auditor at the Days Inn in Merryville, Indiana.
On that same night, police said Gilbert, 34, became another victim. A driver discovered her body on the side of the road in White County. She was a part-time auditor for the Days Inn in Remington, Indiana.
Police described the cases as “eerily similar.”
Both women were shot twice in the head with the same .22 caliber gun, police said. The motels were also robbed, of $426 in total.
Police linked Gill’s and Health’s murders through DNA evidence collected at the crime scenes.
Police also used DNA evidence to connect the suspect to the sexual assault of a Days Inn clerk in Columbus, Indiana. She was able to escape and later gave police a detail description of her attacker.
“She is the only known victim to have survived the vicious brutal attacks of this killer,” Fifield said.
Police were able to develop a sketch of the suspect, which was distributed across multiple regions.
Investigators said at Tuesday’s news conference that they identified Greenwald through a DNA sample provided from a close relative, which returned a 99.9% match.
“There are detectives in this very room that have been involved in this in some form or another for literally generations,” Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter said. “I hope today might bring a little bit of solace to know that the animal who did this is no longer on this earth.”
Investigators also detailed Greenwald’s numerous run-ins with law enforcement and prison record.
In 1963, he was sentenced to two years in the reformatory and five years probation for an armed robbery.
In 1965, he was arrested on a sodomy charge and paroled from the Kentucky State Penitentiary four years later.
He also served a prison sentence in Iowa for burglary. He escaped twice and was recaptured, police said. He was released in 1983.
The victims’ relatives said the identification of Greenwell as the killer brings some measure of closure, but they still have many unanswered questions.
“I’d like to believe that whatever each of us defines as justice, or what each of us might define as closure, that we’re all now able to share the healing process knowing the long-known attacker has now been brought out of the dark, into the light,” Gilbert’s daughter, Kim Wright, told reporters.
Wright said she remembered her mother’s last words to her and her brother -- that she loved them and would see them “tomorrow.”
“I didn’t see her that tomorrow,” she said. “But I see her every day. I see her in me. I see her in my brother. I see her in my family.”
Wright, an attorney, also offered her condolences to Greenwell’s family and friends.
“In addition to our families, I believe his family and friends have also become victims of his crimes as well,” she said. “While no one would ever think to blame them for what their husband, father, brother, or friend did they will now likely feel judged in the court of public opinion for his deeds, and we must feel for them as they likely never knew the person that he truly was nor the horrific acts that he was capable of.”
Police said there’s a distinct possibility" that Greenwell could be linked to more unsolved cases and noted the investigation is not over.
“Investigators have long believed that there’s a distinct possibility that there have been murders, rapes, robberies or assaults that have not yet been connected to this investigation,” Fifield said. “Investigators are actively working with other departments in the Midwest to determine if Greenwell was a perpetrator of other violent crimes, yet to be solved."