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Tennessee Class Revisits 1983 Wetzel Death

May 16, 2018
BY LAUREN MATTHEWS - Editor (lmatthews@wetzelchronicle.com) , Wetzel Chronicle

A high school class in Tennessee has revisited a 1983 Wetzel County mystery involving the tragic discovery of a deceased white female alongside Route 250 near Littleton, W.Va.

Alex Campbell's spring sociology class at Elizabethton High School in Tennessee is researching this death, which has been speculated as being part of the "Redhead Murders." A series of unsolved murders, between the late 1970s and the 1980s are called such, as each of the victims had similar characteristics. They were between the ages of 17-45, weighing under 145 pounds, and had auburn or red hair. Some of the victims, including the Wetzel County woman, were discovered naked or with clothing missing. Most of the victims remained unidentified.

According to the February 16, 1983 Wetzel Chronicle, the Wetzel County body was discovered nude, lying over the hill on Route 250, a half mile from Littleton. The body was reported as being that of a white female between 30 and 40 years of age. She was 5'5" tall and weighed 135 pounds. She had auburn hair, upper dentures, a scar from a Caesarian birth, orange toenails and pierced ears.

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Alex Campbell’s Sociology Class at Elizabethton High School in Tennessee is researching a series of murders in the late 1970s and 1980s. One of the murders is placed in Wetzel County.

At that time, the West Virginia State Police were following reports on a sighting of a man in his late 40s, stockily built and wearing a short brown jacket. The man had been seen standing near the spot where the woman's body was discovered. Also spotted was a two-toned dark brown and light brown 1978-80 Chevrolet pickup truck with a light-colored camper on the back.

Campbell's class' research notes the woman's body had been placed at the area recently, as snow was on the ground and absent on the body. Tracks and footprints showed she died at a different area and was transported to the location. It was presumed she had died two days before.

After 10 years and remaining unidentified, the Wetzel County woman was buried in January 1994 at Paden City Memorial Gardens, thanks to contributions by the local community, including the Paden City American Legion, as well as Wetzel County Commission, which paid for the woman's casket.

Alex Campbell's spring sociology class at Elizabethton High School began investigating this murder and some of the other Redhead Murders. These murders occurred in states including Tennessee, Arkansas, and Kentucky. The class created an eight-page profile of the murderer, who they dubbed the "Bible Belt Stranger" due to the region where he killed and the method he used to kill. This profile was released at a May 15 press conference, held at the school.

Campbell's class decided it wanted to do something to try to identify the victims, help the families, bring attention to the crimes, and possibly do something that would lead to solving the crime. The students decided to use a media campaign by getting every newspaper and television station that covers the area to run stories on the murders on the same day, May 16.

Though it is believed the Bible Belt Strangler might have had more victims, Campbell's class decided to focus on six victims they believe fits the Bible Belt Strangler's Motive and Signature.

Mr. Campbell's class believes the Strangler is employed in the trucking industry and encounters his victims "at truck stop, gas station, and rest areas, along the route he travels."

"The killer must travel frequently as all of the bodies, except one, were found next to interstates Commercial truck drivers have a larger radius for travel that most other jobs. The commercial freightliner would provide more concealment and space to hide/transport bodies over multiple days giving the suspect frequent access and opportunity."

Campbell's class believes the Strangler lived around Knoxville or Nashville. If the Wetzel County victim is included in his victims, Knoxville would be considered the center of the crimes. If Wetzel is not included, Nashville is the geographic center. "We do feel the Wetzel County, West Virginia victim may be exhibiting unusual signs as it was most likely the first victim."

Also, the class recognized the disposal of the victims' bodies occurs along major highways and interstates throughout the mid-south. "As a truck-driver, stopping along a major road at night does not arouse suspicion and his truck provides cover from the road as to his activities."

The class feels the victims are all found completely or partially nude due to the perceive involvement with the prostitution industry, or because of a personal psychological factor related to the Strangler. The Strangler might keep clothing items for psychological gratification or to remove potentially incriminating evidence from the crime scene.

Campbell's class believes most of the victims are estranged from their families and are "transient, drug addict, hitchhiker, prostitute types" who are highly likely to have their own criminal histories. "These facts insure that they are rarely missed by friends or family, possibly their disappearance is not even reported to officials."

"The offender knows this and realizes that little pressure will be brought to bear on him, because of these factors."

Campbell's class said the Strangler is not caught because "he does not arouse suspicion." The class classifies him as an "average Joe" type who does not draw attention to himself "and fits in well with other truck drivers at the places they frequent."

Campbell's class has observed the level of injury to the victims is "only enough to accomplish the control and death of the victim with no evidence of overkill present." The class believes the Strangler focuses on the head and neck region because this brings him some sort of psychological satisfaction and "probably also because it helps quiet and control the victims quickly as he is most likely killing in areas frequented by truckers and not secluded areas or controlled crime scenes."

The class believes the Strangler, who appears sane despite being mentally disturbed, dumps his victims later in the night or wait until the following night, "which allows some of the victims to be found great distances from where they were last seen." Campbell's class believes the Strangler is stocky, around average height or taller, and average to above-average weight, to overpower his victims and dispose of them. The Strangler would have had to have been a full grown adult to accomplish the killings, but the "upper end of the age range would be 48," because "around 50 would be the time period that would begin to limit his physical ability to no longer conduct the crimes in the same way."

Campbell's class believes the Strangler is male, because "serial killers almost always target the opposite sex or those they feel sexual attraction to." Plus, the class factored in the method of killing, enacted with bare hands.

The class believes the Strangler's motive is "Mission," and that he sees killing his victims as undesirable or harmful to society. They cite his view of the victims as "dirty and evil," as possibly one of the reasons he did not engage in sexual contact with his victims.

Campbell's class believes the Strangler likely grew up in an unstable home with family members who "may have abused drugs or alcohol."

"There could also be a heightened chance that the suspect grew up with a mother of undesirable characteristics as females are targeted. Having a frequently absent or not intimately involved father also most likely contributed to the suspect's attacks."

Mr. Campbell's class began its investigation in January 2018 and hopes after the May 15 press conference, the public might have tips related to the case. Those with information are asked to contact their local or state law enforcement.

The class has also been working with Shane Waters, who has a podcast titled "Out of the Shadows." Waters has a four-part series called "The Redhead Murders," which releases the eight-page profile, created by Mr. Campbell's students.

For more information on the class' research, check out Elizabethton High School online at www.ecschools.net/1/home

Or, check out the school on Facebook at "Elizabethton City Schools."

 
 
 

 

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