“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,” Alex Campbell, a sociology teacher at Elizabethton High School in Tennessee, said Tuesday afternoon during a press conference.
In partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies, a high school sociology class is calling on the public for tips related to the Redhead Murders of the 1980s, one of which is from Knox County.
On Monday, April 1, 1985, the body of an unidentified female was located at a rural dumpsite alongside US 25E in Knox County in an area commonly known as Gilliam Hill. The body had been placed in an old refrigerator and an autopsy revealed she had been murdered. The unknown female was estimated to be between the ages of 25-35 years old. She was wearing two different necklaces, one with a heart pendant and the other with an eagle pendant.
There were initial reports coming in that the body was that of a young, redheaded female with a slender build. The police would not confirm or deny those reports.
Witnesses reported seeing the unknown female the day prior at a truck stop in Corbin. She was allegedly attempting to get a ride to North Carolina.
In October of 2017, Kentucky State Police Post 10 released it had new information regarding the possible identification of the woman who became known as the redheaded Knox County Jane Doe.
KSP Post 10 Public Affairs Officer Trooper Shane Jacobs confirmed KSP detectives had been in contact with individuals from North Carolina who believe this unidentified Jane Doe may be their mother. DNA samples are currently being compared.
During Tuesday’s press conference, the high school sociology class in Elizabethton, Tennessee, released a profile for the Bible Belt Strangler. They determined the killer was a white male, born between 1936 and 1962, between 5-foot 9-inches tall and 6-foot 2-inches tall, weighing between 180-270 pounds. They believe he was a commercial truck driver frequently commuting near the Knoxville, Tennessee, region on Interstate 40.
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. Victims were female, between 17 and 45, redheaded, weighed less than 145 pounds, and were left along major highways in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Arkansas.
Producer Shane Waters of Indiana, who has been independently investigating the murders with the same goal, aired the student’s work on his Out of the Shadows Podcast. On Monday, Waters returned to Knox County where he placed a red wooden cross near where the Knox County Jane Doe’s body was found more than 30 years ago.
Waters spent some time in Barbourville in late April gathering information on the Knox County Jane Doe. Waters got to know locals at gas stations and at coffee shops where he learned that when the Knox County Jane Doe was murdered, a small town joined together and gave a woman they didn’t know a funeral and a burial.
“It’s so unique for a Jane Doe to have a stone,” Waters said during an episode of his podcast. “There was no federal government that came in and paid for it. She wasn’t buried in a grave with a number. This community really wanted to make sure that although they couldn’t give her a name, they could give her a stone, and a plot and a funeral. In a way I think for me, visiting this spot…I’m trying not to cry…coming here and seeing this plot just confirms that she is a real person."
Waters went on to say she deserves a name and justice for her case.
Elizabeth Pilgrim from Forest City, North Carolina, believes the Knox County Jane Doe to be her mother. Pilgrim said she was thankful for everyone who came together, making Tuesday’s press conference a success.
“Hopefully this team can find the person that committed these awful crimes,” Pilgrim said. “These women were somebody to someone and each and every one deserves for their story to be known and justice to be served.”
Pilgrim especially thanked Aubrey Toncray, the sociology student who read Pilgrim’s letter out loud during the press conference, the Kentucky State Police Department for not giving up and Shane Waters for helping make it all come together.
“The hope of one day finding what happened to her has never left my thoughts,” Pilgrim added. “I feel like what I’ve been waiting for all these years is unfolding before me.”
Pilgrim admitted she never thought the case would get this far along.
“These cases are difficult because five of the six victims are unknown,” Waters said on Tuesday. “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.”
Students in Campbell’s sociology class at Elizabethton High School were excited to investigate the little-known series of killings in and around their home state. As they began their research, Campbell encouraged them to go into the project with a goal in mind to work towards. The class realized that they needed specialists in the area of law enforcement to help them. They reached out to multiple agencies for help with the case including Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The students decided the best way to bring attention to these victims, murders, and killer would be Tuesday’s press conference to showcase all parties involved.
The eight-page psychological profile is available to all media outlets and the public. Campbell and his sociology class, Waters, Pilgrim and the families of the six victims are calling on the media, law enforcement and the public's help to find answers and ultimately catch the Bible Belt Strangler.
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 who have played an integral role in publicizing this story and standing behind the victims and their families.