Cops: Traveling Serial Killer Struck 3 Times in 3 Weeks

15 May, 2019, 09:56 | Author: Wade Massey
  • James Michael Wright

A Virginia man who worked in a traveling carnival confessed last week to the murders of two women and one teenage girl in Tennessee and Georgia, police said.

James Michael Wright, 23, of Mendota, Va., confessed to fatally shooting three women during an 18-day span between February 28 and March 17 near his home, but claimed the killings were accidental, Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman told reporters during a news conference Monday in Virginia.

In an interview with authorities, Wright allegedly claimed he had killed the women accidentally, revealing that the first death occurred on February 28 at his Washington County home. According to Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner, Hopson was last seen with Wright when he picked her up in the city and she willingly left with him.

During the interview, Wright reportedly recounted how he was transporting Hopson's body in the back of his truck when it fell out and rolled down an embankment near the bridge on Nordyke Road in Virginia.

Authorities said that Wright murdered 17-year-old Joslyn Alsup, 22-year-old Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter and 25-year-old Athina Hopson.

"He stated they were accidental", said Newman.

The Sheriff's Office said they are only tentatively able to identify the victims based on Wright's statements, but a positive identification will be released based on autopsy records. A warrant said that Hopson was killed on March 17.

It's unclear how Hopson might have met Wright through the James H. Drew Exposition, the carnival traveling up and down the East Coast where Newman said Wright worked as a subcontractor.

Investigators believe Wright killed Vanmeter Feb. 28 after an argument, but her disappearance wasn't reported to authorities until March 17. Vanmeter's body was reportedly found in a shallow grave, and Alsup's body was found near a creek.

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Wright allegedly told police that he came to know the woman through his job as a sub-contract worker for the James H. Drew Carnival, and Alsup was the daughter of one of Wright's coworkers. He claimed the pair had sex before Wright shot her and dumped her body in woods near his home.

Wright does not appear to have a criminal background. On March 21, Athina Hopson, 25, was reported missing by her mother.

Wright allegedly confessed to the crimes on May 9. He claimed he accidentally shot her when he tripped and fell. Newman said investigators uncovered the weapon.

He then put her body in the water, Newman said. He said he placed the woman's body in the North Fork Holston River, according to Newman.

Newman said he has no reason to believe Wright meant to harm himself by crashing into the bus two days after allegedly killing Hopson. Newman declined to say what the motive was for the killings. He said Wright could be classified as a serial killer.

"We have plans of contacting jurisdictions where that carnival very well may have been to see if they have missing persons", Newman said.

Wright is being held without bond at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail as a joint investigation and recovery effort continues.

Washington County Commonwealth Attorney Joshua Cumbow said the death penalty is "on the table". It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

This article was written by Meagan Flynn, a reporter for The Washington Post.

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