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Officials Puzzle Over String of Redhead Murders

April 25, 1985

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Law officers from five states comparing notes on a series of puzzling slayings have decided to ask the FBI for help in determining if the ″redhead murders″ are the work of a single killer.

The officers emerged from a six-hour meeting Wednesday saying they may be on the verge of identifying the latest victim.

The body would be the first identified of the eight young, white female victims linked in the case, which has baffled authorities from Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas.

The Tennessee Crime Lab has sent the FBI fingerprints found this month near a nude corpse discovered in Greene County, said Steve Watson, deputy director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Watson said the investigation is emphasizing identification of the victims before concentrating on finding suspects in the case.

The 21 law enforcement officials who converged on Nashville also agreed to ask the FBI to profile all eight homicides to determine if they are the work of a serial killer.

Each jurisdiction will continue to pursue the case or cases in their areas and will submit information to the Tennessee agency, which will share the information with all five states, Watson said.

As many as 11 unidentified women have been linked previously to the investigation, which has been tagged the case of the ″redhead murders″ because many of the victims had red or reddish hair.

Watson said authorities are not certain about the number of victims or that one person is responsible for the killings.

″While there are some similarities in the cases, there’s also a great number of dissimilarities,″ Watson said.

Watson said only three were true redheads, and the others were strawberry blondes or dark-haired. At least five were strangled, and all were found along major highways.

However, while some were clothed, other bodies were found nude. Several had engaged in ″sexual activity″ just prior to their deaths, Watson said.

″These people would seem to be from areas that were perhaps a considerable distance from where they were found since none have been identified,″ Watson said.

″They would tend to have a lifestyle not sufficiently tied to others who would be willing to report their being missing,″ he said.

Watson would not comment about suspects in the case, nor about a truck driver from Cleveland, Tenn., who was arrested in March in connection with the attempted strangulation of an auburn-haired woman from Knoxville.

However, John Maples, Knox County chief of detectives, said he does not consider 37-year-old Jerry Leon Johns a suspect in the killings.

Officials have speculated that the killer or killers apparently preyed on prostitutes, hitchhikers or those without family ties.

On Monday, the TBI added another body to its list - a red-haired corpse recovered April 1 near Interstate 75 outside Corbin, Ky.

The TBI’s list includes bodies found near Memphis, Tenn., in October 1983; Shearerville, Ark., last Sept. 16; Comru Township, Pa. last Dec. 23; Jellico, Tenn., on Jan. 1; Hernando, Miss., on Jan. 24; Ashland City, Tenn., on March 31; Corbin on April 1, and Greeneville, Tenn., on April 14.

The list of victims has changed frequently as investigators tried to determine possible links in the murders.

Four women killed between September 1984 and February 1985 in the Fort Worth, Texas, area were dropped from the list after investigators discounted the evidence that originally linked the cases.

And Watson said there doesn’t appear to be sufficient evidence to link a victim found in 1981 in Ohio with the other killings.

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