Cold case gets another look

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By Susan Sharp

It has been 27 years since an unnamed female was found alongside Interstate 75.

The records from that day are few but detailed.

A truck driver called the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department on a CB radio. He said a motorist had discovered a body at the 148 1/2 mile marker.

When police responded they found a female about 15 feet from the guardrail, according to then Capt. Lynn Murphy’s report.

“It was an unidentified body,” said CCSD Capt. Brandon Elkins. “We still don’t know who she is.”

Elkins, who was three years old at the time the body was found, occasionally goes back to the case he inherited through the department.  It troubles him.

“I can’t undo the situation. But hopefully I can give a family peace,” he said.

Bill Pratt, who was with the Eighth Judicial District Attorney’s office in 1985 doesn’t need notes to remember Jan. 1 of that year.

The girl wasn’t just lying by the guardrail, Pratt said. Instead she was on the other side of it. There were “bowling ball sized rocks” around her.

Murphy’s notes indicate the girl was about 15 feet from the guardrail. She was wrapped in a green blanket. A few feet from her was a clear sheet of plastic. Police speculated it may have been placed over the green blanket but blew off.

The girl had been there “a number of hours,” Pratt recalled. He said lividity had set in but she wasn’t rigid.

Pratt described the murdered girl as “well-kept.”

As officers investigated this crime they considered it could be connected to a serial killer, according to Pratt.

Her physical description was what linked her to that possibility.

The “red head murders” as they were dubbed occurred in the mid 1980s.

The killer, theorized to be a truck driver, chose his victims based on their hair color, according to a Houston Chronicle news story.

The girl discovered as Campbell County rang in 1985 was a petite red head, CCSD records reveal. She weighed about 120 pounds. Her estimated age was between 16 and 22. She was dressed in jeans and a velour peach and tan shirt with a collar.

Murphy noted the clothes seemed new.

“Everything about it (the clothing) screams 1980s,” Elkins said.

There was nothing found on her body or in her pockets that would help police know who she was.

But there were plenty of indications as to how she died.

Her hands were bound, as were her feet. A gag had been placed in her mouth. The material was a print that appeared to have been stripped from a pillowcase or sheet, Murphy noted.

Another pillowcase of the same material was over her head. It was tied off at her neck.

The coroner determined she had been strangled.

The origin of the bedding wasn’t discovered. Pratt believed it was from someone’s personal collection. Had it been from a motel, “it would have been white,” he said.

Jane Doe was also four months pregnant, according to coroner’s report. She also had a child prior to her current pregnancy.

The autopsy further revealed that at one point the girl might have been in a car accident. Evidence of plastic surgery to alter a forehead injury was noted.

Local authorities investigated the case with assistance from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

It went nowhere.

Given the remote stretch of interstate she could have easily been thrown from a vehicle or tractor-trailer, Pratt said.

Today she is buried in pauper’s grave on Peabody Mountain.

Elkins revisits the case as time allows.

“I want to close the ghosts out in this case,” he said. “ I would like to give this girl’s murder the justice it deserves.”