CAMPBELL COUNTY—Cold cases.
Campbell County Sheriff’s Department Captain Brandon Elkins has cleared almost all the cold cases in his time as a detective with the sheriff’s department, but the four bodies that remain have investigators stumped.
Three involve women discarded near I-75 at Stinking Creek. Two of the victims are unidentified. One has a name, but there are few clues as to who killed her — or why.
The cases have been featured on national television, investigated through several sheriff’s administrations and displayed in multiple print publications. There has been every opportunity for witnesses or anybody who knows anything to come forward.
The fourth case has no body. The 21-year-old LaFollette man simply disappeared.
This week the LaFollette Press jumps in to the cold cases that still haunt Campbell County.Serial killers and coincidences
Police found the bound and gagged body of a pregnant redhead at Stinking Creek on Jan. 1, 1985.
The discovery came at a time when there’d been a string of murders along the interstates in several states. At the time, police believed a trucker-turned-serial killer could be to blame.
The redhead was young — between 16 and 22 years old. She was approximately halfway through a pregnancy at the time of her death, and vaginal scarring discovered during the autopsy lead investigators to believe she had given birth once before.
Her clothing was typical of the day — a velour shirt from JCPenney and new Levi jeans. Her underwear was peach, but she was found without a bra. Her ears were pierced twice in each ear, but held no earrings. Her hands and feet were bound in linen described as a pillowcase or sheet. There was a pillowcase over her head, her mouth gagged.
Two condom wrappers lay near the body – one empty and one unopened. There were also two cigarette butts.
She had a dental plate for her front two teeth, but all her other teeth were fine. She wore no shoes.
Her right breast showed “very vague, questionable teeth prints,” police records indicated.
The leads poured in from as far away as California, Arizona and New Mexico, but they proved to be dead ends.
The trucker-serial killer lead was explored extensively in 1985 by the Knoxville Journal. At the time, truck driver Jerry L. Johns was on the list of potential suspects because he had kidnapped and assaulted a woman in West Knoxville, though the Knoxville Journal’s investigation said Johns had documents and an alibi for his whereabouts the day the Campbell County redhead was killed.
In 1994, Johns wrote a letter to Campbell County Sheriff Ron McClellan to say he was not a murderer, but he might have useful information about the case.
It is unclear if Johns was ever contacted.
The redhead’s remains weren’t buried. She became part of the University of North Texas Project EDAN (Everyone Deserves A Name) and her face was reconstructed directly onto her skull. UNT still has her remains.
No hints in search for Byrge
Wanda Teague last saw her grandson on June 15, 2001. When she returned home three days later and found only his keys and wallet, she reported 21-year-old David Joseph Byrge, of LaFollette, missing.
It’s been more than 11 years since then, and police still have no answers.
The case is a thick red binder perched on Campbell County Sheriff’s Capt. Brandon Elkins’s shelf. The abandoned wallet — still full of cards and other personal items — is sealed in a plastic evidence bag with the binder.
“This is a case where nobody knows,” Elkins said.
Before his disappearance, Byrge had been in minor trouble with the law, but nothing that should have prompted him to run. His unanswered charges—including theft, littering, public intoxication and underage consumption—would have likely resulted in a few years of supervised probation with no jail time.
Teague can’t decide if her grandson is alive or dead.
“It’s hard to say,” she said Tuesday. “I thought maybe he is and maybe he’s not.”
Authorities have completed extensive searches through the years – initially beginning with dental records and cadaver dogs. The dogs never found any indication of human remains in the hundreds of acres they searched. The only dental records were from when Byrge was 10. By the time he was a man, the anatomy of his mouth could have been drastically different.
There are persons of interest, but no concrete answers.
As the technology advanced, so did search techniques, but there is no information about Byrge in any database. He has no paper trail — he’s never applied for a job, paid taxes, gotten utilities in his name, or applied to live in an apartment.
“There’s been no matching records to this guy since he went missing in 2001,” Elkins said.
Teague still lives in the same Coolidge home where she last saw her grandson. Her phone number is unchanged since she made the initial 2001 report.
“I hope they find him,” she said.
There is an unspecified reward dedicated to anybody with information about Byrge’s whereabouts. At the time of his disappearance he was approximately 130 lbs and 5’9” with blue eyes and brown hair.
They were both God’s children
They never knew one another in life, but the two women dumped at Stinking Creek 22 months apart are neighbors for eternity in the Peabody Cemetery off of US 25W north of LaFollette. Police don’t know much about their lives before they ended up in Campbell County, but they rest side-by-side under donated headstones.
Police were lucky in one of the cases — distinctive tattoos helped identify the woman found on New Year’s Day in 1997, but she still spent 10 long-years as a Jane Doe until she was identified as Elena Torres Smith in 2007.
Smith was last seen in June of 1996 at her boyfriend’s home in Santee, S.C. Family in Texas became worried and reported her missing.
Passing motorists flagged down a CB operator to report a body.
Smith was laying facedown wearing a black tank top. The 32-year-old had been stabbed and left on the side of the road.
Through the years, she was featured on what was then CourtTV (now TruTV), and somebody even sent her story to the TV show Unsolved Mysteries, who wrote back that they couldn’t help.
In 2007, she was finally identified via the Doe Network — a group of volunteers who works to match unidentified bodies to missing persons cases.
While she has a name, police were never able to find her killer.
Police have had even less luck with the other Jane Doe buried at Stinking Creek.
She was found just before Halloween in 1998 at Stinking Creek – just more than a mile from where Smith’s body had been dumped. A man picking up cans smelled “death” and flagged down a passing motorist to call 911.
Authorities found the nude, black female 10 to 12 feet down an embankment. She’d been stabbed through her right breast and had a gunshot wound to the left side of her head. Some of her own hair was clutched in her left hand.
The medical examiner estimated she’d been dead 5 to 7 days at the time of her discovery. The 5’6” woman weighed 130 pounds and was believed to be less than 40 years old.
She had no scars, tattoos or dental work, but the ME noted she had marks on her left ring finger that implied she’d worn a ring for a long time.
Their side by side graves are marked by flat granite headstones with “Unknown” followed by the dates they were found and the dates they were buried. The stones cite scripture – 1 Samuel 16:7. “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Each tombstone goes on to read, “She was one of God’s children.”
Anyone with information about any of these cases is urged to call the Campbell County Sheriff’s Department at 562-7446.