What were the 'Redhead Murders?'

May 07, 2018 at 12:00 pm by Michelle Willard

Redhead Murders

In April 1985, representatives from law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee met in Nashville to discuss the killings and disposal of a series of redheaded women along interstates.

With victims numbering from six at the lowest to 11 at the highest, the victims had been found along interstates in the five states.

The range of victims is wide because the causes of death and victim details are varied. The only thing they have in common is the color of their hair.

Of the seven definitively linked to each other, only one has been identified.

"Nobody is looking for them. Most times, nobody cares," TBI agent David Davenport said in a 1985 AP report.

Some were likely hitchhikers; others likely sex workers.

Some were nude; others fully clothed.

Some had engaged in sexual activity before their deaths.

They range in age from 9 to 40 years old.

Two were skeletons.

All were either strangled or suffocated.

All had some sort of red hair.

Investigators aren't even sure they are all connected. 

Could the deaths be coincidences or was someone killing women with red hair across the Eastern U.S. in the 1980s?

Anyone with information about these women should call the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation at 1-800-TBI-FIND or the Forensic Anthropology Center at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville at 1-865-974-4408

The Victims

The first possible victim was discovered in February 1983 in Littleton, Wetzel County, W.Va. The second was found a short time later near Interstate 40 in Memphis.

The list of definite victims spanned eight months and five states starting with victims found Sept. 16., 1984, in Shearerville, Ark.; Dec. 23, 1984, in Comru Township, Pa.; Jan. 1, 1985 in Jellico, Tenn.; Jan. 24, 1985, Hernando, Miss.; March 31, 1985, in Ashland City; April 1, 1985, in Corbin, Ky., and Greenville, Tenn.

At the time, authorities were baffled by the serial deaths and weren't even sure if the same person was responsible for them all.

At the April 1985 meeting, they included as many as 11 victims in the probe. They also excluded four redheaded women killed in the Fort Worth, Texas, area and another one from Ohio.

Wetzel County, W.Va. Victim

More than two years after the remains of an unidentified woman was found along Route 250 near Littleton, W.Va., she was declared as a victim of the Redhead Murderer, however, some local police disagree.

She was found in mid-February 1983 by an elderly couple, who believed the body was a mannequin lying facedown in the snow, according to the Doe Network file on the victim. The area was often used to dump trash illegally.

"After subjecting possible witnesses to forensic hypnosis," one witness described a stocky white male in his 40s as having been in the area near the time the remains were deposited.

An autopsy revealed she had only been dead a few days but it failed to positively determine her cause of death leading investigators to believe she was strangled.

Investigators have been unsuccessful in identifying the victim. They believe she may have been a sex worker in Pittsburg or a member of a Hare Krishna commune, known as New Vrindaban, in Marshall County, W.Va.

She was described as being between 35 and 45 years old, standing around 5'6" and weighing about 135 pounds. Her only distinguishing features were a Caesarean scar and a set of top dentures, according to a news report at the time.

She had auburn hair.

Lisa Jarvis (Nichols)

Lisa Ann Jarvis, who was also known as Lisa Fuller or Nichols, is the only identified possible victim of the Redhead Murderer. She was found Sept. 16, 1984, on an entrance ramp on Interstate 40 near Shearerville, Ark.

Nashville police were familiar with Jarvis, who had "the second longest prostitute record in Nashville and Davidson County," a Metro Nashville Vice squad sergeant told The Tennessean in 1984.

Her body, clad only in a sweater, was discovered by a hitchhiker about 20 miles west of West Memphis.

She was identified by a jailhouse informant, referred to as a pimp in news reports, who said he lived with her for a while in West Memphis.

"The pimp, who is in a Florida jail, told (police) he last saw Jarvis getting into a tractor-trailer on Sept. 12, 1984, at a truck stop outside Shearerville. … Authorities believe she was killed within 24 hours of when she was last seen 'working' the truck stop," according to a June 26, 1985, article in The Tennessean.

She had strawberry blonde hair with blonde roots.

Campbell County, Tenn. victim

The first of two possible victims found in Campbell County, Tenn. was found Jan. 1, 1985, on the shoulder of I-75 near Jellico in East Tennessee.

Investigators believe she had been dead for two to three days when she was discovered.

The autopsy revealed she had been strangled with a rope but had not been sexually assaulted. It also found that she was around 10-12 weeks pregnant and had recently given birth.

She was described as being been 17 and 30 years old, standing between 5'1" and 5'4", weighing around 110 pounds. She was wearing a tan velour top and men's blue jeans.

Her distinguishing features were freckles, green eyes and a partial denture for her two front teeth. She had several scars remarkable scars: healed burn scar inside her left arm; scars on both knees; faint 2-inch long scar on her forehead near her hairline; and a scar on her right hand, according to the Doe Network file.

She had curly, red, shoulder-length hair.

Second Campbell County Victim

Another possible victim was found just a few months later by a passerby off Big Wheel Gap Road near Jellico.

A partial skeleton, 32 bones in all, was discovered in April 1985. Investigators believe she had been killed from one to four years before the discovery.

The youngest victim connected to this series of murders, she was between 9 to 15 years old at the time of her death. Because of the state of the remains, the cause of death was not determined, neither was her height, weight, hair or eye color.

Her only distinguishing feature was several silver dental fillings. A pair of high-top hiking shoes and some jewelry were found near the body.

Although little remained of the victim, a facial reconstruction was completed.

The killing and disposal of women along roadways brought representatives from law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee together in April 1985.

They gathered in Nashville to discuss the deaths of between six and 11 women at the hands of a serial killer called the "Redhead Murderer."

To some, the deaths seemed like they could be a coincidence, but to investigators, some clues tied the deaths together.

The victims were white women ranging in age from 20 to 40 years old. All were either hitchhikers or sex workers and were discovered close to major roadways.

All were either strangled or suffocated. And the victims with hair had some sort of red hair.

Only, Lisa Jarvis (a.k.a., Lisa Nichols) one has been identified.

A witness told police she was a sex worker and he saw her get into a tractor-trailer within 24 hours of her death.

Cheatham County, Tenn. victim

There isn't much known about the woman found March 31, 1985, along Interstate 24 in Cheatham County because all that remained of her was her skull, a couple bones and some clothing.

A tip from a passing motorist led police to I-24 West between mile markers 29 and 30 where they found a "severed head, its facial features obliterated by exposure to elements and animals," according to a news report from the time.

The travelers from Indiana stumbled upon the grim scene when their car had overheated and they ventured into the wood line looking for water for their radiator.

Instead, they found a skull still retaining some red hair.

From the clues found at the scene, police determined she was a small white woman with red hair.

A forensic autopsy performed by Dr. William Bass determined she was between 31 and 40 years old and stood around 5 feet tall, had been dead between two to five months; and her teeth were intact and could be used for identification.

Her clothes were described as a light pink shirt, pink sweater with small blue spots, pants, bra and hat with a palm tree design.

Knox County, Ky. Victim

A young, white redheaded woman was found nearly nude in an old refrigerator at a landfill April 1, 1985, in Gray, Ky., about 4 miles east of Corbin, Ky.

Two men searching for scrap metal stumbled upon a refrigerator.

"When they opened the door, they found this lady," Knox County, Ky., Coroner Walter Hopper Jr. said in an article from The Advocate-Messenger in Danville, Ky.

The autopsy showed she had likely died of suffocation but had only been dead a few hours when she was discovered. She had no outward signs of assault.

Investigators believe she was placed in the refrigerator after death because there were "no scratched on the inner walls of the refrigerator showing she tried to get out."

She was last seen alive around 2 a.m. April 1 at a truck stop in Corbin on I-75, according to the (Louisville) Courier-Journal. Witnesses told police she was hitchhiking to North Carolina.

Within a few weeks, she had been added to the "redhead murders" list.

When discovered, she was only wearing a pair of socks and two gold chains, one with a gold eagle and one with a gold heart. She also had a round birthmark above her left ankle.

The victim who has not been identified was described as between 25 and 30 years old, around 5' tall, weighing about 120 pounds.

She had reddish-brown hair.

Elizabeth Lamotte (Greenville, Tenn. Victim)

The last definitive victim was found by a fisherman April 14, 1985, near an exit ramp on Interstate 81 about 15 miles east of Greenville, Tenn.

When found, the body was nude and badly decomposed but a preliminary autopsy found she had been stabbed but a blow to her head had caused her death. She had been dead about three weeks.

She was a white woman between 14-20 years old, standing 5'4"-5'6", weighing around 130 pounds. The autopsy also found had between six to eight weeks pregnant but had recently lost the pregnancy. 

She had strawberry-blonde hair.

In a 2008 interview with the Greenville Sun, Capt. John Huffine, who was the first officer on the scene, recalled a man and his son found the body when taking a short cut to a pond.

Huffine said there was "absolutely no physical evidence at the scene."

With a lack of clues, investigators quickly exhausted leads and no one came forward to identify the body.

"I'm really surprised that no one ever came forward," Huffine said in the interview.

Over the years the TBI has followed more than 300 leads, but more than 30 years later, she was finally identified as 17-year-old Elizabeth Lamotte.

The young woman wasn't reported missing until January 2017 when investigators into another serial killer, Terry Peder Rasmussen. 

It is believed Rasmussen killed a woman and three children in the late 1970s and early 1980s and disposed of their bodies in barrels in New Hampshire while living under the alias Bob Evans. He died in prison in 2010 after being convicted of killing his girlfriend. 

An anonymous tip in New Hampshire reportedly claimed Lamotte was the woman in the barrel. She had escaped a youth development center in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1984 and never returned.

New Hampshire investigators confirmed Lamotte was missing and entered DNA samples from her two brothers into NCIC, which led to her identification in Tennessee. 

The Suspects

It has long been suspected that a long-haul truck driver is responsible for the killings.

According to the FBI, serial-killing truckers have killed more than 500 women. After the arrest of Bruce Mendenhall, the agency announced the formation of the Highway Serial Killings Initiative.

In the announcement of the initiative, the FBI said these case are particularly hard to solve because of the victims and the perpetrators.

The victims live high-risk, transient lifestyles, often involving substance abuse and sex work. They’re frequently picked up at truck stops or service stations then sexually assaulted, murdered and their bodies dumped along the roadside.

The perpetrators are mobile by nature and often dispose of their victims miles away from the abduction in a different jurisdiction or even a different state, leaving few witnesses and little evidence behind.

Over the years, investigators have questioned several truckers, like in March 1985, when they thought they had caught a break.

Linda Schacke, who had red hair, was found on the side of I-40 outside of Knoxville. She told police a truck driver named Jerry Leon Johns, of Cleveland, Tenn., had attempted to strangle her with her shirt before he tossed her on the side of the road, presuming her dead.

Police questioned Johns in relation to the other unsolved murders, to which "he showed a keen interest in serial killers" but ruled him out because of solid alibis, like being in jail.

Then in 1986, Thomas Lee Elkins from Pennsylvania was detained and questioned in relation to the murders.

Elkins, a long-hauler trucker, was arrested in Dyer County about 80 miles north of Memphis after a 20-year-old red-haired woman told police she escaped his truck. He reportedly kidnapped her in Indiana or Illinois.

He was charged with kidnapping and rape but was ruled out as a suspect in the Redhead Murders.