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Student sleuths investigating "bible-belt strangler"

Math, science and catching serial killers. It's not your average high school curriculum, but for a group of east Tennessee students they are hoping their investigative efforts could really make a difference.

Elizabethton, TN — A group of high school student detectives are investigating a series of unsolved killings.

Tuesday, the students from Elizabethton High School presented their research on what's known as the "redhead murders". Over the last semester, the group has studied the several cases which span the south and occurred mostly in the 80's.

RELATED| Appalachian Unsolved: Kentucky Jane Doe found in refrigerator still nameless after 32 years

The cases all have several things connecting them, including the victims' hair color. Students created a profile of the suspected killer and named him the "bible-belt strangler".

"Bible belt strangler because Nashville is the buckle of the bible belt and these surround Nashville, and we think Knoxville or Nashville is where the killer lived," said student Kayla Vandeventer.

5 out of 6 of the women are Jane Does.

"The fact that they were unknown and didn't have family, made the kids feel like they needed to advocate for them," said teacher Alex Campbell.

Law enforcement from some of the involved counties were in attendance and are impressed with the efforts and believe the publicity will help generate tips in the case.

"There's no doubt that someone saw something and thought it's probably nothing, it's not that important. But it could be something big or small that leads to a big break," said student Mason Peterson.

The class worked alongside law enforcement to learn about profiling and the details of the case. They also got guidance from podcaster Shane Waters with Out of the Shadows.

Waters has traveled thousands of miles to erect 6 red crosses, representing where the 6 lives were taken.

"If you drive by the interstate and see a red cross with nothing on it, I want people to start asking questions," said Waters.

He's hoping to revive the stories of the redhead murders.

"Although these women don't have these family members to do that for them, I took it upon myself to put something out there so people will remember them," said Waters about the crosses.

He's impressed by the students' hard work and determination.

"This was the first time I've ever witnessed high school kids have the same passion and drive that adults do, it's something very unique," said Waters.

According to the students' research, they believe the suspect was or is in the trucking industry. They also think he might reside in Nashville or Knoxville. His preferred method of murder was strangulation.

DNA is currently being processed in the Gray, Kentucky case, hoping to link one of the Jane Does to her family. Students read aloud a letter from the woman, sharing her thoughts on what it would mean if the results were true.

The root of their investigative efforts isn't to seek fame or glory, but speaking for those who can't speak for themselves.

"There's a whole other side of life we don't think about much and sometimes those people aren't represented and we wanted to do something to help them," said Mr. Campbell.

"This guy is probably still out there, still alive, led a full life. just because the killing stopped does not mean that he died," said Waters.

If you have any information on these cases you can call the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) at 1-800-TBI-FIND

The Victims:

"His type of victim was someone with a transient lifestyle, maybe someone who didn't have family or was estranged from family," said student Kayla Vandeventer.


This victim was found along Route 250 near Littleton, West Virginia. She was a white female discovered in 1983 with Auburn hair. A Caesarean scar was found on her abdomen, indicating she had had a child.


Lisa Nichols is the only identified victim of the group. They believe she was attempting to hitchhike when she was murdered. Nichols was 28-years-old and discovered on September 16, 1984 along Interstate 40 near West Memphis, Arkansas.


A woman was found in 1985 near Jellico, Tennessee on Interstate 75. She was in an advanced state of decomposition. She was 2.5 to 5 moths pregnant when murdered.

RELATED: Woman found dead by I-75 finally identified


A skeletonized red-haired female was found March 31, 1985 in Pleasant View, Tennessee.


Found inside a refrigerator dumped on Route 25, this victim was found on April 1st, 1985 near Barbourville, Kentucky. She was wearing two distinct necklaces: a gold eagle and heart pendant.

RELATED| Appalachian Unsolved: Kentucky Jane Doe found in refrigerator still nameless after 32 years


On April 14, 1985 a young female was found near Greeneville, Tennessee. Authorities were able to get her fingerprints, DNA and dental information. Her fingernails were painted pink.