Elizabethton, Tennessee – A group of high school students in Tennessee have cracked a decades-old cold case known as the “Redhead Murders,” providing a breakthrough in a mystery that has stumped law enforcement for years. Between 1983 and 1985, up to 14 young women with red or reddish hair were found dumped along highways in Tennessee, Kentucky, and neighboring states, sparking fears of a hunting killer and leading to the creation of a multi-state law enforcement task force in 1985. However, the investigation failed to yield any significant leads.
The case remained unsolved until 2018, when 20 students from Elizabethton High School linked at least six of the victims to a man they dubbed the “Bible Belt Strangler” as part of a class project. The breakthrough identified five of the victims and led to the possible identification of the sixth, shedding new light on a case that had gone cold for decades.
The students’ dedication and empathy for the victims impressed their teacher, Alex Campbell, who remarked that his students never cease to amaze him. They compiled enough evidence and put together the pieces of the puzzle, culminating in a 10-episode podcast called Murder 101, unveiling their findings and showcasing their hard work. Through their efforts, they identified convicted felon Jerry Johns, who died in a Kentucky prison in 2015, as the main suspect in the “Redhead Murders.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) came across a blog post about one of the victims, Tina McKenney-Farmer, matched the description of a missing Indiana woman found in Campbell County, Tennessee. McKenney-Farmer was positively identified through fingerprinting, leading prosecutors to solidify Johns as the culprit with the evidence provided by the students.
While the case did not result in the prosecution of Jerry Johns, it provided closure for McKenney-Farmer’s family, who had been waiting for over three decades for answers. TBI Director David Rausch expressed his hope that this case would provide hope for other families in the state waiting for answers, affirming the team’s commitment to pursuing unsolved cases as long as viable leads exist.
Thus, the dedication and hard work of these high school students led to a significant milestone in solving a long-standing cold case, proving that determination and empathy can play a pivotal role in unraveling mysteries that have plagued communities for years.