A traveling carnival worker has confessed to killing two young women and a teenage girl in 18 days, according to law enforcement, but claims he shot them accidentally.
James Michael Wright, 23, described as a possible serial killer by deputies, is charged with three counts of capital murder, according to a statement from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Virginia.
According to law enforcement Wright met the two women as he traveled with the carnival.
“We know that that carnival traveled extensively certainly throughout the east coast,” Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman told reporters. “We have plans of contacting jurisdictions where that carnival very well may have been to see if they have missing persons.”
Wright was arrested on May 9 in connection with the disappearance of Athina Hopson, 25, from Tennessee.
25-year-old Athina Renea Hopson was in Johnson City, Tennessee on 3/16/19. The next day she was reportedly picked up by a male acquaintance who was taking her to his trailer in Mendota, Virginia to clean it: he told police he dropped her back off on 3/18, but this has not been pic.twitter.com/Acjraevmsq
— Missing Persons Planet (@Home4theMissing) April 20, 2019
According to the sheriff’s office, Wright not only confessed to killing Hopson but also to shooting another missing woman and a missing 17-year-old girl.
On May 10, following Wright’s confession, law enforcement found the remains of two bodies in the properties surrounding Wright’s residence, one in a shallow grave, the other under some logs.
The bodies have yet to be identified, but investigators believe they are those of Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter, 22, of Tennessee, and Joslyn M. Alsup, 17, from Georgia.
Wright allegedly told deputies that he put the body of the third woman, Hopson, in a river, after it fell out of his truck and rolled down an embankment.
All three women were killed in Washington County, law enforcement told reporters during a press conference on May 10.
Wright is charged with capital murder, which potentially carries the death penalty. “Certainly it is very early in a case like this, the death penalty is definitely on the table,” Washington County Commonwealth Attorney Josh Cumbow told reporters.
According to deputies, Wright said he shot his first victim, Vanmeter, as a result of an argument on or around Feb. 28, then buried her body near his home in Mendota.
Then on March 9, according to warrants obtained by WCYB, Wright claims he accidentally shot 17-year-old Alsup while he was shooting at an animal in the woods near his house. He covered her body with logs.
Alsup was the daughter of a coworker at James H. Drew Exposition, the carnival company where Wright worked.
On March 17, according to the warrant, Wright told officers he was out for a walk with Hopson when he tripped twice and accidentally shot her. He then said he dumped her body in the Holston River when he got scared after it fell off his pickup truck bed.
Sheriff Newman told reporters that Wright’s claims of three accidental shootings was “hard to believe based on the information that we have.”
If Wright is found guilty of murder, he might not fit the technical definition of a serial killer, because the deaths are clustered too closely.
The FBI definition of a serial killer is someone who commits at least three murders over more than a month with an emotional cooling off period in between.
Serial killers account for only 1 percent of all murders in the United States, according to the FBI. “However, there is a macabre interest in the topic that far exceeds its scope and has generated countless articles, books, and movies,” notes the FBI website.
“This broad-based public fascination began in the late 1880s, after a series of unsolved prostitute murders occurred in the Whitechapel area of London. These murders were committed by an unknown individual who named himself ‘Jack the Ripper’ and sent letters to the police claiming to be the killer.”
The movie villain cliche of a highly-intelligent, dysfunctional loner, traveling state to state does not fit the reality, according to the FBI.
As with Jack the Ripper, serial killings are often associated with sexual motives. However, the FBI says that serial killers are usually motivated by other forces, “including anger, thrill, financial gain, and attention seeking.”