BREAKING: I-65 Serial Killer Case Solved

His reign of terror began at least 35 years ago in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, with the brutal murder of Vicki Heath. Then came the infamous “Days Inn Murders”, the horrific murders of Margaret Mary “Peggy” Gill and Jeanne Gilbert on the same dark and cold Indiana night. Law enforcement officials say it may take “weeks or months” before a press conference.

“We are working towards a multi-agency release and anticipate it being available sometime in the the next few weeks [months]”

Detective Chris Denham, Elizabethtown Police Department
The Kenneth H. O’Deen Composite sketch of the I-65 Serial Killer

I-65 Serial Killer Identified, but Deceased

American Crime Journal has been able to confirm through multiple sources, that the man we’ve called the I-65 Serial Killer, also known as the perpetrator of the “Days Inn Murders” has been identified and is deceased.

While this brings the families and victims some form of closure, his final act was that of cowardice- robbing them of some semblance of justice.

ACJ has confirmed with family members and friends of the victims, however, all have declined to go on record at this time. Two sources close to the investigation have gone into some of the specifics, however, those details have not been made public yet. Since we have not been able to independently verify them, they wish to remain confidential. All confirmed they were advised by detectives that the killer is dead.

ACJ and our partner Sculch Studios have reached out to those law enforcement agencies involved in the I-65 Serial Killer investigation, including the Indiana State Police (ISP) Lowell District which has been the lead agency in Indiana since the inception of the task force. Also, we’ve spoke with the Elizabethtown Police Department which has been productive in their investigation into the murder of Vicki Heath.

Both Elizabethtown Police Department and Indiana State Police have stated that a press release is coming in the next few weeks (possibly months). The other agencies have declined to go on record or comment, with the Indiana agencies referring to the ISP, though another detective confirmed that the suspected killer is deceased.

One family member and a former detective have expressed concern over the delayed response.

We will update as new developments and details emerge.

Background

From Left to right: Peggy Gill, Jeanne Gilbert and Vicki Heath

The I-65 Serial Killer’s reign of terror began at least 35 years ago, in the early morning hours of Saturday, February 21, 1987. He emerged from the darkness and entered the Super 8 Motel at 2028 N. Mulberry St. just off I-65 in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. At 6:38 a.m., a guest went to check out to find the lobby turned upside down. Items from the front desk was all over the floor. Furniture was overturned, and a payphone had been ripped from the wall. Worse, the night clerk was nowhere to be found. A short time later officers arrived and searched the premises. Behind the dumpster Vicki Heath was found brutally murdered. She had been sexually assaulted and executed with a .38 caliber pistol.

In the light dusting of snow there was a set of footprints that led to a vehicle, that melted with the sunrise. Just like that, he vanished without a trace.

Heath’s murder was believed to possibly be “a robbery gone wrong, because she had put up a fight”. One hell of a fight, indeed. Officers that arrived on the scene believed a major brawl between two groups of people had taken place in the hotel lobby.

By 2010, EPD detectives had not ruled out “a crime of passion” either.

The brutal murder of Vicki Heath rocked Elizabethtown and Hardin County, but it was the Days Inn Murders on March 3, 1989, that briefly brought this killer to the national forefront.

The I-65 Serial Killer appeared out of the darkness again. This time at the Days Inn in Merrillville, Indiana, right off Interstate 65. He pried open the cash drawer and took $179. He then took Peggy Gill, the night auditor to an unoccupied hallway of the hotel. She was then sexually assaulted and shot to death with a .22.

The killer then drove 52 miles south on I-65 to the Days Inn in Remington, Indiana. Inside, he pried open the cash drawer and stole the $247 inside. He then abducted Jeanne Gilbert, the night auditor from the hotel.

Her nude body was found 19 miles away in ditch on a rural road in White County, near Brookston.

Like Peggy Gill, she had been sexually assaulted and executed with a .22.

Then, in the early morning hours of January 2, 1990, the I-65 Serial Killer would again appear at a Days Inn right off Interstate 65. This time in Columbus, Indiana.  A “stereotypical looking blue-collar trucker” walked in through the front door of the lobby and asked for change for the cigarette machine. Then asked the night auditor if any place was open for breakfast. He returned fifteen to twenty minutes later with a Styrofoam cup of steaming hot coffee. He threw the steaming coffee in the clerk’s face and hopped the counter. As she screamed, he covered her mouth and demanding cooperation. He quickly obtained the contents of the cash drawer. His focus was then on her. He robbed her of her jewelry. In less than a second, he was all over her before she could process what happened. He would then lead the clerk to a vestibule at the south end of the hotel. The man sexually assaulted her and became increasingly hostile.

The killer led her out of the hotel and into the parking lot. He told her not to look back.

She survived.

DNA, still in its infancy linked the Days Inn Murders with the Columbus Assault.

The bizarre murders rocked the state of Indiana, Chicagoland area and beyond. The case gained so much notoriety, Unsolved Mysteries began production at one point, but was suddenly ceased for unknown reasons.

After years of being shuffled around between numerous detectives, Elizabethtown Police Department Detective Clinton Turner submitted what little DNA evidence they had to the Kentucky State Police Crime Lab for DNA comparison in 2010.

Then in April of 2010, there was a hit in Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). It matched the DNA of an unknown offender connected to the March 3, 1989, sexual assault and murders of Days Inn clerks Peggy Gill and Jeanne Gilbert, and the sexual assault the Days Inn clerk who survived an attack in Columbus 1990.

In March of 2013, Elizabethtown Police Chief Ruben Gardner (who was the lead investigator at one time) said there was another hit in CODIS matching a sample collected from a victim of sexual assault and attempted murder in Rochester, Minnesota in 1991, to the unknown offender samples collected from the murders of Vicki HeathPeggy GillJeanne Gilbert and the previous CODIS match in 2010, the Columbus sexual assault victim of 1990.

According to Chief Gardner and the media sources listed below:

In 1991, a woman in Minnesota who was also sexually assaulted and stabbed gave police a similar description of her attacker. The victim described the suspect as a white male, 6′- 6’2”, green eyes, the right eye was described as a lazy eye, and he had grayish brown hair. He was wearing a flannel shirt and blue jeans”.

For decades, it was known as ‘The Days Inn Murders”, part spree killer and part serial rapist- if not killer by textbook definitions.

A Multi-jurisdictional and Timeline Mess

Understanding the case from law enforcement’s and ultimately the public’s perspective is very important for this update. The I-65 Killer begins with the Days Inn Murders. This was a time and era in law enforcement that interagency cooperation, databases and transparency was few and far between. The murders of Peggy Gill and Jeanne Gilbert spanned six agencies alone. For those keeping track, Merrillville PD, Indiana State Police, Jasper County Sheriff’s Office, Lake County Sheriff’s Department, White County Sheriff’s Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

This was followed by the Columbus Assault nine months later in 1990. It added two more agencies into the fray, both Columbus Police Department and Bartholomew County Sheriff’s Department.

A Task Force was quickly assembled, with the Indiana State Police Lowell District taking the lead.

The case was baffling as this killer could be seen as a serial, spree, rampage killer, robbery first motive or sexually assault motivated. He killed with no cool off period, both attacked and killed after a cool off period, made sure he robbed the clerks, yet somehow the level of violence decreased.

The final known victims survived the I-65 Serial Killer.

There were also two other robbery homicides of hotel clerks’ months before the Days Inn murders. Lois “Evelyn” Wright of Rockford, Il, and James Matthew Walton of Florence, Kentucky, were murdered just two weeks apart in December 1988. Neither homicide has been solved, and the murder weapon a .44 magnum revolver has never surfaced again in a shooting or been recovered. The Wright and Walton murders were linked through ballistics recovered at the scene. The suspect made off with thousands of dollars in the robbery and murder of Evelyn Wright. Rockford, Illinois, is just two hours from Merrillville. Florence, Kentucky, is just two hours from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, but it’s also one hour and forty-five minutes from Columbus, Indiana.

The time of the robbery matches across the board- as all were in early morning hours. Even a composite sketch of a suspicious person at the Walton murder, resembles the two survivor’s composites of the I-65 Serial Killer. It’s unclear if they are linked. It is very possible that a desperate robber and killer was operating within the same region of a serial killer, both targeting hotel clerks.

It’s also important to note that the murder of Victoria Harshman complicated things, and that murder has its own problems, however, her murder has been ruled out of the I-65 Killer. In fact, there are two suspects that have recently materialized.

More question than answers

Right now, there are more questions than answers. The most important thing is that a dangerous killer is off the street and that the families and victims get some type of closure.

Of course, there is a lot to unpack from the police statements, such as “we are in fact involved in this investigation which spans multiple agencies and jurisdictions. We are working toward a multi-agency release and anticipate it being available in the next few weeks [months]”.

(Via email Det. Denham initially stated months, but stated that the multi-agency press conference would “be in a few weeks” during a clarification call with ACJ’s Jenn)

We will update as new developments and details emerge.


Further Reading & References

Cold case to appear on ‘America’s Most Wanted’ | TheNewsEnterprise.com

DNA May Catch This Serial Killer. Across Kentucky and Indiana, the I-65… | by Jean Campbell | Medium

GILL, GILBERT: ‘Days Inn murders’ remain unsolved | Lake County News | nwitimes.com

The I-65 Killer: An Indiana / Kentucky serial killer still runs loose (courierpress.com)

1989 Days Inn murders still haunt police, family | wthr.com

The I-65 Killer (Days Inn Murders) | Already Gone Podcast – True Crime

The I-65 Killer (Part One: The Days Inn Murders) — Unresolved

The I-65 Killer (Part Two: The Bearded Man) — Unresolved

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