James Michael Wright, 23, of 3473 Mendota Road, reportedly met his victims through his work as a subcontractor with the James H. Drew Carnival. During a Monday press conference at the Washington County Virginia Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Fred Newman categorized Wright as a serial killer — and didn’t rule out the possibility of additional victims.
“We’re working with the carnival to make a determination of the location that they set up the carnivals and attempt to see if there are people reported missing from those jurisdictions,” said Newman.
Investigation of Wright was initiated by Johnson City police. On March 21, Athina Hopson, 25, was reported missing by her mother. According to Johnson City Police Chief Karl Turner, Hopson was last seen with Wright when he picked her up in the city and she willingly left with him.
The WCSO assisted the JCPD in setting up an interview with Wright. Following the interview, police obtained a search warrant for Wright’s truck, finding Hopson’s cell phone inside the vehicle.
On Thursday, police executed a second search warrant, this time at Wright’s home in the Mendota community. Newman says that when Wright was interviewed again, he admitted to not only killing Hopson, but also two additional females.
“He stated they were accidental,” said Newman. “We find that hard to believe, based on information we have.”
On Friday, police searched property surrounding Wright’s residence. Newman says officers located the body of one female in a shallow grave and a second body underneath some logs. Autopsies are being conducted to confirm their identities.
Investigators say that based on Wright’s confession, one body is believed to be that of Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter, 22, of Carter County, Tenn. She was reported missing on March 17. On or about Feb. 28, according to police, Vanmeter was shot and killed by Wright during an argument.
The other body is believed to be Joslyn M. Alsup, 17, of Cobb County, Ga. Newman says she was reported missing on March 8, and her father worked with Wright in the James H. Drew Carnival.
Hopson’s body has yet to be recovered, despite multiple searches of the North Fork of the Holston River. Wright allegedly told police he shot Hopson on or about March 17, then attempted to transport her body in the back of his pickup truck. While doing so, the body reportedly fell out and rolled down an embankment near the bridge on Nordyke Road. Wright allegedly admitted to police that he then placed her body in the river.
Wright is being held without bond in the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon. He faces three counts of capital murder.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow stated that it was too early to say for certain, “but the death penalty is definitely on the table.”
Citing pending prosecution of the case, police refused to comment on potential motives in the killings. They also declined to speak on the nature of Wright’s relationships with the victims.
Newman acknowledged that the murders have been a shock to the small community of Mendota, located just east of the Scott County line. A meeting between police and the public is scheduled for Tuesday night at the Mendota Community Center.
“Yes, this one individual lived in the community, but it was, in my opinion, an isolated incident,” said Newman.