'I-65 killer' who murdered 3 women in 1980s identified with DNA evidence

Harry Edward Greenwell, who died in 2013, had an "extensive criminal history."

April 5, 2022, 1:26 PM

Police have named a man who died in 2013 as the serial killer responsible for the deaths of three women in the late 1980s.

Harry Edward Greenwell was identified as the man known as the "I-65" or "Days Inn" killer, an elusive figure who killed three motel clerks along Interstate 65 in Indiana and Kentucky, Indiana State Police spokesperson Sgt. Glen Fifield told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.

The case began on Feb. 21, 1987, after the murder of Vicki Heath, a 41-year-old mother who would had recently gotten engaged and was working the night shift at the Super 8 motel in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Fifield said. By March 3, 1989, Indiana State Police were investigating two more murders that occurred under similar circumstances on the same day Heath was killed, Fifield said.

Margaret Gill, also known as Peggy Gill, was murdered while working the night shift at the Days Inn in Merrillville, Indiana, while Jean Gilbert was murdered while working the night shift at the Days Inn in Remington, Indiana, Fifield said. Gill, who was 24 at the time, had been promoted from maid to night auditor, while Gilbert, a mother of two, had traded shifts to watch her daughter's last game as a cheerleader, the Indy Star reported.

PHOTO: Harry Edward Greenwell in a police photo.
Harry Edward Greenwell in a police photo.
FBI/Indiana State Police

The women were raped before they were killed, the Indy Star reported.

On Jan. 2, 1990, a clerk working in the Days Inn in Columbus, Indiana, was attacked in a similar manner as the previous three victims, but she was able to escape her attacker and survived, later giving authorities "an excellent physical description of the suspect and details of the crime," Fifield said. The clerk was sexually assaulted and stabbed in the attack, the Indy Star reported.

The primary factor that linked the four cases together was the proximity to Interstate 65. Numerous pieces of forensic evidence were collected and preserved to include DNA, clothing, hairs, fibers and ballistic evidence from the cases, allowing investigators to match ballistic evidence linking the Gill and Gilbert murders and to later match DNA evidence linking the Heath and Gilbert murders to the case of the surviving victim, Fifield said.

Decades after the murders took place, Indiana State Police and the FBI were able to use genetic genealogy to generate investigative leads on the killer. Greenwell -- who was born on Dec. 9, 1944, and died in January 2013 -- had an "extensive criminal history" and had been "in and out of prison several times," Fifield said.

PHOTO: Vicki Heath, Margaret Gill and Jeanne Gilbert in police handout photos.
Vicki Heath, Margaret Gill and Jeanne Gilbert in police handout photos.
FBI/Indiana State Police

Investigators were able to put together a timeline of Greenwell's movements through police reports, newspaper archives and "some self-reporting by him" Fifield said. Greenwell is feared to be responsible for additional murders, rapes, robberies and assaults stretching from Gary, Indiana, down to Mobile, Alabama, the length of Interstate 65, Fifield said.

Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter addressed the family members of the victims, saying he hopes the announcement "might bring a little bit of solace to you to know that the animal that did this is no longer on this earth."

Carter described the decadeslong investigation as a "relentless and dogged pursuit" that had detectives chasing leads all over the country. Advances in technology finally allowed investigators to solve the cold case, Carter said.

"It's amazing what happens over the course of generations," Carter said. "There's detectives in this very room that have been involved in this in some form or another, literally for generations. And they're owed a debt of gratitude that we could never possibly repay. But, you know, their effort was for you."

ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway and Beatrice Peterson contributed to this report.

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