East Tennessee students work to find ”bible belt strangler’

CRITTENDEN COUNTY, Ark. — High school students are working with law enforcement to crack a cold case after a serial killer terrorized states in the early 80's.

Now, there's new hope to find the 'bible belt strangler.' The name was coined by a high school sociology class out of Elizabethton in east Tennessee.

The 'bible belt strangler' is believed to have committed six murders stretching from Pennsylvania to Texas.

One of those murders took place in Crittenden County, AR.

In 1984, a gruesome discovery was made on I-40 outside West Memphis. It was the body of a young woman.

Nearly a year later she was identified as 28-year-old Lisa Nichols.

Her death made headlines. She was believed to be one of the victims of the red-headed murders spanning the early 80's.

Law enforcement never confirmed the murders were related, but the killer had the same MO. The women who were targeted lived transient life and were all found dead on the side of the road with reddish hair.

"We're discouraged that it's been so long with no new leads," Chief Todd Grooms said.

Chief Todd Grooms wasn't with the Crittenden County Sheriff's Office when Nichols was discovered, but he has heard about the case.

He's been communicating with the high school sociology class hundreds of miles away in Elizabethton in east Tennessee that decided to look into the string of murders.

"I was intrigued by the idea that a class of students were looking into the case and the amount of knowledge that they had on it."

Tuesday afternoon students at Elizabethton High School announced their semester long findings of the killer.

By developing a profile, they determined the killer was a white man who was born between 1936 and 1962. He was between 5-feet-9 inches and 6-feet-2 inches and weighed between 180 and 270 pounds.

They think he was a commercial truck driver who often drove on I-40 near Knoxville, Tennessee.

They also think there's a good chance he's still alive.

"Their lives were most likely stolen from them in the dark parking lots of truck stops and rest areas and then dumped along lonely highways at night where he thought no one would see him. He's alluded justice for almost 40 years, but the Bible Belt stranger is wrong. He made a mistake. Somebody saw something, somebody has heard something," sociology teacher Alex Campbell said.

"Teenagers like us usually don't get an experience like this. We usually see it with many of the FBI, TBI, CIA or whatever law enforcement agency gets to do this. We never get to have this type of chance and it's wonderful that we have this chance," student Will Bowers said.

"When you don't have any new leads in 30 years you do the best you can and I'm very pleased that these kids have sparked new interest in it and hopefully it will generate some tips comin in from all across the country."

The student's project was also featured in the Out of the Shadows podcast.

If you think you might have information call 1-800-TBI- FIND.