INDIANAPOLIS — After more than 30 years, investigators have identified the man dubbed the “I-65 killer,” or the “Days Inn Killer.”
Indiana State Police said Harry Edward Greenwell was identified through a method known as investigative genealogy, as the man who raped and murdered three women and brutally attacked a fourth in a series of attacks at hotels in Indiana and Kentucky along the I-65 corridor.
Greenwell has been connected to the late 1980s killings of Vicki Heath, Margaret “Peggy” Gill, and Jeanne Gilbert, and a 1990 sexual assault and stabbing of a woman in Columbus, Indiana, who investigators said is the only known victim to have survived the ‘vicious and brutal’ attacks of this serial killer.
“To the family members that are here, I’m not going to begin to try to understand or say that I understand because none of us do, but I hope that today might bring a little bit of solace to you, to know that the animal that did this, is no longer on this earth,” said ISP Superintendent Doug Carter.
Greenwell, who was known to frequently travel through the midwest, died in 2013 at the age of 68 in New Albin, Iowa and had an extensive criminal history spanning decades from the 1960s to 1998, including several jail escapes.
Investigators said their work on the case never stopped, but with technological advances, they were able to find an answer they had been seeking alongside the families of the victims killed and the surviving victim, for more than three decades.
Investigative genealogy combines the use of DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes.
“The match was 99.999% positive,” said ISP Sergeant Glen Fifield.
Other evidence from ballistics to clothing, DNA, including hair and fibers, were all gathered from the crime scenes over the years and preserved, according to investigators, which helped them link the cases together and played a part in leading investigators to this point.
Following the murders, the Indiana State Police lab matched ballistic evidence from the murders of Gill and Gilbert, which both happened on the same day in northern Indiana in March of 1989.
ISP’s lab also connected the murders of Heath, in Kentucky, to Gilbert and the sexual assault of the woman in Columbus, through DNA analysis. It was in 2019 that ISP asked for help from the FBI’s Gang Response Investigative Team (GRIT) to begin the process of investigative genealogy.
According to police, the process goes like this: a crime scene DNA profile is uploaded to one or more genetic genealogy databases to try and identify a criminal offender’s genetic relatives and locate the offender within their family tree. It was through this that investigators said a match was made to Greenwell with a close family member and subsequently, determined that it was more than 99.999% probable that he was the man responsible for the killings.
Investigators also credited the courage of the surviving victim in the Columbus attack for her help in solving the case. While DNA was recovered in her case, police said she helped provide information, including a description of her attacker, and assistance to law enforcement over the years.
“That was critical in being able to solve this case and it was truly a turning point in the investigation,” said Herbert Stapleton, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Indianapolis.
“You never gave up and I hope that today’s announcement shows that this team of law enforcement agencies never gave up either,” Stapleton added.
Kimberly Gilbert Wright, the daughter of Jeanne Gilbert, also expressed her gratitude to the unnamed survivor for the courage and role she played in helping all of their families find answers.
“I, too, celebrate the life of the unnamed victim and I thank God that she’s here to have helped with the case and efforts and I wish her the best,” Gilbert Wright said.
ISP, the FBI, and the Elizabethtown, Kentucky and Columbus, Indiana police departments made the announcement in front of a room filled with loved ones of the victims.
“I celebrate her. I encourage everyone else to celebrate her,” said Gilbert Wright about her mother.
On behalf of the families in the room, Gilbert Wright thanked investigators for their diligence in working to solve the case for more than three decades.
While Gilbert Wright said closure and justice may seem apparent, they are only now beginning and will take shape differently for each family impacted by the actions of Greenwell.
“For some, we’ve moved forward as we believe our loved ones would have wanted, celebrating their influence and impact on our lives. Some will re-live that pain they thought they buried a long time ago and restart the entire healing process from the beginning,” she said.
“In addition to our families, I believe his family and friends have also become victims of his crimes as well.”
As the killer has been brought out of the darkness, Gilbert Wright hopes the one thing that the families all share, is the beginning of healing.
“I’ve told everyone, I remember her last words, and I think the way she expressed them to me, the way she expressed them to my brother specifically, the I love you; I’ll see you tomorrow. I didn’t see her that tomorrow, but I see her every day,” said Gilbert Wright.
She said through herself, her brother and family, she sees her mother everyday. While Gilbert Wright doesn’t know if this development will bring closure for her family, she is grateful to have answers and said she finds peace in keeping her mother’s memory alive.
Officials stressed no matter how old an investigation is, police will continue to look for leads and evidence, and said this case is an example of that.
“The message is you might be able to hide for a while but we’re going to find you,” said Superintendent Carter.
“The smallest piece of evidence is often what breaks a case wide open,” said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police Department Public Information Officer. “Sometimes the answers do not come as quickly as we would like, but in the end, I am thankful that we are finally able to find answers to questions that have plagued victims and these families for so long.”
Detectives are looking into other cases in the midwest that may Greenwell may possibly be linked to.
“As most of you know, interstate I-65 runs from Gary, Indiana all the way down south to Mobile, Alabama, said Fifield. “Investigators have long believed there’s distinct possibility there have been murders, rapes, robberies or assaults that have not yet been connected to this investigation.”
Series of attacks at hotels in Indiana and Kentucky
I-65 killer timeline
February 1987: According to a timeline laid out by investigators, the I-65 killer first struck on February 21st, 1987 in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Vicki Lucille Heath was 41 years old at the time she was killed. She was working the front desk at the Super 8 Motel the night she was murdered.
The Unresolved podcast recounts that guests found the lobby to be in disarray the following morning with no sign of Heath. When police were called to search the property, they found Heath’s body behind the Super 8’s dumpster.
Investigators confirmed during Tuesday’s press conference that Heath was shot twice in the head. She had also been sexually assaulted and the business was robbed.
Investigators were able to recover DNA evidence from the scene, which they eventually linked to the murder of Jeanne Gilbert and the sexual assault of the unnamed victim in Columbus.
March 1989: It wasn’t until two years later when the killer took the lives of two Indiana women: 24-year-old Margaret “Peggy” Gill and 34-year-old Jeanne Gilbert.
On March 2, 1989, Peggy Gill was working as a night auditor at a Days Inn in Merrillville, Indiana. The American Crime Journal reports 70 rooms had been booked at the time of Gill’s 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. She checked in her last guest around 1:30 a.m. on March 3 when investigators say someone forced her from the desk.
The Days Inn manager reported Gill missing after she did not call in to check with her that morning. Police arrived at the motel and found the desk’s cash drawer had been pried open with $179 missing from the till.
Officers then searched the motel and found Gill’s body shortly after 6:30 a.m. at the end of a vacant hall, according to the American Crime Journal.
Investigators confirmed Tuesday that Gill died from two gunshot wounds to the head, the same manner of death as Heath. She was also sexually assaulted and the business was robbed, consistent with the details of Heath’s case from two years prior.
Because a biological substance consistent with saliva or semen was non-viable for testing, DNA was not recovered from the scene of Gill’s murder, investigators said. However, it was ballistics that connected her case to a murder just hours later.
Police say sometime after Gill was killed, Greenwell drove 52 miles south on I-65 to the Remington Days Inn.
Jeanne Gilbert of Rensselaer was behind the front desk after she agreed to switch shifts with a coworker in order to see her daughter cheer in a high school sectional game, the American Crime Journal reports.
Her last known interaction was around 4:30 a.m. when she made a courtesy wake-up call to a guest.
Sometime after that, she was forced from the motel and into a car for the last ride of her life.
Gilbert’s body was found less than two hours later on County Road 150 West just northwest of Brookston in White County. That’s a little more than a one-hour drive from where Peggy Gill was killed in Merrillville if you take I-65.
Investigators said Gilbert was shot in the chest and head and had been sexually assaulted. The business was also robbed.
Investigators linked the suspect to a violent sexual assault on a female employee during an armed robbery at a Days Inn in Columbus, Indiana on January 2, 1990.
“This victim was able to escape her attacker and survived,” said Fifield. “She was ultimately able to give an excellent physical description of the suspect and details of the crime.”
That description led to a composite sketch of the suspect. She said he was around 6 feet tall with a gray beard and green eyes.
“One of the primary factors that linked these four crime scenes were their proximity to I-65 and for this obvious reason, the person responsible for these murders was dubbed the I-65 killer,” said Fifield.
Through the years, investigators have connected pieces to the puzzle, worked across state lines and with the help of technological advancements, finally have a name behind the person responsible.