For decades, the identity of an elusive figure, dubbed the “Days Inn” and “I-65” killer, evaded police as investigators tried to solve the slayings of three women in Indiana and Kentucky in the late 1980s.
On Tuesday, law enforcement officials announced they’d solved the case.
Indiana State Police, alongside several federal and local agencies, identified Harry Edward Greenwell, who is now deceased, as the killer responsible for the rapes and murders of Vicki Heath, Margaret “Peggy” Gill and Jeanne Gilbert. Investigators have also linked him through DNA analysis to a sexual assault of a woman in 1990 in Columbus, Indiana. The women worked as clerks in motels along the I-65 corridor.
Greenwell died of cancer in Iowa in 2013 at age 68.
“There are detectives in this very room that have been involved in this in some form or another for literally generations,” said Indiana State Police Superintendent Doug Carter. “I hope today might bring a little bit of solace to know that the animal who did this is no longer on this Earth.”
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Tuesday’s announcement brings an end to the cold cases of the women’s assaults and killings. Police noted, however, there’s a “distinct possibility” Greenwell could be linked to more unsolved cases. Sgt. Glen Fifield of the Indiana State Police said detectives are continuing to investigate whether Greenwell, who was born in Kentucky, is connected to other violent crime in the Midwest.
Gilbert’s daughter, Kim Wright, said the families may never know why their relatives suffered the horrific fate, but the revealing of the killer’s identity provided some consolation.
“I’d like to believe that whatever each of us defines as justice, or what each of us might define as closure, that we’re all now able to share the healing process knowing the long known attacker has now been brought out of the dark, into the light,” Wright, an attorney, said.
The announcement of the Days Inn killer’s identity bookends an investigation that’s spanned more than 30 years. The search for the killer began in 1987 when Heath, 41, was found assaulted and shot to death behind a Super 8 motel in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
In 1989, two more women fell victim to the killer.
Gill, a 24-year-old overnight auditor at a Days Inn in Merrillville, was sexually assaulted and killed in the early morning hours of March 3.
An eerily similar attack occurred at another Days Inn dozens of miles away on the same night. Gilbert, a part-time auditor for the Remington motel, was assaulted. A motorist saw the 34-year-old’s body on the side of the road in White County. Police said both women were shot with the same .22 caliber handgun.
Police said DNA collected at the scene of Heath’s killing linked to Gilbert’s death.
DNA also linked the same attacker behind a 1990 sexual assault of a clerk at a Days Inn in Columbus, Indiana. In that case, the clerk got away and was able to vividly describe the attacker, which led to the police sketch of the suspect that circulated widely.
Police on Tuesday said a DNA match to Greenwell was made through a close family member, and returned a 99.99% probability.
Greenwell’s criminal history was detailed in a handout given to reporters by police. In 1963, he was sentenced to two years in the reformatory and five years probation for an armed robbery in Kentucky. Two years later, police arrested him on a sodomy charge. Greenwell was paroled in 1969 from the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
His served a prison sentence in Iowa for burglary. Police said he escaped, and was captured, twice. The prison released him in 1983.
Five years later, the investigation into the Days Inn killer began.
Police credited the “investigative genealogy” for the major breakthrough in the case. They said major improvements to DNA technology throughout the years aided their ability to utilize the method.
“I just hope that the effort this group has put in will somehow bring long, overdue closure to the family and friends of not just Miss Heath, but all the victims that are represented,” said David Fegett, deputy chief of operations of the Elizabethtown police department.
The case of the Days Inn killer began with Heath’s horrific killing.
In February 1987, customers at the Super 8 Motel found no one at the front desk. The lobby was torn apart. The prospective patrons called the police to investigate the strange scene.
Police made the grisly discovery near a trash bin at the back of the motel. Heath had been assaulted and shot twice in the head.
The bloody crime rocked the town of Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Two years later, the killer executed gruesomely familiar attacks on the same night.
Gill, a 24-year-old night auditor at the Days Inn in Merrillville, was attacked and killed in the wee hours of March 3, 1989.
Roughly 50 miles south, another Days Inn clerk suffered the same fate.
Gilbert, a part-time auditor at the Days Inn in Remington, was found shot to death on the side of the road by a motorist driving through White County.
Only in the women’s final hours did Gill and Gilbert’s paths cross, as the Indianapolis Star said in a 1989 article. Police determined they were killed by bullets from the same gun. Both motels had been robbed. In total, the killer swiped $426.
Gilbert was a working mother taking business courses at St. Joseph’s College, an Indianapolis Star article reported. Gill loved to bake, paint and cross stitch. She worked her way up from being a maid at the motel to an auditor position.
Gill’s family displayed some of her cross-stitch pieces at her funeral, the article said, including one depicting the Last Supper, next to her coffin.
The women’s families told the Indianapolis Star months after the killings that they were still coping with the deaths – but not forgetting.
Gill’s parents at the time said they don’t speak about revenge – just uncertainty. Her mother called the lack of a suspect at the time a “mixed blessing.”
“In some ways, it’s peace not to have to look at someone. But you read about something else and you wonder ‘was that him, too?’” Anna Gill said at the time.
Decades later, Wright told reporters that she also feels peace. While she, and the other families, may never be able to answer some questions about their loved one’s final moments, she finds peace in Gilbert’s memory.
She remembers her mother’s last words to her and her brother — specifically how Gilbert said she loved them and would see them “tomorrow.”
“I didn’t see her that tomorrow,” she said. “But I see her every day. I see her in me. I see her in my brother. I see her in my family.”
Contact Sarah Nelson at email@example.com or 317-503-7514.