I-65 killer revealed: Late Iowa man committed string of murders in decades-old cold case, police say

'Investigative genealogy' used to identify suspect in attacks on motel workers in 80s-90s

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Indiana State Police, along with the FBI, announced Tuesday that a suspect has been identified through "investigative genealogy" in the more than 30-year-old cold case dubbed the I-65, or Days Inn murders, involving the brutal slayings of three women working night shifts at roadside motels. 

Harry Edward Greenwell was named as the suspect in the brutal murders and robberies of Vicki Heath, Margaret "Peggy" Gill and Jeanne Gilbert in a series of attacks at motels in Kentucky and Indiana in the late '80s, as well as a sexual assault on a fourth victim left for dead but who survived. It was determined that the probability of Greenwell being the person responsible for the attacks was "99.9999% positive," Indiana State Police Sgt. Glen Fifield said at a press conference Tuesday, delivering the news to the media, with some family members of the victims in attendance. 

Greenwell died in 2013 at the age of 68 in New Albin, Iowa. He had an extensive criminal history spanning several decades from 1963 to 1998, authorities said. 

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"Our family is extremely grateful to all of the agencies, along with agency partnerships, who have committed to keeping these unsolved cases at the forefront for more than 33 years, and who have worked tirelessly to bring these cases to resolution for all who have suffered from these crimes," Kimberly (Gilbert) Wright, the daughter of Jeanne Gilbert, said in a statement. 

"While this news might close the cases at hand officially, new chapters of healing will begin for all of us involved, and those chapters will be written differently for each of us," Wright added.  

Authorities explained on Tuesday how one of the many investigative and scientific techniques that have either improved or been created through new advances in technology since the murders was "investigative genealogy." The technique combines the use of DNA analysis with traditional genealogy research and historical records to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes. 

The method involves uploading a crime scene DNA profile to one or more genetic genealogy databases to identify a criminal offender's genetic relatives and locate the offender within their family tree. Through this process, a match was made to Greenwell with a close family member. 

The state police lab previously matched ballistic evidence linking the Gill and Gilbert murders. The Heath and Gilbert murders, as well as the sexual assault of the fourth victim, were linked through DNA analysis. In 2019, the Indiana State Police requested the assistance of the FBI’s Gang Response Investigative Team (GRIT).

The case began on February 21, 1987, when 41-year-old Vicki Heath was murdered at the Super 8 Motel in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, while assigned to the night shift at the front desk. According to the Unresolved podcast, motel guests described finding the lobby in disarray the next morning and Heath missing. Authorities searched the property and found Heath’s body behind a dumpster. She had been shot and sexually assaulted. 

Two years later, Indiana State Police investigated two homicides that took place on March 3, 1989. Margaret "Peggy" Gill, 24, was murdered while working the night shift at the Days Inn in Merrillville, Indiana.

According to American Crime Journal, 70 rooms were booked at the time of her 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift. She was last accounted for at 1:30 a.m. when she checked in her last guest. The motel manager reported her missing later that morning when she failed to check in, and authorities who searched the motel found Gill’s body at the end of a vacant hall raped and shot twice in the head. 

The front desk’s cash drawer was forced open and $179 was missing, police said. 

Following Gill’s murder, investigators determined the same suspect drove some 52 miles south on I-65 to the Days Inn in Remington, Indiana, where Jeanne Gilbert was working the front desk. 

According to the American Crime Journal, Gilbert was working the shift as a favor, so her co-worker could attend her daughter’s high school cheerleading sectional competition. 

Gilbert was last accounted for around 4:30 a.m. when she made a courtesy wake-up call to a guest, and investigators believe she was later forced from the motel and into a car. Less than two hours later, authorities found her body on a county road after having been sexually assaulted and shot three times. 

A fourth victim, whose name was not made public by authorities, was sexually assaulted at a Days Inn in Columbus, Indiana, on Jan. 2, 1990, but managed to survive. 

She provided a detailed description of the suspect, saying he was around 6 feet tall with a gray beard and green eyes, resulting in the creation of a composite sketch of the I-65 killer. 

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"Indiana State Police investigators work diligently every day, in close collaboration with our state and federal law enforcement partners all across Indiana and beyond our state lines, to help solve senseless crimes like this one, no matter how many days, months or even years have passed since the crime occurred," Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas G. Carter said Tuesday. 

"These cases did not go unsolved all these years because of a lack of investigative inactivity – investigators continuously tracked leads across the country and did everything they could to identify the person responsible for these crimes," added FBI Indianapolis Special Agent in Charge Herbert J. Stapleton. "Now, through technological advances and strong, collaborative partnerships we were able to identify this person and, hopefully, start to bring closure and healing to the families of Vicki, Peggy and Jeanne, as well as the surviving victim."