Police Say 'Serial Killer' Carnival Worker Confessed To Fatally Shooting 3 Women

James Michael Wright has allegedly confessed to the killings, telling authorities that all of the shootings were accidental.

May 15, 2019

Photo by: Mug shot of James Michael Wright [Washington County Sheriff's Office]

Mug shot of James Michael Wright [Washington County Sheriff's Office]

By: Catherine Townsend

MENDOTA, VA — A 23-year-old carnival worker has been charged with murder in connection with the killings of two women and a teen in Washington County, Virginia.

Police say James Michael Wright allegedly killed the three victims between February 28 and March 17. Authorities have identified them as Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter, 22, of Carter County, Tennessee; Athina Hopson, 25, of Johnson City, Tennessee; and 17-year-old Joslyn Alsup from Cobb County, Georgia.

Wright worked as a subcontractor for the James H. Drew Exposition, and the carnival’s route took him around the country, police said.

According to police, he allegedly met his victims while traveling around the country with the carnival, and lured them to Mendota, Virginia. Investigators say they are tracing the carnival’s route to see if there could be more alleged victims out there.

Alsup was the daughter of one of Wright’s coworkers at the carnival, Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman said at a press conference on Monday. Investigators found the bodies of Vanmeter and Alsup on Wright’s property after obtaining a search warrant.

On March 19, Wright was in a car accident when his silver Chevy pickup truck hit a school bus head-on. He was taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries including a broken leg, hip, and arm. Police say they discovered Hopson's cell phone inside the wreckage of Wright's truck.

Commonwealth Attorney Josh Cumbow told News Channel 11 that he believes the accident probably saved lives by halting the alleged serial killer's progress. "I think it probably did stop him. We believe there were three victims in a period of 18 days and once he had the bus crash, that immobilized him, confined him to a wheelchair, and it may have saved someone from losing their life," Cumbow stated.

At a press conference on Monday, Newman said Wright had been arrested on three charges of capital murder. He reported that Wright had confessed to the killings, and claimed to authorities that all of the shootings were accidental.

"We find that hard to believe," the sheriff said. He also answered in the affirmative when asked by reporters if he believed that Wright is a serial killer.

Hopson's mother, Bonnie Griffith, told the news station that Hopson cleaned Wright's house in exchange for money. Hopson's cousin Alyssa Chapman told WJHL that she remembers Wright coming over to her apartment to pick up Hopson on the night of March 17. Chapman reported her cousin missing on March 21. After she told authorities that she had last seen Hobson with Wright, police in Tennessee and Georgia zeroed in on the fact that all three missing women allegedly knew Wright through the carnival.

Newman stated that, according to Wright's alleged confession, he killed Vanmeter on February 28 after getting into an argument with her. He then allegedly buried Vanmeter, who, according to court documents obtained by WCYB, had a disability and had the mental capacity of a 13-year-old.

According to court documents obtained by WJHL, Wright claimed he and Alsup had sex in the woods near his house and that he accidentally shot her while trying to shoot an animal. He then buried her body underneath a stack of logs in the woods near his house, Newman said.

On March 17, police say Wright claimed he accidentally shot Hopson in the head twice while they were walking together, according to the court documents. Wright then claimed that he put her in the back of his truck to take her to the hospital, but told investigators that en route, her body fell out — and he stated that he then decided to place her body in the river. Hopson’s body has not been found.

Newman declined to release any additional information about the potential motive in the killings. He said that police are working with the Drew Exposition carnival company to trace the carnival’s route along the coast and throughout the Southeast. "We're working with that carnival to make a determination of the locations they did set up the carnival and attempt to see if there are missing persons that might have been reported," Newman said.

Prosecutors have stated that they may seek the death penalty. In addition to the murder charges, Wright faces charges of use of a firearm during the commission of a felony and concealing a body, according to jail records cited by CBS News.

Wright, who had no criminal history before these alleged murders, could face the death penalty, authorities said. He is being held without bail in the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail.

Read more: New York Post, CBS News, WCYB, WJHL, WJHL (2)