For decades, the identity of an elusive figure, dubbed the “Days Inn” or “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, and the man they say was responsible had ties to the state of Iowa.
Indiana State Police, alongside several federal and local agencies, identified Harry Edward Greenwell, whose 2013 obituary says he lived in northeast Iowa at the time of his death, 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 1990 sexual assault on a woman in Columbus, Indiana. The women worked as clerks in motels along the Interstate Highway 65 corridor.
Greenwell was born Dec. 9, 1944, in Louisville, Kentucky, according to a Legacy.com obituary, and died of cancer on Jan. 31, 2013, at age 68 in Lansing, Iowa, which is near his home in New Albin.
“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.”
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 was connected to other violent crime in the Midwest.
Amuse:What we know about the ‘I-65 Killer,’ also known as the ‘Days Inn Killer’
Official records paint an incomplete picture of Greenwell’s life in Iowa. According to the FBI, he was arrested for burglary in Allamakee County in 1982 and served time in Anamosa State Penitentiary, although records from that case were not immediately available. Online records reflect two criminal cases from 1998, with charges for assault and possession of a firearm as a felon, but both cases were later dismissed.
Allamakee County records show that Greenwell purchased a rural home outside New Albin in 1997. His wife sold it in 2015, two years after his death.
Gilbert’s daughter, Kim Wright, said the families may never know why their relatives suffered the horrific fate, but revelation 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.
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.
Amuse:What we know about the victims of the ‘I-65 Killer’
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 was linked to Gilbert’s death.
DNA also linked the same attacker to 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 a 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 Reformation 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.
More: ‘I-65 Killer ‘revealed: A timeline of Harry Edward Greenwell’s criminal history
He 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 of Heath’s body 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, authorities now believe, the same 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 did not 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 did not 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.”
Des Moines Register reporter William Morris contributed to this article.
A timeline of Harry Edward Greenwell’s criminal history
Here is a timeline of significant events in Greenwell’s criminal history, according to a handout given to the press:
Dec. 9, 1944: Greenwell was born in Louisville, Kentucky, according to a Legacy.com obituary.
Jan. 17. 1963: Greenwell was arrested in Louisville for armed robbery.
April 12, 1963: Greenwell was convicted and sentenced to two years in the reformatory and five years of probation.
Feb. 23, 1965: Greenwell was arrested in Jefferson County, Kentucky, for sodomy.
October 1969: Greenwell is paroled from the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
April 28, 1978: Greenwell’s wife dies in a fire in Vernon County, Wisconsin.
Aug. 21, 1980: Greenwell remarries in Henry County, Kentucky.
June 17, 1982: Greenwell was arrested for burglary in Iowa’s Allamakee County. He escapes custody twice, but is eventually recaptured.
Aug. 10, 1982: Greenwell has been sentenced to Anamosa State Penitentiary in Iowa.
Dec. 5. 1973: Greenwell is released from the Kentucky State Reformatory.
Feb. 21, 1987: Vicki Heath was sexually assaulted and shot to death at the Super 8 Motel in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
March 3, 1989: Margaret “Peggy” Gill was assaulted and killed at the Days Inn in Merrillville, Indiana. On the same night, Jeanne Gilbert was assaulted and killed at the Days Inn in Remington, Indiana. Police say both women were shot and killed with the same .22-caliber shotgun.
March 9, 1989: Greenwell was arrested in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for a traffic violation.
March 23, 1989: Greenwell was arrested in La Crosse for a domestic incident. It’s found that Greenwell violated a restraining order in March and April.
April 18, 1989: Greenwell has been sentenced to a 15-month probation for criminal trespass.
Jan. 2, 1990: A Days Inn clerk in Columbus, Indiana, has been sexually assaulted. The clerk is able to get away.
Oct. 11, 1998: Greenwell was arrested in Allamakee County, Iowa, for felony drug possession.
Nov. 13, 1998: Greenwell has been arrested for violating a restraining order in Allamakee County.
Nov. 16, 1998: The case against Greenwell is dismissed.
Jan. 31, 2013: Greenwell, who lived in New Albin, Iowa, dies of cancer in nearby Lansing, according to his obituary.