Traveling carnival worker admits to killing 3 people, officials say

Posted at 8:38 AM, May 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-15 08:39:10-04

MENDOTA, Va. – Authorities say a carnival worker from Virginia has confessed to killing two missing women from Tennessee and a missing 17-year-old Georgia girl.

James Michael Wright, 23, faces three counts of capital murder, the sheriff’s office in Washington County, Virginia, announced in a news release Monday.

The arrest comes two weeks after police in Johnson City, Tennessee, contacted Virginia authorities while investigating the disappearance of Athina Hopson, 25, who detectives believe was last seen with Wright.

Johnson City police interviewed Wright and obtained a warrant to search his house and badly-damaged truck, which had apparently been involved in a crash with a school bus in March, after the third alleged murder. Investigators uncovered a cellphone belonging to Hopson inside the vehicle, according to the release.

“I think (the crash) probably did stop him,” Commonwealth Attorney Josh Cumbow told CNN affiliate WJHL. “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.”

During another interview with Tennessee detectives, Wright allegedly confessed to killing Hopson, as well as Joslyn M. Alsup, 17, of Cobb County, Georgia, and Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter, 22, of Carter County, Tennessee, after luring them to his Virginia home.

Investigators believe Wright killed Vanmeter Feb. 28 after an argument, but her disappearance wasn’t reported to authorities until March 17.

Wright allegedly killed Alsup Mar. 9 and Hopson on Mar. 17. Wright admitted to shooting Hopson and told investigators he was driving with her corpse in the bed of his truck when the body fell out, rolling down an embankment in Mendota, Virginia, according to the release. Investigators say Wright admitted to dumping Hopson’s body in a river at the bottom of the embankment. Hopson’s mother reported her missing four days later.

Wright claimed that all three killings were accidental.  “We find that hard to believe based on information that we have,” Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman said.

The weapon used to kill all three women has been recovered.

Investigators found two bodies near Wright’s property that are believed to be Vanmeter and Alsup, one in a shallow grave and the other near some logs. Hopson’s body has not been recovered as of May 14.

Wright, who worked as a subcontractor for the James H. Drew Carnival, met the women through his job, investigators believe. Alsup is the daughter of one of his co-workers.

“We will pray for the families of the victims and continue to work with law enforcement,” carnival staff said in a statement.

Wright is being held without bond as a joint investigation and recovery effort continues.

CNN Wire contributed to this report.