Carnival worker admits to killing 3 women in Va., authorities says

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. (WJHL) – Court documents reveal new details in three separate murders that reportedly happened in the Mendota community of Washington County, Virginia.

According to those court documents, a man confessed to killing multiple women.

We first reported late last week that 23-year-old James Wright was facing charges after he admitted to killing multiple people and dumping their bodies in the North Fork Holston River. 

See also: Official: Man admits to killing multiple people, dumping bodies in river near Mendota

News Channel 11 had a crew on scene as authorities searched for those bodies in the river.

Several crews assisted during the search on Friday, including Black Diamond Water Rescue and the Washington County Lifesaving Crew. 

After reading through those court documents we discovered James Michael Wright, of Mendota, VA, confessed to shooting and killing three women he met through his job. 

All three women had been reported missing between the dates of February 28, 2019, and March 17, 2019. 

  • Wright told investigators he shot and killed Elizabeth Vanmeter after they had a fight on February 28. Wright confessed to burying her body near his home in Mendota. Vanmeter was reported missing from Carter County on March 17. A caretaker said she had not been seen since February 28. 
  • Wright confessed to shooting and killing a 17-year-old girl on March 9. She is referred to as “J.A.” in court documents. Wright said he shot her after they had sexual intercourse in the woods near his home. Wright claimed he was trying to shoot an animal when he shot her instead. Wright told investigators he covered her body with logs next to a creek near his home. J.A. had been reported missing from Cobb County, GA on March 8. 
  • Wright confessed to shooting and killing Athina Hopson while they were on a walk on March 17. Wright told investigators he tripped and fell and shot her in the head near his home. Wright said he put her body in the back of his truck to take it to the hospital. Wright told investigators Hopson’s body fell out of his truck while he was driving over a bridge on Nordyke Road. Wright claimed he could not retrieve her body and left it in the river instead. Hopson had been reported missing from Johnson City on March 21. According to JCPD, she also went by Athina Huff.

Wright told investigators he used a .22 caliber rifle in all three shootings. 

He stored the gun at his grandparent’s home in Mendota. 

Investigators found what they believe to be a grave in the woods where Wright claimed he buried the first victim, Elizabeth Vanmeter. 

Wright is charged with three counts of capital murder, three counts of using a firearm in committing a murder and three counts of concealment of a dead body. 

During a news conference Monday afternoon, Washington County, Virginia Sheriff Fred Newman said after speaking with the suspect, James Wright, he reportedly told authorities all three killings were accidental.

“Although he stated they were accidental we find that hard to believe based on the information that we have,” Newman said. 

Sheriff Newman confirmed that Wright was a subcontractor for James H Drew Exposition carnival.

“The James Drew carnival my understanding was in our county and has been in our county during our county fair we have in September,” Newman said. 

Newman added that authorities are now working with that company to determine all of the locations that carnival stopped to see if there are people reported missing in those areas and if there could be any connection back to Wright. 

He also said that authorities have recovered a weapon they believe was used in all three murders. 

Authorities have discovered the bodies of two victims in connection to Wright.

Now they are continuing their search for the body of Athina Hopson.

Hopson was reported missing back in March.

In that news conference, Monday authorities revealed it was Hopson’s missing person case that opened the door to discover this was a bigger investigation. 

PREVIOUS STORY: JCPD looking for missing woman 

Sheriff Newman said all three killings happened in an 18-day period in Washington County, Virginia.

According to authorities Wright had no known criminal history and he was not on their radar.

Authorities would not discuss a motive in these killings Monday, as he said more information would be revealed when this case goes to trial.

Because this is considered a capital murder case, the death penalty is on the table.

Wright is being held in the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon without bond. 

The owner of James H. Drew Carnivals reached out to News Channel 11. He told us he did not know Wright and that he had no records of Wright having worked for him.

Sheriff Newman did say that Wright told investigators he worked for the carnival.

You can watch the news conference in its entirety below:

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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