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Traveling carnival worker confessed to killing 3 women, sheriff says

Investigators are working to see if there are any missing persons cases where the suspect traveled with the carnival that could lead to more possible victims.
Credit: Washington Co Sheriff

A traveling carnival worker from Virginia has confessed to shooting and killing three women over an 18 day period, according to authorities. 

James Michael Wright, 23, is charged with three counts of capital murder in the deaths of two missing Tennessee women and a missing 17-year-old from Georgia. 

According to Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman, Wright became acquainted with the victims while working for the James H. Drew Exposition, a carnival that's traveled around the south and east coast. 

The victims included 17-year-old Joslyn Alsup who was the daughter of one of Wright's co-workers for the carnival, investigators said. 

While the suspect told investigators the three deaths were accidental, the sheriff said they find that "hard to believe."

Authorities said they began investigating Wright in connection with the disappearance of Athina Hopson, a 25-year-old woman from Johnson City, Tennessee. Investigators said Wright was the last person seen with Hopson. 

After interviewing Wright, authorities got a search warrant for his truck and discovered Hopson's cell phone inside the vehicle. 

When detectives interviewed him again on May 9, Wright confessed to killing Hopson, Alsup and 22-year-old Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter over the course of less than three weeks.  

According to authorities, Wright shot and killed Vanmeter in late February. He claimed to investigators that the shooting was the result of an argument. 

The second victim, according to Sheriff Newman, was Alsup, who Wright shot and killed around March 9. 

The third murder victim was identified as Athina Hopson, 25, a woman reported missing by Johnson City police on March 27. Wright said he killed her around March 17 and was transporting her body in the back of his truck when it fell out and rolled down an embankment. He told investigators he then placed her body in a river. 

On May 10, one day after Wright's confession, investigators searched properties surrounding his home and found the remains of two bodies, believed to be Vanmeter and Alsup. 

Authorities continue to search for Hopson's body. Autopsies are being performed to confirm the identities of the two other victims. 

During Monday's press conference, authorities said they are reaching out to all of the areas where the suspect may have gone with the carnival, to see if there are any missing persons cases that could be related to more possible victims. 

When answering questions from reporters Monday, Sheriff Newman said he would describe Wright as a serial killer. The Commonwealth attorney said it's still early in the case, but the death penalty is certainly on the table. 

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