Joycelyn Alsup (left) is one of three alleged murder victims of James Michael Wright (right), according to authorities in Virginia.
Photo: Channel 2 Action News
Photo: Channel 2 Action News

Marietta mother calls teen’s alleged carnival killer ‘scum of all Earth’

When a Marietta mother reported her 17-year-old daughter missing in March, she had no way of knowing the teenager was in Virginia.

The following day, her daughter was shot and killed by a traveling carnival worker she met at the North Georgia State Fair, where her father worked, authorities said.

“I’ll never see her again. We won’t have our little talks,” Cynthia Butterworth, the victim’s mother, told Channel 2 Action News on Tuesday through tears. “It’s unbelievable. A mother is not supposed to bury their children.” 

Cynthia Butterworth
Photo: Channel 2 Action News

Joycelyn Alsup’s body was believed to have been recovered by Washington County (Va.) deputies last week after 23-year-old James Michael Wright allegedly admitted to killing her and two women from Tennessee during an 18-day span, AJC.com previously reported.

RELATED: Marietta teen, 2 Tennessee women killed by traveling carnival worker, cops say

In September of last year, Alsup and her mother met Wright at Jim R. Miller Park in Cobb County, where the fair was held, Channel 2 reported. When deputies identified him as her daughter’s killer, the mother of seven was shocked.

“He was the pony guy. That’s what we called him. The pony dude,” Butterworth said. “He would give the kids free rides most of the time. I never expected out of all people he would’ve done this.”

Wright was an employee for Bloutville, Tenn.,-based Pony Express. While with the carnival company, he also allegedly met and killed Elizabeth Vanmeter, 22, of Carter County, Tenn., and Athena Hopson, 25, of Johnson City, Tenn.

In a news conference Monday, Washington County Sheriff Fred Newman described Wright as a “serial killer.” When Wright allegedly admitted to the murders, he said they were all accidents, which Newman said was “hard to believe.”

“He is unfit to even be called a monster because he is the scum of all Earth,” Butterworth said.

On March 9, Wright allegedly admitted to shooting and killing Alsup after they had sex in the woods near his home, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported. Wright claimed that he shot Alsup by accident when he tried to shoot an animal.

Her body was found near his Mendota, Va., home hidden under some logs next to a creek, Newman said.

This is the photo posted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children when Joycelyn Alsup was reported missing March 8.
Photo: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

He’s accused of killing Vanmeter on Feb. 28 after an argument and Hopson while they were on a walk March 17, Newman said. Vanmeter’s body was found in a makeshift grave near his home, while Hopson’s body has not been recovered, since Wright allegedly put it in a river.

The same month, Wright survived a crash in Virginia with a school bus, Channel 2 reported. It’s unclear if he was hurt during the incident.

Johnson City authorities searched Wright’s pickup truck after discovering he was the last person Hopson had been seen with, the News Sentinel reported. Her cellphone was allegedly found in the truck.

Athena Hopson (left), Elizabeth Vanmeter
Photo: Channel 2 Action News

He allegedly admitted to killing the women after officers obtained a search warrant for his property Thursday.

Wright, who has no criminal background, faces three counts of capital murder, three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and three counts of disposing of a body, Newman said. He remains in jail in Abingdon, Va., without bond.

Investigators said they have no reason to believe there are additional victims, but the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service are assisting with the investigation.

“We know that that carnival traveled extensively, certainly throughout the East coast,” Newman said. “We have plans of contacting jurisdictions where that carnival very well may have been to see if they have missing persons.”

A company manager confirmed to Channel 2 that the carnival is working with investigators.

Virginia officials said in the news conference that the death penalty remains a possibility in this case.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated James Michael Wright was a subcontractor for James H. Drew Exposition when he met the three alleged victims. However, that’s what Wright told investigators when he was interviewed. The sheriff’s office clarified on Facebook that Wright actually worked for Pony Express, which its owner confirmed.

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