A Cobb County teenager who was reported missing in March is one of three alleged murder victims of a traveling carnival worker who was arrested in Virginia, authorities said.
James Michael Wright, 23, is accused of killing 17-year-old Joycelyn Alsup and two women from Tennessee over a span of 18 days, Washington County (Va.) Sheriff Fred Newman said during a Monday news conference.
Wright allegedly admitted to shooting and killing the three victims, but he insisted he did so accidentally, which Newman said was “hard to believe.” He met all three while working as an employee for Bloutville, Tenn.,-based Pony Express, and Alsup was the daughter of one of Wright’s coworkers.
On Feb. 28, Wright allegedly shot and killed Elizabeth Vanmeter, 22, of Carter County, Tenn., after they had a fight, Newman said. He said he buried her body near his home in Mendota, Va. She was reported missing March 17, nearly three weeks after her parents said they last saw her.
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. He allegedly said he tried to shoot an animal when he accidentally shot and killed her.
On March 17, he shot and killed Athena Hopson, 25, of Johnson City, Tenn., while they were on a walk near his home, Newman said. He told authorities he shot her when he tripped and fell.
He put her body in the back of his truck, but he said it fell out of the vehicle while he was driving over a bridge, Newman said. Wright allegedly put her body in a nearby river. She was reported missing March 21 by her cousin.
The sheriff said authorities had recovered remains believed to be Alsup and Vanmeter, but they were still searching for Hopson’s body.
Johnson City police officers 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.
After officers obtained a search warrant for Wright’s property Thursday, he admitted to killing the women, Newman said. Authorities recovered a gun believed to have been used in each homicide.
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 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.”
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.
Zachary Hansen, a Georgia native, covers economic development and commercial real estate for the AJC. He's been with the newspaper since 2018 and enjoys diving into complex stories that affect people's lives.