Authorities in Utah, Nevada and Wyoming are investigating a longhaul trucker's claims that he is a serial killer responsible for up to eight deaths since 1990.
They want to know if his purported victims include six women whose nude or partially clothed bodies were found along I-15, I-70 and I-80 over the past six years.Detective say Keith Hunter Jesperson's admissions, if true, would be the first real break they have had in the case in several months.
"This is as fresh as it gets," said Nevada's Elko County Sheriff Neil Harris, who is investigating the death of a young woman found along I-80 near Wendover in November 1993. "We can't place this Keith guy in our area at the time, but one of my detectives is looking into it."
Millard County, Utah, sheriff's detective John Kimball has searched since 1990 for the killer of an unidentified woman found near I-15.
"If they have anything that matches up with our victim and sounds worthwhile, I'll be on the next plane over there," Kimball said. "My sheriff (Ed Phillips) wants to get this case solved."
Sheriff's investigators in central Utah's Juab County and southwest Wyoming's Sweetwater County also plan to study an electronic travel log from Jesperson's truck. They are looking for connections to unsolved murders of women found along highways in their jurisdictions.
"We're going to check it out," says Sweetwater County Sheriff Gary Bailiff. "We're always looking for leads."
A native of Canada who has no permanent address, Jesperson worked for a Cheney, Wash., trucking firm. Authorities said he apparently drove through or to Utah on several occasions since 1986.
One of the alleged victims was Julie Ann Winningham, the 41-year-old ex-wife of another trucker. Winningham's family believes she was acquainted with Jesperson before she moved to Utah in June 1994.
Winningham's mother, Snooky Collins, says her daughter introduced her to Jesperson in the first week of March 1995, when the couple arrived from Salt Lake at the family home in Camas, Wash., aboard Jesperson's semi.
Winningham then left Collins' home and visited friends in the area. At the home of Donna Barachkov in Camas, Winningham allegedly remarked that Jesperson "wanted sex and I don't - we're not going to."
Another Camas friend, Kerri Myers, told police she overheard Jesperson talking to another man on the telephone about a preference for tying up sexual partners.
When detectives first contacted Jesperson in New Mexico on March 22, he said Winningham had walked off March 8 or 9 after an argument. Although Clark County detectives considered Jesperson the prime suspect, they did not arrest him in New Mexico, choosing instead to check out his story.
The next night, though, Jesper-son called Clark County detective Rick Buckner and left a message saying he wanted to turn himself in.
Jesperson later told Buckner he had taped Winningham's mouth shut and strangled her as he raped her in his truck cab. He drove down Washington 14 near Camas and dumped her body, according to court records quoting Jesperson.
While Jesperson waited for Arizona police to arrive at the truck stop, he allegedly composed a one-page letter to his brother, Brad.
"I am sorry that I turned out this way," it read. "I have been a killer for five years and have killed eight people. Assaulted more. I guess I haven't learned anything."
"With all the evidence against me, it looks like I am truly a black sheep," the March 24 letter continued. "The court will appoint me a lawyer and there will be a trial. I am sure they will kill me for this."
Jesperson goes to trial Sept. 11 in Vancouver, Wash., charged with the first-degree murder and first-degree rape of Winningham. No other charges have been filed.
His attorney, Tom Phelan, was unavailable for comment.