Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Case of Tammy Zywicki

Confessions and Connections

Bruce Mendenhall
Bruce Mendenhall

Bruce Mendenhall was initially charged only with the murder of Sara Hulbert, but during interrogation he implicated himself in five other crimes, including the murder of Symantha Winters. He revealed details of the January 29, 2007, killing of Deborah Ann Glover, 43, whose body had been found behind a hotel near a Suwanee, Ga., truck stop. Like Winters, Glover had been a prostitute.

Mendenhall confessed to the killing of Sherry Drinkard, also 43 and a prostitute, whose body had been found on February 22, 2007, shot in the head and tossed into a snow bank at another TA truck stop, this one in Lake Station, Ind. He also claimed responsibility for the murder of Lucille Gretna Carter, 44, whose body had been found near a trash bin on the side of a road outside of Birmingham, Ala., on July 7, 2007. Carter had been shot and her body had been stripped naked, similarly to Drinkard's.

Carma Purpura
Carma Purpura

Mendenhall also spoke of the Indianapolis killing of 31-year-old Carma Purpura, who had been last seen on July 11th, the day before Mendenhall was captured. Mendenhall denied being Purpura's killer, but told police that she had died from a gunshot to the head at a Flying J truck stop in Indianapolis. Also a prostitute battling drug addiction, Purpura's body was never found despite Mendenhall's description of a dumpster near a Hardee's restaurant. Purpura's blood, as well as her cell phone, ATM card and clothing were found in Mendenhall's truck, and in 2008 he was charged with her murder.

Mendenhall was charged with killing Sara Nicole Hulbert, Symantha Winters, and Lucille Carter. All four had been shot with a .22 caliber handgun. According to Marion County Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, assigned to the case, told the press that the victims' heads had been wrapped with plastic wrap and duct tape before they were shot.

Latisha Milken
Latisha Milken

After Mendenhall had implicated himself in six murders, police from across the Midwest and the South began to look through their unsolved cases, knowing that a man who had allegedly killed at least six in one year was likely to have killed before. Over 100 police agencies contacted the Nashville Metro police, hoping to connect a cold case or a missing person to Mendenhall. Because Mendenhall had crossed state lines, an FBI task force was assembled to go through Mendenhall's banking history and the records of the trucking company he worked for to retrace his steps over the prior two decades. One hit came from a town just north of Nashville. Analyses revealed the blood of Latisha Milliken, missing from Millersville, Tenn., since February 2007, to have been present in the cab of Mendenhall's truck. According to a posting on the North American Missing Persons website, Milliken was addicted to crack cocaine and supported her habit by picking up truckers at TravelCenters of America.

Police also sought to connect Mendenhall to the death of Jennifer Smith, a 24-year-old prostitute whose naked body had been found in 2005, at a TA truck stop parking lot in Bucksnort, Tenn., about an hour west of Nashville. Although there were many similarities between the slaying of Smith and the women Mendenhall described to police, he was not her killer. In 2008, based on DNA evidence, convicted killer John Wayne Boyer was indicted with her murder. At the time, Boyer was already serving a 12-year sentence for the Illinois killing of 31-year-old Scarlett Wood. Like Mendenhall, Boyer was a trucker and had picked up Wood at a truck stop.

Police Sketch
Police Sketch

Could Bruce Mendenhall's alleged killing spree have extended all the way back to 1992, when Tammy Zywicki was driving on I-80 through Illinois? Several circumstances connect Mendenhall to a killing that took place in 2001, possibly expanding the scope of his already extensive resume: Cindy Rogers is convinced that Mendenhall killed her sister Belinda Cartwright, who was run over by a big rig truck while hitchhiking in Valdosta, Ga. A composite sketch of Cartwright's suspected killer bears a striking resemblance to Mendenhall — like his 2007 mug shot, the face in the composite sketch is gaunt, tight-lipped and bespectacled. When news of Mendenhall's arrest hit the media, Todd Matthews, member of a missing persons organization out of Cookeville, Tenn., said he immediately recognized Mendenhall from the composite. Because Belinda Cartwright was one of several women who had been killed near Interstate 75, Matthews said he had began to formulate a theory of an I-75 serial killer years before Mendenhall's arrest. Matthews, who produces Missing Pieces, a weekly public service announcement intended to raise public awareness and help locate missing persons, said authorities and newspapers didn't take notice of his theory until Mendenhall was captured in 2007.

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