Cold cases thawing
Task force looks at Mendenhall
July 31, 2007
A federal task force has been formed to dig deeper into the background of serial killer suspect Bruce D. Mendenhall, 56, of Albion, Ill.
After his arrest more than two weeks ago for the murder of a Tennessee woman, Mendenhall allegedly implicated himself in the slayings of as many as six women in the South — a revelation that has triggered interest from as many as 75 cold case units that want to determine if Mendenhall could be implicated in open homicide cases.
An FBI task force is reconstructing Mendenhall's movements over the past several years as it attempts to develop a timeline for the suspect's travels. The biggest task is to dig through trucking company log books, credit card receipts and other records in an effort to link Mendenhall's travels to unsolved killings.
Illinois State Police has announced it and Iowa authorities want to question Mendenhall about the 1992 slaying of a 21-year-old college student who was driving cross-country from New Jersey to Grinnell College in Iowa when her car broke down along an Illinois highway.
Tammy J. Zywicki was last seen talking with a trucker on Interstate 80 in upstate LaSalle, Ill. Witnesses told troopers the trucker had apparently pulled over to help her. The driver was described as a white male between the age of 35-40, taller than 6 feet, with dark, bushy hair.
Zywicki's body was found more than two weeks later along Interstate 44 in rural Lawrence County, Mo.. She had been stabbed multiple times.
In Florida, Belinda Cartwright's family has been closely watching the news about Mendenhall, claiming his Nashville Police Department mug shot closely resembles a composite police sketch of a truck driver who allegedly killed her.
Family members say the 36-year-old mother of two was hitchhiking through Georgia in 2001, on her way home to visit family members in Florida, when she was picked up by a trucker resembling Mendenhall.
Witnesses told police Cartwright climbed out of the cab at a rest area in Lake Park, Ga. When the truck started to pull off, Cartwright jumped on the driver's side running board, yelling for the driver to stop so she could retrieve personal items.
The driver, witnesses said, shoved Cartwright off the running board and beneath the wheels of the big rig, crushing her to death. The semitrailer left the scene, and no arrests were ever made.
"To me, it's him", said Cindy Rogers, Belinda Cartwright's sister. "Something just jumped out and said, 'Hey — you've got to look into this.'"
Todd Matthews, producer of Missing Pieces, a Tennessee-based public service organization dedicated to finding missing, murdered and unidentified victims of violent crimes, says he's convinced the composite sketch is Mendenhall.
"I first saw it on Nashville TV and picked up the phone to call Belinda's sister at the same time she was sending an e-mail to me," Matthews said. "The resemblance between the two is striking. I posted the information to the cold case Web site immediately.
"We knew five years ago a predator was working across Tennessee. We had a difficult time getting authorities to follow up on our concerns. With Bruce Mendenhall's statements ... now they are."
Courtesy of: LEN WELLS
Tuesday, July 31, 2007 Online Edition
Courier Press correspondent
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