Mendota Search

More than 70 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies returned to Mendota last Wednesday to search for more clues in an ongoing triple murder case.

MENDOTA, Va. — More than 70 law enforcement officers from multiple agencies scoured through woodlands and fields last Wednesday and found additional evidence in an ongoing triple murder case.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office continues to investigate the case involving James Michael Wright, a 23-year-old Mendota man who authorities said confessed to killing three women near his home over an 18-day period in February and March.

WCSO Capt. Jamie Blevins said officers returned to Mendota last week to search for any possible evidence in the case.

“We have found additional evidence,” said Blevins, who spoke with the Bristol Herald Courier outside the Mendota Community Center, where officers coordinated their efforts.

Blevins, who leads Washington County’s Criminal Investigations Division, said the evidence will be useful as Wright’s court case continues. He wouldn’t discuss specifics of the evidence except to say it didn’t indicate that there are additional bodies.

Washington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Josh Cumbow, who was not present for the search, confirmed that officers were looking for new evidence.

With the assistance of the U.S. Marshals Service, officers from a number of agencies, including sheriff’s offices in Scott, Russell, Tazewell and Wise counties, as well as the Abingdon Police Department and Bristol Virginia Police Department, joined the search. The Virginia State Police, National Park Service and other state and federal agencies also assisted.

Tazewell County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Harold Heatley said seven officers from his department joined the efforts. Heatley noted that Tazewell County has a good working relationship with the U.S. Marshals and tries to assist whenever requested.

Blevins said a variety of officers, including those with tactical and forensic evidence experience, assisted.

Officers conducted grid searches over a 40-acre area near Wright’s home. The search covered some difficult terrain, Blevins said. The officers searched wooded areas and fields, as well as steep hills, all the way toward Pinnacle Road and the Mendota Fire Tower.

Blevins said a limited search was also conducted Wednesday at the North Fork of the Holston River, where Wright previously told investigators that he dumped the body of Athina Huff, 25, of Johnson City, Tennessee.

Authorities have searched the river from the Nordyke Road bridge to the Scott County line, Blevins said, but heavy rain in recent weeks has made the search difficult.

Officials previously found the bodies of Joslyn Alsup, 17, of Cobb County, Georgia, and Elizabeth Marie Vanmeter, 22, of Elizabethton, Tennessee, on land near Wright’s home, according to court records.

Investigators approached Wright in early May regarding Huff’s disappearance, the Sheriff’s Office said. During an interview, authorities said Wright confessed to shooting each of the women but claimed their deaths were accidents.

Wright knew the three women through his work with a traveling carnival company, Sheriff Fred Newman said. He worked temporarily for a pony show and traveled around the country.

Cumbow said a court date is set for December in the case. Wright remains held without bail at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon.

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