The Pilot Travel Centre outside Lebanon, Tenn., is an unremarkable truck stop like thousands of others dotting America’s Interstate highway system. It’s a place for truckers to eat, rest, gab, gas up and hit the road again. On June 6, 2007, it became something else: a crime scene.
The body of Samantha Winters, 48, had been found naked and stuffed in a trash can. A single bullet in the forehead sent the pretty blond to the morgue. Long-distance driver Bruce Mendenhall knew the truck stop well. Investigators believe the 66-year-old Illinois trucker left corpses from the upper Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico.
Mendenhall was convicted of murder March 2. It took the jury just an hour to send him away. The truck-driving terror was already doing a life sentence for the June 25, 2007, murder of Sara Nicole Hulbert. Her body was found at a Nashville-area truck stop, sexually assaulted and again, shot in the head. The targets of the so-called Truck Stop Killer were drug-addicted prostitutes — mostly young. “He never had a negative thing to say about anyone who chose that lifestyle,” his daughter Bryna pleaded to the Evansville Courier Press in 2008.
“Everybody knows that stuff like that is in truck stops. Dad — he didn’t really pay any attention to it.” Oh, but he did. The twisted road warrior is suspected in at least 10 homicides. And to people who knew the mouthy Mendenhall, his arrest came like a blast out of the blue. Neighbours said he usually shunned them, ignoring waves and good mornings.
“He hadn’t really had any run-ins with the law,” Ryan Hallam told the Courier Press. “Everybody thought he was a little mouthy and so forth.” Former neighbour Gordon Cooper added: “He was a little different. I don’t know what could make a guy go off like that.” Mendenhall was in a long marriage and had two daughters. The whole white picket fence. He has copped to seven homicides and has so far been convicted of two. Another trial awaits him in Indiana. The FBI has said that truck driver is the ideal occupation for a serial killer.
Patterns have revealed that many unsolved slayings in the U.S. are young women dumped by the side of highways. Maybe they’re hookers or junkies. They are definitely vulnerable. The end of the road for Mendenhall came less than two weeks after he’d snuffed the life out of Hulbert. Famed Nashville homicide detective Pat Postiglione was doing a follow-up on the two slayings when he spotted Mendenhall’s bright yellow truck. “When you get onto a particular crime scene sometimes evidence dictates what you’re looking at,” Postiglione told NewsChannel 5 at the time. He pulled Mendenhall over and noticed blood splatter inside the cab.
The intrepid detective also had a peek in the back. Gun cartridges, a rifle, tape, a nightstick, latex gloves, handcuffs and more than 300 “items of interest.” DNA from five murdered women and a macabre trophy made of flesh were also discovered. Now, Mendenhall is on a tour of sorts. His next stop is Indiana for the shooting death of Carma Purpura. Then it’s Alabama for the murder of Lucille “Gretna” Carter, 44. More trials are expected to follow. But Mendenhall’s last stop will almost assuredly be death row. He’ll be strapped to a gurney and given an express ticket on the highway to hell.
SHE WANTED HUBBY ON ICE Linda Gillman is a grey, throbbing muscle of resentment. The Utah grandmother was not pleased when her ex-husband remarried. No, not at all. According to cops, Gillman, 70, wanted her ex whacked so she could make bank on his insurance policy. And for good measure, she asked the hitman to take his new bride off the board too.
Then, she hired another hitman to knock off the first one. Got it? Our heroine wanted the slayings to “look like a break-in gone wrong”. But the hitman was a stool pigeon and laid out the whole plot for detectives. Prosecutors say the aspiring black widow greased the hitter with $5,000 and planned to sweeten the pot with a $7,000 diamond ring and $18,000 from hubby’s insurance policy after he was toe-tagged. When she started getting impatient, the hired gun went to cops. Now, Gillman is charged with two more charges of conspiracy to commit murder. She will be sentenced in the hubby hitman scheme April 23.