HOUSTON — Law enforcement officials from across the South said Friday that they were launching an investigation to determine whether a single killer was responsible for the deaths of at least seven women in the last eight months.
The decision was announced after a meeting in Oklahoma City of more than 40 officers from 17 law enforcement agencies. After detecting similarities in a number of the slayings, investigators from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee met to compare notes and determine whether a serial killer could be stalking women in the region.
The meeting was closed to the public, and few details were revealed.
Jessica Brown, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, said that authorities on Friday eliminated from their case list five deaths that appeared to be the result of drug overdoses.
But the slayings of seven other women in 2003 and 2004 are suspected of being connected, Brown said.
Most of the seven were prostitutes who worked at truck stops along major highways, officials said. And most had been strangled, their bodies found under overpasses or bridges, either under highways or near them.
The investigators are working with a behavioral scientist from the FBI to develop a criminal profile, but said they were virtually certain that the serial killer was a man, and likely a professional truck driver.
The first of the seven deaths was in July 2003. The body of Margaret Holmes Gardner, 47, was found on an Interstate 40 on-ramp in Crittenden County, Ark. She had last been seen at a truck stop in West Memphis, Ark., officials said, about 15 miles east of Crittenden County.
Since then, a woman has been found dead under similar circumstances nearly every month.
Murders in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas were reported in late 2003, and two more women were found dead this year in circumstances that seem to match, officials said.