Alleged truck stop serial killer Mendenhall charged in fourth homicide

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line staff writer | 4/14/2008

Four policemen unsuccessfully scoured the truck stop parking lot in south Indianapolis that warm July day, searching underneath cars and inside dumpsters for any evidence of 31-year-old Carma Purpura.

Investigators spent three days using aerial views from police helicopters and K-9 officers in the area, but turned up nothing.

The evidence, prosecutors say, was headed for Tennessee in Bruce Mendenhall’s mustard yellow company truck.

Mendenhall was arrested in Nashville on July 12, 2007, after a chance encounter with a detective who noticed blood splattered on Mendenhall’s company truck door. Police also discovered blood on Mendenhall’s hands, under his fingernails and in a trash bag in the truck sleeper, where they also found sex toys, used condoms, a baton and a .22 caliber pistol.

Mendenhall, 57, was charged late last week for his alleged role in Purpura’s death – the fourth 2007 killing that prosecutors have linked to the former trucker.

Though police haven’t found Purpura’s body, a search of a bloody bag inside Mendenhall’s truck following his arrest turned up an ATM card with the name Carma Purpura and an ATM receipt from a Shell station in Indianapolis, according to a probable cause affidavit filed by Marion County, IN, Prosecutor Carl Brizzi.

Police later watched security video of a woman resembling Purpura that showed her wearing a multicolored shirt that matched clothes found in Mendenhall’s bloody bag. Lab tests showed that blood stuck to a sweater in Mendenhall’s truck matched Purpura. Later, police found Purpura’s cell phone in Mendenhall’s bag as well.

Other deaths prosecutors have tied to Mendenhall include:

  • Symantha Winters, 48, of Nashville, who was found shot in a trash container at the Pilot Truck Stop on June 6 in Lebanon, TN.
  • Sara Nicole Hulbert, 25, who was found shot near the Nashville TravelCenters of America parking lot on June 26.
  • Lucille “Gretna Carter, 44, who was found shot and naked near a trash bin in Birmingham, AL.

Investigators pursuing other truck stop killings have contacted Nashville police, and relatives of Belinda Cartwright have said a police sketch of a suspect appears to be Mendenhall. Cartwright was murdered in Georgia in 2001.

Shortly after his arrest in Tennessee on July 12, 2007, Mendenhall told police about a murder committed in Indianapolis “on or about the same date,” stated the probable cause affidavit that was issued this past week. Mendenhall admitted to having been in the area of a number of slayings involving young women, though he “denies committing the actual killings.”

Police said the blood of at least five women was discovered in a plastic sack Mendenhall kept behind his driver’s seat.

During interviews with Land Line in the summer of 2007, Danny Davis, Mendenhall’s supervisor at Quality Oak Products, said Mendenhall mostly kept to himself but was “a good runner.”

Neighbors told news reporters following Mendenhall’s arrest that he frequently argued with family members, including his handicapped wife, in the family front yard. The one-time Albion, IL, mayoral candidate, they said, sought political office after several disputes over parking tickets.

Davis recounted Mendenhall bringing the 2000 International into the shop to fix a turn signal problem only a few days before his capture.

Davis climbed in and noticed a funky smell and trash scattered around the cab.

He told Mendenhall to clean it up.

“I said, ‘It’s starting to get pretty ratty in here,’ ” Davis said.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer

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