Accused killer’s boss says Mendenhall’s arrest has hurt business

| 9/7/2007

Danny Davis started Quality Oak Products’ trucking division five years ago, betting that hard work and his experience as a driver would add a second revenue stream to his furniture business.

The strategy worked. Davis’ company quickly grew to five trucks, until a shocking morning in mid-July when Nashville police arrested Quality Oak Products driver Bruce Mendenhall in connection to a string of unsolved prostitute killings near truck stops throughout the South and Midwest that made national headlines.

Mendenhall, 56, of Albion IL, has been charged with three counts of murder in connection with the slayings of Sara Nicole Hulbert, 25, in June in Nashville, 44-year-old Lucille “Gretna” Carter in Birmingham in early July and the June death of Symantha Winters, 48, in Lebanon, TN. Authorities continue to attempt to link Mendenhall to other prostitute killings.

Since the arrest, Mendenhall’s company-owned 2000 International – its bright yellow paint shown around the world following his arrest – has sat with other evidence collected by Nashville Police. Davis continues to make payments on the truck and recently cancelled its insurance.

Davis wonders if his business will survive the arrest and the national headlines it made for much of the summer.

Davis and other Quality Oak Products drivers are reminded of their former associate almost every day by other drivers, brokers and state troopers that mention Mendenhall’s arrest.

“It’s been harder to get loads because of the situation,” Davis said. “There’s been a few that find out who we are, then suddenly the load disappears.”

A Nashville detective noticed blood on the truck’s door and on Mendenhall’s thumb, and later found several sex toys, a gun, used condoms and a trash bag with a large quantity of blood in the cab.

Only days before the arrest, Davis had climbed into Mendenhall’s “messy” cab and he remembers telling the driver to clean up the “funky” odor.

Davis subsequently checked Mendenhall’s logs and saw that his trips this summer matched up with the homicides of two women at truck stops. The stress of the situation and his feelings for victims and their families made Davis physically ill.

The company owner said he’s still surprised at the charges brought against his employee. Mendenhall’s wife, Linda, often rode on trips with her husband.

“Bruce sure didn’t strike me that way but people are deceiving,” Davis said. “You never now what’s going on in people’s minds.”

Davis said he was contacted this week by relatives of Belinda Cartwright – a young woman killed in Georgia in 2001 who police believe Mendenhall was involved. A composite sketch of a suspicious person “looks a lot like Bruce,” Davis acknowledged.

Davis told Land Line Magazine he cooperated fully with detectives from Tennessee, Alabama and Indiana, even turning over Mendenhall’s employment paperwork.

Police released Mendenhall’s trailer in August so Davis could complete Mendenhall’s last delivery in Georgia before deadheading back to Illinois.

“I’ve got the trailer sitting in my lot right now with nothing to hook it up to,” Davis told Land Line. “It’s just a bad, bad situation. We’re staying afloat so far – I don’t know how much longer.”

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer