TThe wife of suspected I-65 serial killer Harry Edward Greenwell feels lucky to be alive, she said exclusively The Independent On Wednesday.
Julie Jenkins, 73, had been married to Greenwell for nearly 20 years — and was stunned by Tuesday’s inter-agency news conference that accused her husband, who died in 2013, of killing at least three women along the Kentucky-Indiana border in the late 1980s.
“One thing that goes through my mind is how lucky I am to be alive,” says Ms. Jenkins, a grandmother who now lives in Minnesota the independent, adding that she had previously been in a relationship with a man who was “abusive and nearly killed myself, and then [Greenwell] decided to kill other people. That’s awful.”
She says she feels “pretty lightheaded”.
“I keep thinking about our life together and he was… nice, he was caring. He had a temper [but] that’s not unusual. I don’t think you kill people because you’re mad at them – not… strangers. I don’t know what to make of this, other than feeling terrible for the families who have been dealing with this for so many years – and I know there’s nothing I can do.
“I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
Asked about authorities’ suspicions that her husband could have more victims, Ms Jenkins said: “It’s certainly a possibility. When you know what you do with serial killers, they generally don’t just quit – so I hope, no, I pray there won’t be any more victims he’s associated with. But I fear there is a real possibility.”
She adds, “I’m sorry for those people too — it doesn’t make me trust my judgment.”
According to authorities, Greenwell – who was 68 at the time of his death – was identified through genealogical research in all three deaths along the Indiana-Kentucky border.
“This technique involves uploading a DNA profile from the crime scene to one or more genetic genealogy databases in an attempt to identify an offender’s genetic relatives and locate the offender in their family tree,” the Indiana State Police said in a release from Tuesday. “Through this process, Greenwell was matched with a close family member. Through this comparison, it was determined that Greenwell is more than 99.99 percent likely to be the individual responsible for the attacks.”
The first woman known to be a victim of the I-65 killer was Vicki Heath, a 41-year-old mother of two who was recently engaged before being found dead by the trash cans behind the Super 8 Motel in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, on February 21, 1987. She had been attacked and shot twice in the head with a .38 caliber handgun.
The killer’s second and third victims were both killed on the same day: March 3, 1989.
Mary “Peggy” Gill, 24, a night attendant at a Days Inn motel in Merrillville, Indiana, was found dead in the building’s parking lot by a passing motorist. Jeanne Gilbert, 34, a mother of two, who also worked as a part-time examiner at the Remington Days Inn, was also fatally shot with the same .22 caliber gun. The attacker had robbed both premises and made off with a total of $426.
A fourth woman, who worked the night shift at a Days Inn motel in Columbus, Indiana, was sexually assaulted and stabbed to death in 1990 but managed to flee the scene. This woman, known only as Jane Doe, gave police a composite sketch that described a man with greasy gray hair, a lazy green eye and a beard.
This sketch was the only lead for decades, until DNA evidence linked Greenwell to the crimes.
When Jenkins died in 2013, his obituary gave no inkling of his supposedly dark past. It described him as a family man, farmer, do-gooder and generous soul after he died in Iowa after a battle with cancer – and wrote that he had “many friends who loved his righteous attitude and his willingness to help someone.”
“His spirit will live on in many through the good deeds he offered,” it said, years before he was labeled a serial killer.
Born in Louisville and one of more than half a dozen siblings — some of whom are also deceased — Greenwell worked for the Canadian Pacific Railroad “to keep the public safe for 30 years” before retiring in 2010, they say it in the obituary.
“Harry enjoyed organic gardening, selling his organic produce at the local farmer’s market, travelling, reading, forging words, being an avid college sports fan, and selecting winning thoroughbred horses.”
At the time of his death he was married to Mrs Jenkins, who had three adult children of her own; Greenwell had his own son and daughter, as well as living siblings, nieces, a nephew, great-nephew, and great-niece.
“He loved gardening; He would spend hours in his garden,” says Ms. Jenkins The Independent. “And he gathered everything and brought it to New Albin [Iowa] on certain days and would sell it to people – and I always thought his main reason for taking it to the farmer’s market was to visit everyone who came.”
She says, “He sold everything he grew… tomatoes, onions, carrots, beets, squash.”
Before his death in 2013, they lived in a three-bedroom farmhouse outside of an Iowa town of about 300 — and the home faced a state highway.
Ms Jenkins says she was contacted about Greenwell earlier this year by an FBI agent – who told her he had previously served time for the robbery. She says she was stunned by any suggestion that he was involved in murdering women.
“I couldn’t imagine that with Harry,” she says The Independent. “And I said, ‘You know, he’s been dead for so long. What’s the point now?'” Digging up old cases.
“And he said… ‘Don’t you think families have a right to know?’ And they absolutely do. I didn’t even think about her at the time. I can’t imagine what they’ve been through over the years, which in itself is awful.”
She says she told the FBI where to find Greenwell’s biological son; The suspected serial killer had been married twice before, adopting one woman’s daughter and fathering a son with the other.
His first wife died in a house fire before Mrs. Jenkins met him at a Minnesota bar.
“I was very suspicious at first as I come from an abusive relationship – but he assured me of that [the death of his ex-wife] was not the case,” says Ms. Jenkins. “And of course I believed him; I guess I still do.
“He worked on a railroad, I think it was over in Wisconsin … when it happened. She was also in Wisconsin, but as far as I remember they were on the other side of the state. I believe it was accidental or negligent on their part.”
She has no reason, she says, to be wary of Greenwell at all; He supported her during her battle with breast cancer and loved her family.
Despite her criminal history, she says, “He just told me it existed and, you know, I was okay with it… People change – and that’s why you just give people second chances, and okay, robbery isn’t cool, but he paid for his time.”
Greenwell, who was four years older than his third wife, appeared remorseful when he died of lung cancer, she says — although she had no idea exactly what.
When he was in the hospice, “he asked for a priest and a priest came,” says Ms. Jenkins, who, unlike her husband, is not Catholic. “I assumed it was for a confession, but I doubt he confessed.”
She says, “I just assumed that if they did that, the priest would be obligated to tell someone he did that,” even though Catholic priests are forbidden from sharing anything that is given to them during the Blessed Sacrament the confession was said.
“My other thought [since learning of the serial killing allegations] was: if he didn’t confess, what was the point of confessing otherwise? Because that would have trumped everything,” says Ms. Jenkins.
Ms. Jenkins says that after her initial contact with the FBI, she did not hear anything about her late husband’s alleged crimes until this week’s press conference.
“Actually, my son was aware of it first,” she says The Independent. “He called me home from work and opened it up for me to see the press conference and I just feel awful for these poor families who lost their mothers, their sisters, their children.
“Had I known something, if I had had a hunch, I certainly wouldn’t have kept quiet about it, but I didn’t.”
She adds: “It’s terrifying, and so are my kids. I mean, I left her alone with him when I was at work… I live with my son and his family, and I have one grandchild who Harry thought was very special. They had a connection.”
She says her 17-year-old granddaughter is “pretty devastated”.
“I told her last night,” says Ms. Jenkins The Independent. “With the internet, you can’t protect kids anymore – so I figured she needed to hear it from me and not anyone else.”
Friends and family were appropriately shocked, she adds, although she has not yet spoken to Greenwell’s son, siblings or extended family.
“I expect to reach out to them and discuss as much as they want with them, but I just didn’t have the energy yesterday,” she says.
Aside from the news, her thoughts are primarily with the families of the victims, she adds.
“It was kind of a dork when the FBI contacted me,” she says. “I thought, ‘Well, that can’t be true. That can not be … but then this [agent] The family in question has a right to know – and I thought, ‘Absolutely, they do.’ So I did what I could to steer them in the right direction, and then I didn’t hear anything – and then I almost forgot.
“I just want the victims’ families to know how sorry I am for what they’ve been through. If there was anything I knew could change the situation, I certainly would have done it.
“I don’t know if they want to reach me about anything; I would certainly not be averse to that.”
Of the enthusiastic, kind gardener she thought she married, she says, “I guess you think you know someone. I thought I knew him, but apparently I didn’t know him very well.”