Tennessee High Schoolers Used Project-Based Learning to Solve a Nearly 40-Year-Old Serial Murder Mystery

A local serial killer was caught by a group of high school students

In an extraordinary educational project, students at Elizabethton High School in northeast Tennessee, under the guidance of their sociology teacher Alex Campbell, tackled a nearly 40-year-old cold case known as the Redhead Murders. These serial killings, which occurred in the 1980s and involved several redheaded women in Tennessee and neighboring states, had remained unsolved. Campbell saw an opportunity to make his sociology class more engaging and meaningful by having his students work on this real-world problem.

Throughout the semester, the students engaged with professional investigators, gathered evidence, and eventually developed a theory on the identity of the killer responsible for the deaths of at least six women. Although the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations has acknowledged the students’ theory, no charges have been filed yet.

This project not only served as a unique learning experience but also became the focus of the iHeartRadio true crime podcast series “Murder 101,” showcasing the impact of project-based learning. Campbell shared insights into the project’s inception, the choice of the Redhead Murders as their case study, and the integration of this real-world problem into the curriculum to enhance student learning and engagement. The project exemplified the power of community partnerships, student-driven learning, and the significant role that real-world applications can play in education. Campbell’s approach and the students’ work demonstrate a shift towards more engaged and meaningful learning experiences in high school education.