Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.
It was approximately 4:35 p.m. on March 1, 1992. A female truck driver pulled over to check her fuel tanks on the Interstate 80 turnoff at the Bitter Creek rest area, in the southern state of Wyoming.
While standing by the truck, in the distance, she could see what she thought was a pile of trash at the bottom of a ridge. The trucker decided to descend the embankment and take a closer look. She was shocked to see it was the lifeless, nude body of a young woman lying face down in the snow. To the trucker, it appeared the body had been thrown out of a truck down the embankment.
Horrified, the trucker used her CB to radio for help. Another trucker responded. She relayed the details of her grisly discovery and the other trucker called the police.
Located in Sweetwater County, Bitter Creek is named after an 80-mile long stream in Wyoming that flows through the city of Green River about 3 hours east of Laramie on I-80.
Interstate 80 is an east-west transcontinental freeway that runs from downtown San Francisco to Teaneck, New Jersey in metropolitan New York City, and considered one of the busiest freeways in the country.
Authorities believe the woman’s body was left alongside the freeway between mid-October 1991 and the end of February 1992. The woman's cause of death had similarities to several other unsolved murders in Utah and attracted the attention of investigations in surrounding states.
Due to the cold temperatures and heavy snow cover, the woman’s body had been well preserved and her face still recognizable. Several composite images and photographs were released by police, but years went by with no leads.
The young woman is had dark hair and dark eyes, about 5’ 8” tall, and 125 to 130 pounds. Her age is estimated to be 24 to 32 years old. She had a tattoo of a rose on her right breast and a Cesarean scar.
She was wearing a gold-colored ring on the ring finger of her left hand and a gold-colored necklace.
The young woman’s horrifying death was immediately determined to be a homicide. Bitter Creek Betty had severe bruising on her face consistent with a physical beating. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled but what caused her death was an ice pick (or similar object), that had been stabbed through her nostril and into her brain.
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Police believe she was attacked somewhere other than where her body had been dumped. The FBI profiled the case and believed the person responsible was a serial offender. Though the murder was considered sophisticated, having injured himself, the offender left Type O blood at the scene.
Several months after photos of Bitter Creek Betty and her tattoo were circulated, a tattoo artist out of Arizona came forward and told police he had given her the tattoo in June 1991 at a studio by the Triple T truck stop near Tucson but had no further information as to who she may be.
After hypnosis, the tattoo artist said she was a transient hitchhiker and a very intelligent young lady from what he remembered.
A month after Bitter Creek Betty was found, employees at the Wyoming Department of Transportation found the body of another young woman.
On April 13, 1992, her body was located in a ditch at mile marker 5 on the I-90 headed north in Sheridan County, Wyoming. She was given the name “Sheridan County Jane Doe.”
Interstate 90 enters Wyoming from Montana and heads south through hilly grasslands to Sheridan about 400 miles from where Bitter Creek Betty was found.
The unidentified young woman’s death could not be determined but deemed a homicide. The woman was fully clothed except her shoes and socks were missing.
It was determined she was the victim of a sexual assault and suffered trauma to the head, but it could not be determined if the head injury was the cause of death.
In 2014, DNA connected Sheridan County Jane Doe with DNA collected at the Scene of Bitter Creek Betty. The DNA connected the two murders.
Unlike the Bitter Creek murder, Sheridan County Jane Doe was badly decomposed and possibly even mummified. The Coroner estimates she was murdered sometime in February 1992.
Sheridan County Jane Doe was approximately 10 weeks pregnant when she was murdered and the medical examiner determined she had likely given birth to one child previously.
She was determined to be between 16 and 23 years old and caucasian. She stood about 5’ 5” tall and approximately 110 pounds. Her hair was brown, but sun-bleached, leading investigators to believe she may have originated from a southern state.
Sadly, for nearly 30 years, the identities of these two young women have remained elusive. So did their killer—until 2020.
A serial killer emerges
On May 6, 2020, the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and investigators with the 22nd District Attorney’s Office in Tennessee arrested an Iowa long-haul trucker named Clark Perry Baldwin, 59, for the murders of Bitter Creek Betty and Sheridan County Jane Joe.
Baldwin was charged with the first-degree murders of both women found in Wyoming. He was also charged in the 1991 death of Pamela McCall, 32, and her unborn baby who were found along a freeway on I-65 in Spring Hill, Tennessee, about 30 miles south of Nashville.
Pamela was from Virginia and her body was found sitting up against a mound, in a wooded area on I-65 in Tennessee. She had been sexually assaulted and died of manual strangulation. It is believed her body had been dumped there about 14 days prior. Investigators were able to recover sperm deposited on Pamela’s pantyhose but her body lay in a morgue unclaimed for several months until police made a fingerprint match.
Like the Sheridan County victim, Pamela was fully clothed except for her shoes that were missing.
At the time all of the women’s bodies were found, police exhausted all technology available to them and unable to identify the two Wyoming women. Due to advances in technology, they made the arrest of Baldwin using DNA.
Investigators entered the DNA profile into the FBI Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database and received a hit that matched the DNA profile of the same person who killed the two Wyoming women. According to the Tennessean, investigators then used a commercial genealogy database, narrowing down the serial killer through Baldwin’s own relatives.
The FBI then surreptitiously collected DNA from Baldwin’s trash in Waterloo, Iowa, along with a DNA sample from a shopping cart he used at Walmart and it matched the DNA profile of the killer.
Baldwin was arrested at his apartment in the historic Hotel Russell-Lamson, a 250 room hotel that was built in 1914, and later converted to a 90-unit apartment building in Waterloo, Iowa.
One of his neighbors, Jarius Jackson, lived in the building for nearly three years and said Baldwin was quiet and kept to himself.
“He doesn’t say hi,” said Jackson to the Tennessean. “I’ve never seen him talk at all, that’s the weirdest thing about it.”
Suspect in other cases?
Police think so.
One was the unsolved murder of Tammy Jo Zywicki, 21, from Iowa. Her vehicle was found broken down along a highway in Illinois. Witnesses said they saw a white man and an 18-wheeler parked behind her vehicle at the time of her disappearance. Tammy Jo’s body was found in rural Missouri. She had been stabbed to death.
As of May 8, 2020, authorities say Clark Perry Baldwin does not appear to have been involved in the 1992 death of Tammy Jo, but her friends and family still hold out hope her killer will be found.
Another death was the 1992 murder of Rhonda Knutson, 22, who worked at a Phillips 66 truck stop in Williamstown, located in northern Iowa on Highway 63. She had been bludgeoned to death during her overnight shift. Then, Baldwin was living approximately 19 minutes away in Nashua, Iowa.
According to Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office, Rhonda had suffered severe traumatic injuries to her head with a blunt object. There was no sign of a sexual assault but robbery was ruled out in her homicide. One of her coworkers found her body in the back room of the store.
Two days after Rhonda’s murder the Gazette published the composite sketches of two potential suspects, both believed to have been truckers seen in the convenience store the morning Rhonda was brutally murdered. The composite has an eerie resemblance to Baldwin. Twenty-nine years later, Rhonda’s information is still posted on the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s Office website.
Court documents say Baldwin allegedly raped a female hitchhiker from Kansas in Wheeler County, Texas in 1991. In his truck, at gunpoint, Baldwin hit her on the head, bound her mouth and legs, and tried to strangle her. Allegedly, he admitted to the assault but was released pending grand jury proceedings. He was never prosecuted for that attack.
According to Patch, Baldwin’s ex-wife told police that he bragged about “killing a girl out west by strangulation and throwing her out of his truck.”
Baldwin was first held at the Black Hawk County Jail where he was arraigned on 4 counts of murder.
Baldwin waived extradition proceedings in the most recent allegations, and he was extradited to Maury County Jail in Tennessee on May 15, 2020.
He remains in the Maury County Jail on a $1 million bond.
Rhonda Anette Knutson was born October 19, 1969, in New Hampton, Iowa, the daughter of Mary Virginia (Marvin) and Nels Harvey Knutson.
Rhonda was one of seven siblings. She enjoyed art, loved working with people, and had many friends.
Rhonda was a 1988 graduate of New Hampton High School and was described as creative and known for her free spirit. Her friends and family said that she loved working the night shift at the store. In fact, she had met her boyfriend of 3 years while working there.
The couple had moved in together two years before her death, and lived in rural Tripoli, about 16 miles southeast of Phillips 66.
According to the N’West Iowa Review, her boyfriend drove for a local creamery truck, and he said Rhonda used to love going with him to local demolition derbies and motocross racing events.
On the 20th anniversary of Rhonda’s death, her friends and family are reminded of the life they lost.
“She was a great person,” her sister Renae Engel told the New Hampton Tribune in 2012. “It’s one of those days when you have no ambition and you don’t want to do anything.”
Although the Phillips 66 convenience store no longer exists at the intersection of the highways, a memorial was erected in the area reflecting that her community refuses to give up hope that her killer will be brought to justice along with Bitter Creek Betty and Sheridan County Jane Doe.
According to Iowa Cold Cases, her father, Nels Knutson passed away November 28, 2006, without ever seeing his daughter's killer brought to justice.
If you have any information about the murder of Rhonda Knutson, please call the Chickasaw County Sheriff's Office at 641-394-3121.
If you have any information about the identities of Bitter Creek Betty or Sheridan County Jane Doe, please call the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation at 307-777-7181.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Kym L Pasqualini