Man arrested for murder of woman found at Blue Hole

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
A Valley Forge man was charged with first degree murder Thursday in the death of a woman whose body was found near the Blue Hole Recreation Area in the Stoney Creek Community in March of this year.
John Vernon Campbell, 39, of 175 Chambers Hollow, was taken into custody by the Carter County Sheriff's Department after a specially called Grand Jury handed down an indictment against him charging him with first degree murder and felony murder.
The body of Terri Sanders Abbott was discovered on March 8 by a man from Kingsport and his two sons who had been riding dirt bikes in the area and had pulled off of the roadway to "scout a fishing spot in the stream flowing along Panhandle Road," according to reports. While scouting the stream, one of the man's sons spotted Abbott's body in the stream.
According to Carter County Sheriff John Henson, investigators who responded to the scene were able to determine that the woman was not murdered where her body was found.
"We do know that she was hauled out there and dumped, and that shows something is wrong," Henson said in March. "More than likely, if she had died from natural causes, someone wouldn't have dumped the body." Henson stated the body had no open wounds that would indicate a stabbing or a gunshot, and there were no visible trauma wounds to the head.
Later in March, the body was positively identified as that of Abbott, who was a resident of Johnson City. An autopsy performed that month determined that Abbott died of several blunt force traumas to the head.
Following positive identification of the body, the Johnson City Police Department joined the investigation because, according to Henson, an official murder scene had not been determined and, therefore, it was possible that the crime had occurred in the victim's city of residence. Investigators of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation also joined in the effort to determine where the woman was killed and who had slain her.
Henson stated that intelligence gained in the investigation led officers to The Nashville Sound, a bar in Johnson City located on Roan Street. "The female was picked up there and ended up on Panhandle Road (the road where the Blue Hole Recreation Area is located)," Henson said on Thursday. "We do know that's where they made their connections."
The brutality that caused Abbott's death is what prompted the charge of first degree, or premeditated, murder, according to Henson. "If I beat someone to death, in my mind that's a horrible murder. If I shoot someone it's still a murder, but, if I take the premeditation to keep hitting someone until they are dead, then that's a brutal murder, I think," Henson said.
Sgt. Audrey Covington, who works with the Criminal Investigations Division of the Carter County Sheriff's Department, agreed that the murder was a very brutal crime. "This murder and this man is the worst I have ever dealt with in my career," said Covington, an 11 year veteran of law enforcement.
Henson would not comment on many aspects of the investigation due to the fact that it is ongoing and the trial pending. He did, however, state that there is "a good possibility" that the murder weapon has been located and that investigators have an idea of an exact location for the crime scene.
When asked if the fact that Campbell was charged with the crime and appeared in court on the charge in Carter County would indicate that the crime happened inside the county, Henson stated that he would rather not comment. "You've got a murder either way so it doesn't really matter where it happened," he said.
Henson said investigations indicated that Abbott may have left the bar with Campbell voluntarily at first, but that he would rather not comment about whether other actions were voluntary on her part.
Drugs were also involved in the crime, Henson stated. "There were some illegal drugs involved and that, in my opinion, played a part."
Evidence found at the location where the body was found eventually led investigators to Campbell. "There were several things that led to Mr. Campbell, and, after we had developed him as a suspect, we found other evidence that led to him," Henson said.
Campbell has not commented on the murder or made a confession to the crime, according to Henson. "He has made no statement other than that he knew the girl," Henson said.
Campbell appeared before Judge Lynn Brown on Thursday to be arraigned on the indictment after it was handed down by the Grand Jury. "When the indictment was read on him this morning his reactions were like he could care less," Henson said. "His response was very cold hearted in my opinion.
"In my opinion, he is a cold-hearted killer."
Police arrested Campbell on July 8 on an unrelated charge. He is currently being held at the Carter County Jail on a $200,000 bond for the murder charges and is scheduled to appear in Criminal Court on Sept. 8.