Florence, Kentucky, is a city with a population of over 30,000 residents that is about eleven miles from Cincinnati. It’s well known to neighboring cities for it’s massive million gallon water tower that says “Florence Y’all” that sits right off of I-75/I-71 where it is seen by thousands of motorists daily. What makes the city so attractive for some, is it’s small town charm in a Metropolitan area that is home to three million people. Residents have the best of both worlds, they come home and relax to what feels like small town America, yet have access to first class shopping and dining, international travel and can experience anything and everything of big city life.
Right on the Kentucky/Ohio off I-75/I-71, Florence benefits from tourism even though it’s not a main destination. Goods and services are available at a competitive rate that not only catches tourists going to and from Cincy, but those traveling throughout the country. While residents believe the good outweighs the bad, it does mean the bad occasionally spills over from their neighbor.
The Envoy Inn has changed owners a few times since James Walton’s murder. Today it is a Travelodge by Wyndham
Florence’s Oldest Cold Case
On Saturday December 31, 1988, thirty-four year old James Matthew Walton was working the overnight shift at the Envoy Inn just off of US-42 West at 8075 Steilen Drive; a convenient location for travelers just a few hundred feet from Interstate 71/75.
Around 6:20 p.m. a guest from Michigan had just woke up. He exited his room and went down the hall to the front lobby to get his morning cup of coffee. He noticed a petite woman with long dark hair at the front desk speaking with the hotel’s night auditor, James Walton. She was facing the clerk and could only see her from the back. He didn’t pay attention to what was being discussed.
He suddenly noticed a white male about 6’1″ with a heavy build between 30 and 40 year-old. He had reddish-brown and gray collar length hair and a scraggly beard. He was wearing a heavy plaid flannel shirt, jeans and hunting boots. The guest later described this man as “a Grizzly Adams type”, with “a mountain-man appearance”. The guest felt like the man and woman were “together”, but the man was acting strange, watching him as started to prepare his cup of coffee.
It seemed not only a bit tense to the guest, but a bit strange for the man to watch him. Just for conversation he said to Grizzly Adams, “it sure is a nice day for the Bengals game today”. The Bengals were scheduled to play the Seattle Seahawks in the AFC Divisional Playoffs at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium at 4 p.m. The man just grumbled something back to him and then turned his attention to the woman and James Walton. The guest quickly walked back to his room.
Just a minute or two later there was some commotion between other guests in the hall. The guest from Michigan decided to open his door and figure out what was happening. One guest asked him and another guest, “did someone just let off some firecrackers outside?”, but another quickly interjected, “I didn’t hear that”. There was a pause, it was New Year’s Eve after all, perhaps some kids still partying or playing a prank? One guest walked down the hall towards the lobby and the Michigan guest just went back into his room.
James Matthew Walton, 34, was discovered in the parking lot of the Envoy Inn. He had been shot multiple times in the chest, stomach and back. Numerous guests inside the hotel and a couple outside, heard the shots. Others said they heard nothing.
Crime Scene and Immediate Aftermath
The last recorded transaction on the register was “NO SALE” at 6:24 a.m. Usually this is pressed to open a cash register without a transaction.
There was a single gunshot fired in the front office.
James Walton was shot in the chest, stomach and back in the rear parking lot.
Early March in 1989, a crime lab in Illinois linked the .44 magnum bullet fragments found in James Walton, to fragments found in Lois “Evelyn” Wright. Then on March 3, 1989, Peggy Gill and Jeanne Gilbert were killed in the same night.
Some law enforcement agencies brushed it off as coincidence. Others saw the similarities. Was a sadistic serial killer roaming American highways targeting hotel clerks? Possibly two?