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News4 Investigates: Lead detective on interstate kidnapping case believes truck driver was a serial killer

Jeremy Finley talks to investigators about a truck driver who they believe was a serial killer.
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 6:21 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) -For five hours on May 22, 2019, former Clarksville detective Dennis Honholt sat with Roy Nellsch, the long-haul truck driver just arrested for kidnapping a woman whose car had broken down on Interstate 24.

After that interview and seeing what else investigators found in the truck’s cab, Honholt came to a conclusion.

“Be honest with you - my initial thought was - I thought he’s a serial killer,” Honholt told News4 Investigates. “Roy Nellsch really embodies evil. This to me was the pure embodiment of evil.”

An investigation by News4, in which we obtained hours of police interrogations, photographs of the crime scene, and jail phone calls, as well as interviews with the lead detective; in the case, prosecutors, the woman who escaped the kidnapping, and friends of Nellsch, uncovered a disturbing series of events that leads those involved to the same deduction.

“I think the evidence suggests there were other victims,” said Brooke Schiferle, Asst. U.S. attorney in the Middle Tennessee district.

Bloody rope taken from inside Nellsch's truck
Bloody rope taken from inside Nellsch's truck(Clarksville Police Department evidence)

Honholt, now the police chief in Dover, TN, was working for the Clarksville police department on May 22 when he learned of the arrest of a truck driver, accused of kidnapping and assaulting a woman he’d picked up on the interstate.

Soon, he’d be questioning Nellsch himself while cameras were rolling.

“I know there’s a lot going on,” Honholt said.

“Oh (expletive) yeah,” Nellsch said in the video, laughing.

Honholt would spend the next five hours on and off interviewing Nellsch.

“He seemed very well rehearsed,” Honholt said. “And watching it unfold in front of your very eyes - see quite frankly - what monster is coming out.”

Handcuffs discovered in Nellsch's truck
Handcuffs discovered in Nellsch's truck(Clarksville Police Department evidence)

Near where Honholt was questioning Nellsch, Abbey Pimentel told police her version of what had happened inside the truck.

Her story would later stun even veteran prosecutors.

“The story, when you read or hear about it, sounds like a movie,” said Brooke Schiferle, Asst. U.S. attorney.

Pimentel told investigators that her car had run out of gas on I-24 at the Kentucky/Tennessee border and that Nellsch had done a U-turn to stop and help her.

Honholt then conveyed to Nellsch what Pimentel accused him of doing after picking her up.

“(Pimentel claimed Nellsch) said, ‘I’m going to keep you for a couple of days, and something along to the effect of I’m going to rape you,” Holholt said. “That you went in the back, and she fought with you. She said she did get a gun from you and pulled the trigger. And it wouldn’t shoot. She said she was handcuffed and was able to throw a blanket over you. And you yanked the wheel, she stopped, she got out and ran for help. That’s her version of events.”

“Part of that’s true,” Nellsch said.

Nellsch didn’t dispute that they fought, confirming that he hit Pimentel over the head with a gun and handcuffed her to contain her and that she’d thrown a blanket over his head while he was driving on the interstate.

“She’s all over me. Beating on me. Kicking me,” Nellsch said.

“Were you driving at this point? When she put the blanket on you?” Holholt asked.

“Yes!” Nellsch said.

As Nellsch explained it, he was the victim because of what he said Pimentel said to him after he picked her up.

“She said, give me some money. (I said) for what? She said give me some money, or I’ll tell them you raped me,” Nellsch said.

At this point, Honholt said he was having serious doubts, especially when Nellsch claimed that he kept her handcuffed so he could drive her to the police and get her medical attention.

“Gonna get the cops out here. Get some medic out here to see how bad you’re hurt,” Nellsch said in the video.

Nellsch remained calm throughout the questioning until Honholt asked him what he thought about Pimentel’s story.

“Does anything about her story concern you?” asked Honholt.

“Yeah, it concerns me!” Nellsch said. “I know where this is going; I cannot see a good end. I’ve got problems now.”

Bloody bag of women's underwear recovered from Nellsch's truck
Bloody bag of women's underwear recovered from Nellsch's truck(Clarksville Police Department evidence)

Nellsch would ultimately grant permission for investigators to search his truck.

Inside, police would find two guns, knives, a bloody rope, a stun gun, sex toys, and a bloody bag of women’s undergarments.

During the interrogation, Nellsch is asked how often he picks up other women.

“I mean, once every two, three months,” Nellsch said.

While he doesn’t elaborate on who these women were, he describes encountering prostitutes.

“This ain’t my first rodeo out here with these girls trying to make a little money,” Nellsch said.

Also, in the truck, investigators found what they described as a ledger, listing the names, ages, locations, and descriptions of women.

“To be honest, that was the piece of evidence that chilled me the most,” Schiferle said.

“Do we know if any of those people are missing people?” asked News4 Investigates.

“I can say that it’s something the TBI continues to investigate. I think the evidence suggests there were other victims,” she said.

That theory is also noted in the case file, with an investigator writing, “Evidence collected indicated that there may have been previous victims in his vehicle.”

Evidence photograph shows one of the guns found in Nellsch's truck
Evidence photograph shows one of the guns found in Nellsch's truck(Clarksville Police Department evidence)

Honholt lets Nellsch know that his suspicions are growing several hours into the interrogation.

“I really don’t think this is your first time with something like this,” Holholt said. “I’m wondering, are there going to be any other cases that are going to come back?”

“Not that I know of,” Nellsch said.

“I don’t think you’re being completely truthful,” Honholt said.

“There are a thousand things I could change, but I can’t change none of them,” Nellsch said but did not elaborate.

While Nellsch consents to give his DNA, he refuses to take a lie detector test.

“I’m not going to take a polygraph for no one,” he said, shaking his head.

But no detective or prosecutor would be able to ask Nellsch about what was in his truck.

With Honholt pressing him to tell the truth, Nellsch asks for a lawyer.

“If it’s looking bad in my mind, I know it’s looking bad in your mind,” Nellsch said. “I think I better get a lawyer.”

Nellsch would ultimately be charged with kidnapping, possession of child pornography, and transportation of child pornography.

Investigators said they would find more than 10,000 images of child pornography on a laptop inside the truck.

As the case dragged on through the trial, Nellsch would grow sick, his death certificate showing he died on March 10 of acute lymphomic leukemia.

It meant there was now only one person who knew what really happened that day.

Following Nellsch’s death, News4 Investigates tracked down Pimentel outside Orlando, Florida, when she agreed to speak for the first time.

Her exclusive interview in part two of our investigation here:

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