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Suspect charged in killings decade apart

NEW ALBANY, Ind. – A southern Indiana man faces charges he strangled a 75-year-old family friend nearly a decade after he killed another woman whose death had gone unsolved, a prosecutor said.

Floyd County prosecutors charged William Gibson III, 54, of New Albany with two counts of murder Tuesday, five days after Christine Whitis of Clarksville was found dead in Gibson’s home.

Prosecutor Keith Henderson said during a news conference that Gibson also implicated himself in the death of 45-year-old Karen Hodella of Jeffersonville. Hodella was reported missing in late 2002, and her body was found three months later.

Police officers had arrested Gibson on drunken driving charges Thursday after he was stopped driving Whitis’ minivan in the area just north of Louisville, Ky.

Mike Whitis told reporters that his mother and Gibson’s late mother were close friends for decades, and he can’t explain why Gibson would have attacked her.

“I have no idea what caused my mother to go over there that day,” Whitis said. “I would speculate in some way that she was going over there to help him.”

Gibson was being held Wednesday in the Floyd County Jail without bond. Court records showed Wednesday that he didn’t yet have a defense attorney.

Gibson was a registered sex offender because of a 1992 sexual abuse conviction in Kentucky, and was released from the Indiana prison system in 2009 after serving a four-year sentence for auto theft, according to state records.

Henderson said Gibson met Hodella through friends at a bar. Family members in Florida reported her missing in October 2002 after they couldn’t contact her.

Hodella’s decomposing body was found in January 2003 in neighboring Clark County near the Ohio River, but investigators weren’t able to determine what caused her death and no arrests were made at the time.

Patricia Hyatt, Hodella’s sister, said relatives always believed her death wasn’t an accident.

“It gives us peace of mind to finally know what we knew all along that this had happened, that someone had murdered my sister,” Hyatt told WAVE-TV.

Christine Whitis, who had four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, was young-spirited and loved to travel, her son said.

“I think my family will take some solace in knowing that somehow my mother’s death may have put some closure to some other family grieving, and help bring a monster to justice where he will never plague the community again,” Whitis said.