The Horrifying Crime Scene Of 22-Year-Old Karen Lynn Styles

The following article includes descriptions of violence against women including sexual battery.

The Pisgah National Forest has been a popular attraction for outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom make the trek to North Carolina to enjoy the hiking and biking trails. Located near Ashville, this wilderness Mecca boasts of tall Appalachian peaks and beautiful waterfalls. It's a place enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. Pisgah was a spot that Karen Styles often chose for her running routine. The 22-year-old woman had recently graduated from college and set out for a run on the morning of October 31, 1994. But she never made it back.

By evening, Styles' loved ones were growing concerned. Since she didn't return home, the police were contacted. Investigators were able to find her vehicle, which she parked in a parking area near the trailhead she was thought to have started on (via Case Law). A search of the grounds led to police finding her car key several hundred yards down the trail. Attempts to locate her that night were not successful.

It seemed like she vanished into thin air. Had she wandered off the trail and gotten hurt? Did someone abduct her? These were questions that were probably spinning in the heads of Styles' family and the police. It would be weeks before anyone received any news about what happened to the missing runner. Sadly, the news was a horrible nightmare-turned-reality.

A hunter makes a gruesome discovery

Several weeks passed with no breaks in the case. In late November, a hunter was passing through the Pisgah wilderness, not far from the trail that Styles had vanished from. While out looking for game, he saw something that he is not likely to ever forget. The decomposing body of a young woman was bound to a tree.

Police arrived at the scene and noted some ghastly details about Styles' last minutes alive. She had been killed by a gunshot to the head, later revealed to be from a .22 caliber rifle. Styles had 10 burns on her body from a stun gun, nearly all of which were inflicted near her pubic area. Police surmised that she had been dragged to the tree and duct-taped to it. After her attacker had secured her into place, he viciously raped her (via Case Law). 

At the crime scene, police gathered evidence that the killer had left behind. The spent shell of a Remington .22 was on the ground, presumed to be from the one that ended her life. There was also a pornographic magazine near the tree. The third clue would be the one that helped investigators crack the case. The killer had left behind the packaging from the duct tape, which was recognized as a brand sold at a local K-Mart store. Detectives contacted the store closest to the murder site and were able to uncover chilling clues on a receipt that was stamped October 28 — three days before Styles was murdered.

The smoking gun

The receipt that police were able to retrieve listed not only duct tape, but also a .22 Remington rifle, a box of .22 shells, a flashlight, and batteries (per Case Law). Though it was the duct tape wrapper that led police to that particular store, the gun purchase is the item that gave them a name. Police were able to obtain a copy of the ATF Form 4473, paperwork mandatory at that time when a rifle was purchased. The name of the person who bought it was a man named Richard Allen Jackson. 

Jackson was located and detained for questioning. During interrogation, Jackson broke down in tears and confessed to everything. He kept insisting that he hadn't meant to kill Styles, but the duct tape that he placed on her mouth had loosened and she began screaming for help. That's when he shot her in the head. Police charged Jackson with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, and first-degree rape. He tried to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury didn't buy that defense.

WLOS ABC 13 reports that Jackson was found guilty on all charges. Because  the crimes occurred in a national forest, he was tried and convicted in a federal court. Despite his attempts to appeal, the death sentence that was imposed on Jackson was ultimately upheld in the Federal Court of Appeals. As of February 2023, he was still on death row at USP Terre Haute in Indiana.