Serial killers : the serial homicide case of the day

The Serial Homicide Case of the Day, from "Hunting Humans, the Encyclopedia of 20th Century Serial Killers" , by Michael Newton

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  Johnson, Milton

Fiber evidence linked Johnson to the Will County murders.

An Illinois native, born in 1951, Johnson was convicted at age 19 0f raping a Joliet woman, torturing his victim with a cigarette lighter in the process. The charge of rape carried a sentence of 25 to 35 years in prison, with a consecutive term of five to ten years added on conviction for burglary. Even with "good time," Johnson should have been confined until April 1986, but authorities saw fit to release him more than three years prematurely, on March 10, 1983. Their generosity would cost at least ten lives.

For two long months, between June 25 and August 25, 1983, Joliet and surrounding communities were terrorized by a series of random "weekend murders," marked by savage violence. Law enforcement officers were mobilized to sweep Will County in a search for suspects, but the killer managed to elude them, slaughtering his victims with impunity, while residents stocked up on guns and ammunition in their own defense.

The crime spree started with the death of two Will County sisters on Saturday, June 25. A week later, on July 2, Kenneth and Terri Johnson were shot to death without apparent motive, the woman's body discarded in southwestern Cook County. Five persons -- including two deputy sheriffs -- were killed on Saturday, July 16, in what authorities termed a "random wholesale slaughter." The next evening, 18-year-old Anthony Hackett was shot to death, his fiancee raped and stabbed by a black assailant who left her for dead.

The violence escalated a month later. On Saturday, August 20, four women were shot and stabbed to death in a Joliet pottery shop, their handbags dumped nearby with money still inside. Once more, police were left without a solid clue in the slayings of proprietor Marilyn Baers, 46, and her three customers: 75-year-old Anna Ryan; 29-year-old Pamela Ryan; and 39-year-old Barbara Dunbar. On August 21, the killer(s) shifted to Park Forest, in Cook County, binding 40-year-old Ralph Dixon and 25-year-old Crystal Knight before slashing their throats in Dixon's apartment, stabbing the woman 20 times. The murder of 82-year-old Anna Johnson broke the pattern, falling on Thursday, August 25, and a suspect was swiftly apprehended in that case, leaving seventeen murders unsolved.

On March 9, 1984, Milton Johnson was arrested while visiting his parole officer, charged with aggravated battery and deviate sexual assault in the rape of Anthony Hackett's fiancee. Officers focused on Johnson after repeated complaints of a black pickup driver harassing Joliet women over the past two weeks, ending when one of the victim's memorized Johnson's license number. Evidence collected at various murder scenes -- including fibers , fingerprints , and a sales receipt baring the name of Johnson's step-father -- linked Johnson to ten of the Will County murders, including Hackett's, the pottery shop massacre, and the carnage of July 16. (The receipt had been found beneath one of the murdered officers.) In addition to those cases, police saw a "strong possibility" of Milton's participation in the July 2 murders of Kenneth and Terri Johnson.

Granted a change of venue on grounds of pretrial publicity, the defendant waived his right to trial by jury in the Hackett case. Convicted of all counts in September 1984, he was sentenced to death. Four months later, on January 23, 1986, Johnson was convicted of quadruple murder in the ceramic shop massacre, a second death sentence pronounced five days later. Prosecution in five other slayings was indefinitely deferred.

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