Prostitute Survives Attack, Tips Police Off to Three Potential Murders
Michael Johnson [Handout]
Chicago Tribune via Yellowbrix
May 31, 2010
CHICAGO – A prostitute who was choked and left for dead by a john on Chicago’s Far South Side survived the attack and later pointed police to a man now linked to three slayings in the Roseland and West Pullman neighborhoods, police and prosecutors said Sunday.
Michael A. Johnson Jr., 24, was ordered held without bail at a hearing Sunday, charged with three counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of aggravated criminal sexual assault.
Johnson showed little emotion as he stood for nine minutes in a sweat shirt and jeans before Cook County Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil. Assistant State’s Attorney Cathy Hufford detailed how, beginning in November 2008, Johnson allegedly strangled three South Side women in abandoned buildings. He left behind DNA that police said links him to the crimes, Hufford said.
Investigators said they are awaiting the results of DNA tests from the slaying of a fourth woman who was found this month in a vacant building in West Pullman.
The case broke when a tipster, who wasn’t named, pointed police to Johnson. The woman told police she had agreed to have sex with Johnson for $20 about a month ago. But he forced himself on her in the gangway of an abandoned building in the 11900 block of South Stewart Avenue, choking her, jumping on her back and leaving her for dead, the tipster told police.
“That was a great break for us — I mean, the fact that she survived the attack,” Chicago police Superintendent Jody Weis said at a news conference Sunday.
On May 22, the woman was walking with her brother when she saw Johnson, who stands 6 feet 3 inches and weighs 220 pounds, on the street and recognized him, detectives said. Her brother and another man scuffled with Johnson, and when police came, they took him into custody and took a DNA swab.
“We started putting things together when he was taken into custody,” Detective Regina Hightower said at the news conference.
Although police suspected that Johnson may have been involved in the other slayings, he was released May 23 after a DNA sample was taken, detectives said.
“We have to maintain the integrity of the investigation. We have to maintain people’s rights,” Lt. Anthony Carothers said of the decision to release Johnson. “We have to hope for the best, pray a lot.”
Police rearrested Johnson late Thursday at the home he shares with his mother, three sisters and other relatives after his DNA test linked him to the three slayings, detectives said.
Court-appointed defense lawyer James Jacobs asked for leniency at Sunday’s hearing, saying Johnson surrendered willingly to police and has no serious criminal history. The lawyer said Johnson told him he works as a canvasser for organizations including Save the Children and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and was enrolled to start classes this fall at Westwood College.
For about the past month, Johnson had worked as a canvasser for Grassroots Campaigns, a company that does canvassing work in Chicago for ASPCA and Save the Children, said Wes Jones, the national canvass director for Grassroots Campaigns. Jones said Johnson would have been primarily stationed in public areas with pedestrian traffic, like downtown Chicago sidewalks.
“For about four or five hours a day he would talk to people about the ASPCA campaign and sign up members,” said Jones, who declined to give further details about Johnson’s job performance. Johnson did not canvass for Save the Children, Jones said.
At the hearing, Hufford pointed to DNA evidence connecting Johnson to the killings of Eureka Jackson, Leslie Brown and Siobhan Hampton.
In the first slaying, which occurred in November 2008, Jackson’s naked body was found hanging by her shirt from a closet doorknob in a bedroom of an abandoned house in the 0-100 block of East 120th Street, Hufford said.
Brown was found wearing only socks on Jan. 11 after a trail of her clothing led up the stairway to the floor of a room in a building in the 200 block of West 119th Street, Hufford said. She had cuts and bruises to her head and a broken bone in her neck.
Hampton’s body was found on March 30 behind the counter in an abandoned restaurant in the 11300 block of South Michigan Avenue, Hufford said. Hampton had bruises to her neck and face. Surveillance video from a nearby store showed her and a man believed to be Johnson together at the location, prosecutors said.
Each of the victims had criminal histories that included prostitution arrests, according to police and court records. It’s not clear if they engaged in paid sex with Johnson, but the DNA left behind provided clear evidence linking Johnson to the women, prosecutors said.
“The key common denominator among the three murder victims was Johnson’s DNA,” Weis said. He also praised his officers for the speed with which they were able to act on the information.
Police said they are reviewing other unsolved homicide cases, including Lutelda Michelle Hudson, 29, who was found dead this month in a vacant building in the 11900 block of South Harvard Avenue.
Her death fits the pattern of the previous four attacks because the other victims were 28 to 30 years old and lived within about a mile radius of each other. They all were found in abandoned buildings. But forensic testing has not been completed.
“We’re working backward, now that we have his DNA,” Weis said.
Weis added that police are now working with the city to address issues with abandoned buildings, which he characterized as a significant safety problem. “Unchecked and unoccupied buildings provide a safe haven for the criminals to commit their heinous acts,” he said.
Hightower said she believes Johnson also had intended the kill the woman who eventually identified him.
When asked if she thought Johnson would have killed again if he hadn’t been apprehended, Hightower answered without hesitation.
“There’s no doubt in my mind,” she said.