The case of a Lebanon family's murder yesterday (01-22-10) has taken another twist that has left investigators with more questions than answers.
Shortly before 8 a.m. Friday morning a family member of Sheila Johnson, 40, and Blake Johnson, 10, got an e-mail message saying that someone should go check on the family. Brent Johnson, who was on vacation in the Caribbean, called one of his employees and close family friend in Rogersville and asked him to go check on his brother and his family.
When the friend got to Todd Johnson's Goldenwood Road home, an eight year-old little boy answered the door. Sheriff Richard Wrinkle says the little boy asked him, "am I late for school... did we oversleep?” The family friend told the boy he needed to talk to his mom. The boy went upstairs and ran back down saying his mom was covered in blood."
The friend then told him to go check on Blake. Just down the hall the little boy found Blake in the same condition. "He came back and said his brother needed help," Wrinkle said.
The Johnson family are partners in the Excell Group that mange and operate several Sonic restaurants in the Lebanon area.
Johnson Family Home on Goldenwood Road (courtesy KJEL)
The employee that Brent Johnson called said that another Sonic employee had come to his home and told him that Todd Johnson had allegedly picked him up in his truck because he wanted him to burglarize his house.
Early on in the investigation cops said they were interviewing a person of interest in the case, and looking "for a family member to check his well being."
Turns out that the person of interest cops were talking to was the Sonic employee that Todd Johnson allegedly "hired" to steal his wife's jewelry and make it look like someone had broken into his home. When the employee told Johnson that he couldn't find his wife's jewelry, Johnson allegedly told the man that what he really wanted him to do was kill his family.
The employee that was asked to kill the Johnson family hid in the garage Thursday night/Friday morning, but couldn't go through with the murders.
Sources close to the investigation say that Johnson had told people that he was going to fire the employee and was, "afraid that he might follow him home one night." Investigators believe it was a set up, and that the man was also going to become a victim of Todd Johnson.
The employee that Johnson allegedly hired to burglarize his home left in his employers truck after he says he heard Johnson killing his family.
Laclede County Sheriff Richard Wrinkle
Todd Johnson fled the home to and was found dead in his vehicle that was at the bottom of a water filled rock quarry yesterday afternoon.Some people who had been at a recycling center on Ginger Road hit a deer and got out to look at the damage to their car. "They saw fresh tire tracks that led off the side of the road, looked over the side saw a car in water and called us," Wrinkle says.
Today, medical examiners determined that Todd Johnson's cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head that is consistent with suicide. Investigators found a twenty guage shotgun in the wreckage that was bent from the impact of the crash.
Johnson crash photo courtesy Lebanon Daily Record
Wrinkle says that when Johnson shot himself in the head it caused his car to accelerate and fly off a berm before it dropped 100 feet to the bottom of the quarry and flipped into the water. The force of the impact ripped the aorta in his chest causing his lungs to fill with blood. "He wasn't dead when he hit the water...but he didn't live long after he hit hit it," the sheriff said.
Wrinkle says that at this point they are treating the employee as a witness in the investigation, "how much more convenient could it have been for Johnson to kill this guy that he was afraid of if he had come home and found him killing his family? I don't think Todd counted on him taking his truck that morning!"
Wrinkle says he will ask the Highway Patrol to reconstruct the crash scene to "make sure we've got it right. This investigation is nowhere near complete."
NOTE: When news was breaking, I was told that Sheila Johnson was 30, and Blake was 11. The ages in the story have been corrected to reflect their accurate ages.
Online court records out of Kansas show that Todd Johnson has a conviction for aggravated robbery, burglary and theft from 1985.
Eight year-old Bryce has been placed in the custody of his 22 year-old adopted sister. Funeral arrangements for the Sheila and Blake Johnson will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at First Baptist Church in Lebanon; burial will follow at Mt. Rose Memorial Park.
Funeral services for Todd Johnson have been canceled. A private memorial service will be held at a later date. Arrangements are being handled by Butler Funeral Home in Bolivar.
Services are being handled jointly Holman-Howe Funeral Home in Lebanon and Butler Funeral Home in Bolivar.
An educational fund has been established for Brice Johnson, donations may be left at either funeral home or the
Bryce Johnson Educational Fund
c/o Heritage Bank of the Ozarks
1475 S. Jefferson Avenue
Lebanon, Missouri 65536