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30 years ago, crime arrived with a vengeance

By Walter Geiger That haunting summer began on Mother’s Day, 1984. Helen Ann Morgan lived with her mother and young daughter on Hwy. 18 West. She got a call from her employer, the National Cash Register Company, in Fayetteville at about 7 p.m. May 13. Another call followed three hours later. Morgan left home saying she was going to work to solve a computer problem. She hasn’t been seen since. Exactly one month later, the badly decomposed body of a white male was found in a rotting old house near the intersection of Old Zebulon and Ethridge Mill roads west of Milner. He had on jeans and one shoe and had been shot to death. He had no ID. Only an Atlanta bus ticket and the business card for an Atlanta hair salon were found in his pockets. Nearby were seven shell casings from a .25 caliber semiautomatic pistol. No one knew who he was or who had killed him. Those were mysteries that would take years to solve. Then, 33 days later, on July 16, 1984, Donna Ogletree Johnson went missing. Her car was found idling at a dumpster site at the corner of Piedmont and The Rock roads. Hours later and after an evidence destroying downpour, her hogtied body was found on a logging road not far away. She had been tortured and sexually penetrated with a foreign object before being bludgeoned to death. People were scared. Gun sales spiked as did the number of people applying for weapons carrying permits. Doors that had never been locked were dead bolted – even during daylight hours. Crime, the sort of crime most around here had only read about, had hit home with a vengeance. Ann Morgan’s car was found three days after she disappeared in a parking lot at the Atlanta airport. The key was under a floor mat. The vehicle had been wiped clean of prints. There have been few leads. About five years ago, GBI personnel dug up an area behind a Newnan radio station after receiving a tip that Morgan was buried there – the victim of a serial killer. No body was found though the tipster – the alleged serial killer’s daughter – claims to clearly recall the location. There has never been an arrest in the brutal murder of Donna Johnson though the investigation reignites in fits and starts periodically. Long frustrated family members are positive they know who the killer is. Those in law enforcement are less sure or at least not sure enough to make an arrest all these years later. The case of the dead man in the abandoned house was solved in a most unusual manner. In 1997, former sheriff’s department dispatcher Dennis Cloud told an investigator, ‘I shot that sonofabitch’. Cloud died before he could be prosecuted. He claimed to have picked up the man hitchhiking, stopping at the abandoned house for him to relieve himself. Cloud said the man called him into the house to see a dead snake then pulled a knife and demanded Cloud’s wallet. Cloud claimed he shot the man a killing he concealed for 13 years – many of those years spent working right down the hall from the very investigators working the case. No knife was found at the scene. Two years later, a woman whose son went missing in 1984 hired Marion Hood as a private investigator to work the case. Hood was a former Barnesville police officer and is currently a courthouse security officer here. It didn’t take long for him to match his client’s missing son up with the dead body in the abandoned house. Dental records confirmed his hunch. The dead man was Carl Rowland. At his death he was working on his GED with an eye toward a career as a pharmacologist. He played soccer and liked to fish. His mother visited the house where his body was found. She had his body disinterred from Lamar Memory Gardens and moved to Atlanta. One mystery was solved. Two remain. And, a community’s innocence was lost.

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