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Cold case task force a possibility

By Walter Geiger Lamar County’s tragic summer is now 32 years past but the investigative trails of two heinous crimes committed so long ago have not gone cold. On May 14, 1984, Helen Ann Morgan got two phone calls and subsequently left her home, telling her mother she had to go to work at NCR in Fayetteville to fix a computer. She changed clothes, departed and was never seen again. Her car was found abandoned two days later at the Atlanta airport’s south terminal parking lot but Morgan vanished and has long been presumed dead – the victim of foul play. Exactly two months later, Donna Ogletree Johnson’s car, a 1971 Buick Skylark, was found abandoned at a dumpster site at the corner of Piedmont and The Rock roads. It was long assumed she was abducted while dumping trash but subsequent investigations led to an alternate conclusion that the dumpster scene was staged. After a heavy rainstorm, her body was found on a logging road near a cornfield. She had been hogtied, sexually violated with a metal rod, run over by a vehicle while still alive and then put out of her misery by three blows to the head from a roofing hatchet or similar object. Rain has long been attributed to washing away evidence but at least one volunteer on the scene who was present when the brutalized body was found has always described the search for Johnson as ‘totally unorganized’. District attorney elect Jonathan Adams reported last week that he is familiar with the Johnson case but not with the file. He is open to the idea of a cold case task force to revisit unsolved cases. ’I am very interested in discussing these cases with the families and the sheriff’s office once I take office in January. I think cold cases are a priority and I think creating a task force with local law enforcement is a good way to help solve and prosecute those cases,’ Adams said. Adams said he must rely on law enforcement but there are new tools in the toolbox that can be applied to cold cases like those involving Morgan and Johnson. ’As part of the team with law enforcement, we can provide legal guidance and direction from any recent developments in technology to help solve these cold cases,’ Adams continued. Current district attorney Richard Milam maintained the cases have always been on the radar but he has not seen evidence that would help him form an opinion as to what happened to Morgan or who killed Johnson. ’Because of the long period Mrs. Morgan has been missing, she would be presumed dead but I have seen no evidence to prove that. I know of no evidence from which I could conclude what happened to her,’ Milam said. With regard to the Johnson case, Milam said he has ‘been through’ the reinvestigations of the case by the administrations of former sheriffs Larry Waller and Joe Buice and read the entire GBI case file. He noted he has discussed the case at length with at least three GBI investigators assigned to it during his time as DA. Milam also said he went over the case with former district attorney and retired judge Byron Smith, BPD chief Chuck Keadle and Richard Walter, a Vidoqc Society profiler brought in by Buice. ’We had a meeting where every law enforcement officer who knew anything about the case was invited and most attended. I have also met with every member of the family that wanted to speak with me about the Johnson case. I am aware of no evidence from which I could form an opinion as to who is responsible for the horrible crime committed against Donna Johnson,’ Milam said. Sheriff Brad White said he and his investigators have worked the Johnson case ‘extensively’ for the last four years. ’We have a new GBI agent assigned to it now and he is looking at it in depth with a new set of eyes. He is working without talking to others who have been involved in the investigation to get a fresh perspective,’ White said. The hope is to get what evidence there is before the citizenry via a grand jury- a forum in which the case has never been heard over 32 years. ’You can take cases to the grand jury twice. It is our hope to put together a circumstantial case and try to get Jonathan Adams to take it to a grand jury,’ the sheriff concluded.

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