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Cops: Johnson crime scene preserved

Part 12 in a serialization of interviews published on the 26th anniversary of the brutal murder of Donna Johnson: Two law enforcement officers who were engaged in the search for Donna Johnson 26 years ago dispute claims made by others that evidence at the scene was destroyed by responding rescue personnel. Larry Whitlock was the GBI agent assigned to Lamar County at that time. ’David Mitchell was with me. He was one of the best crime scene guys in the bureau. We were working with Jerry Torbert during the search and were not far away. We had pulled over in a gravel parking lot during the rainstorm,’ Whitlock said. He recalled that then-chief deputy Billy Rose, now deceased, radioed all units that the body had been found. ’We radioed him back and told him to preserve the scene. It didn’t take us long to get there. There were maybe six people around the body when we got there and maybe a total of 12 after we got there,’ Whitlock said. David Boyt of Thomaston was a state trooper at the time and knew Donna Johnson from her drug store job. He was in a pickup truck and refutes claims a trooper in a pickup truck rode up on the scene where the body was found. ’˜I was the only trooper out there that day. I sat in (late Pike deputy) John Hollis’ car during the storm. It was one of the worst rain storms I have ever seen. Once the rain stopped, I headed for home in my truck. I was at The Rock when I got the call the body had been found. I did not go back out there,’ Boyt said. Boyt clearly remembers a suspicious vehicle he saw on his way home. ’There was a green station wagon sitting in the vicinity of where the body was found. It was facing north, toward Piedmont Road. I remember it very distinctly and worked with Joe Buice on it when he reopened the case in 2005,’ Boyt added. He said volunteer firefighters helped keep people out of the area where the body was. ’I talked to Larry Whitlock and David Mitchell the next day. They didn’t say anything about evidence being messed up. They were on the scene with Donna’s body until the wee hours of the morning,’ Boyt recalled. He also expressed near certainty that then sheriff Frank Monaghan did view the body where it was found. ’I had been out there awhile that day. It was a search and rescue operation. We were looking for a live person. There were probably 100 people searching,’ Boyt said He was also involved in canvassing the area in the days after the murder. ’We did road checks out there for two or three days asking people if they had seen anything. There were a lot of leads but none of them ever materialized,’ Boyt said. Whitlock, who spent nine years as a state trooper and 26 more as a GBI special agent, is now vice-chairman of the Meriwether County commission. He and the coroner Harry Pippin got into two altercations in the aftermath of the murder that landed him in the GBI director’s office. Pippin is also now deceased. One argument was over the Johnson autopsy. The other over the handling of her body. ’They used an unsterile sheet to cover the body,’ Whitlock recalled. ‘The rain ruined a lot of stuff. A lot of people showed up out there but we did preserve that scene.’ Whitlock said he has ‘three unsolved murders’ remaining from his career. One is the Helen Ann Morgan case from Lamar County. The other was the murder of a Butts County businessman whose body was found in a well. The third is the Johnson murder. ’In two of those cases, I know who did it but cannot prove it. I sure wish I could put the Johnson case to bed,’ he concluded.

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