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Donna Johnson died hard

By Walter Geiger Twenty-six years ago this past Friday, Donna Johnson died a violent death. Her murder remains unsolved and, for two generations, Lamar countians have remained largely in the dark as to how she died. They have relied on rumor and innuendo. Dark tales circulated of roaming serial killers, Miami Boys gang members on the loose and a mysterious green pickup truck. Donna’s car, a 1971 Buick Skylark, was found at a dumpster site at the corner of Piedmont and The Rock Roads at 4:40 p.m. Two dogs were locked inside. The windows were left cracked open to allow the dogs to breathe. She was reported missing by Mike Johnson, her nephew. Until 2005, the working theory was Donna was abducted while dumping trash. An investigation begun at that time by then-sheriff Joe Buice led him to believe the entire scene at the dumpsters was staged. Donna died hard. She was hogtied, sexually violated with a metal rod, run over by a vehicle and finally dispatched with three blows to the head from a roofing hatchet or similar object. Donna also fought her killers hard. Buice had her body exhumed in 2005 to look for DNA under her fingernails and the keys to her car which, to this day, have never been located. As word got out that Donna was missing, dozens of volunteers gathered to search for her. They gathered at the dumpsters and spread out in different directions. Alas, the search was unorganized and interrupted by a deluge that dumped over an inch and a half of rain in a short period of time. Among those who joined the search was Herman Coffey. He was dismayed by the lack of coordination. ’Nobody was conducting a grid search. It was totally unorganized,’ Coffey said. Coffey waited out the rain. He and his brother and several others started a grid search of a corn field off The Rock Road perhaps a quarter mile from the dumpsters. ’We did a proper search of the field and found nothing. I spotted the road and decided to walk down it. I found the body and started hollering,’ Coffey said. Donna was found lying across the narrow road. Her head was in one rut and her feet in the other. She had been gagged with her own bra and panties. Her blue jeans had been cut and pulled down to thigh level. Donna’s body was removed from the scene in an ambulance operated by the late Ira Hamm, then owner of Hamm’s Funeral Home and operator of the county ambulance. According to several close to the investigation, the body was placed in a body bag that had been used multiple times previously. Inexplicably, Donna’s body was taken to the courthouse and then to a hospital in Thomaston where she was pronounced dead and an autopsy performed. Donna had been tortured. When her killer struck the three blows to her head, she was put out of prolonged misery. Donna was gone. She left behind grief, anger and a 26-year-old mystery.

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