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Johnson case: Exhumation laid some rumors to rest

Part 13 in a serialization of interviews published on the 26th anniversary of the brutal murder of Donna Johnson: As part of his revisitation of the Donna Johnson murder case in 2005, then-sheriff Joe Buice had the victim’s body exhumed from Crystal Hill cemetery in Thomaston and examined at the GBI crime lab in Decatur. The exhumation took place on March 17, 2005. Though the Johnson case file remains closed to public examination because the investigation is ongoing, it is known the exhumation put to rest two rumors that had long swirled around the case. The keys to Johnson’s car that was abandoned at a dumpster site on The Rock Road the day her body was found, have never been found. It was long rumored the keys were dropped into the casket just before it was closed for the final time at the funeral home. The keys were neither in the casket nor the open grave at the time of the exhumation, according to sources familiar with the evidence. There have also been rumors the killer had placed a note of confession or apology in the casket prior to burial. No such note was found. There is evidence Johnson fought her killer or killers with a vengeance. During the examination of the exhumed body, personnel at the crime lab checked for DNA evidence under her fingernails. However, her body was not well enough preserved to offer up any secrets. Buice says the best hope now for DNA evidence may lie in the rope used to hogtie Johnson as she was tortured and killed. ’The GBI agent at the scene did cut the rope off her body and preserved the knots. There may be DNA inside those knots. The rope was in the case file the last time I saw it,’ Buice said earlier this year. Many of those familiar with the case say the knots used to bind Johnson were tied by an expert – perhaps a former boy scout, sailor or rodeo hand. Meanwhile, The Herald-Gazette series on the case has resulted in multiple leads. Agents Tom Davis and Cayce Ingalls of the GBI are known to have conducted interviews based on tips prompted by the newspaper’s reporting and as many as 10 more interviews are scheduled.

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