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Johnson case: The man who found Donna’s body

Part five in a serialization of interviews published on the 26th anniversary of the brutal murder of Donna Johnson: Herman Coffey volunteered to look for his neighbor Donna Johnson after he heard she was missing. He ultimately found her body at about 7:20 p.m. ’I am very aware of the anniversary of Donna’s death. It is like yesterday to me. ’I still get mad. Whoever did it came right between me and (then sheriff, now deceased) Frank Monaghan. It was raining so hard you couldn’t see one car length. ’I got off work and was eating. My brother called and told me Donna was missing. He and I and one of my boys went to help search. There was a field back in there and we did a grid search. I didn’t even know the road was back there. I walked down it and there she was. ’It was a corn field and there were some fertilizer sacks laying around. At first, I thought she was one of those sacks but then the hair on the back of my neck stood up. ’I walked up on her. I knew she was dead. She was not breathing. She was waxy looking. Her head was tilted back in the rut. She had just been thrown out. The tracks were fresh. After all that rain, her clothes were dry. Whoever did that was a cruel individual. It unnerved me. She was our neighbor. ’They were in a small vehicle because it turned around in the road. It looked like they turned around and just dumped her. It had to be after the rain or just as the rain was ending. ’I hollered and somebody up on the bridge heard me. Then it was like the Keystone Cops. They should have roped it off and waited until the GBI got there. ’A man in a pickup who said he was a state trooper ramrodded himself in there. God only knows who else tromped down in there. They came up in there like a herd of elephants. ”I knew they were destroying evidence. They didn’t even think about the evidence. I thought differently. ’Frank Monaghan stayed up on the road wringing his hands. He didn’t even go down there.’ ’About a month later, (the late deputy) Jerry Torbert and a GBI agent came and talked to me about it. But then it went 20 years before Joe Buice came to talk to me about it. Joe has done as much to solve this as anybody. ’A lot of people fault the GBI but I don’t. They had nothing to work with. Donna was at the hospital and pronounced dead before the GBI was even called. ’I do not want this to be forgotten. It is beyond me how they can solve crimes that happened 100 years ago but they can’t solve this one. It eats at me and my brother. We don’t take anything for granted any more.’ If you have information on the Johnson case, call the Lamar County sheriff’s office at 770.358.5159, the Milledgeville office of the GBI at 1.478.445.4173 or The Herald-Gazette at 770.358.NEWS. All tips submitted to the newspaper will be kept confidential and routed to the proper authorities.

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