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Johnson case: Victim’s sister, Becky Peterman

Part four in a serialization of interviews published on the 26th anniversary of the brutal murder of Donna Johnson: By Kay S. Pedrotti Some of Becky Peterman’s scars from July 16, 1984 go too deep to see; but the pain is etched in her face. Becky’s life changed irrevocably that day when her sister Donna Johnson was found brutally murdered. The recent death of their mother left Becky the torchbearer in the fight to find Donna’s killer. ’In my opinion I know who is responsible for my sister’s death but I do not believe that her killer will ever be prosecuted,’ she says. ‘After all that was done in 2005, nothing happened, nobody was arrested, so I am not hopeful.’ An extensive investigation was conducted in 2005 under Lamar County Sheriff Joe Buice, involving his department, GBI, the Vidocq Society and the exhumation of Donna’s body. The findings pointed to a suspect, Becky notes, but the case was never pursued to arrest and indictment. For The Herald-Gazette, Becky agreed to ‘relive’ the day her sister was killed. It began as a normal day for her, taking her children to their sitter, Nancy McGowan, before going to her job with a textile company. That afternoon, it would be McGowan, a nieceby- marriage of Donna Johnson’s husband Jimmy, who would tell Becky that her sister was missing. Becky immediately took her children Tim and Kim to their paternal grandmother, and headed for the home of her parents Ed and Beulah Ogletree about 4:45 p.m. (Ed died in 1995.) ‘It was a long four hours,’ says Becky, ‘and there was a lot of praying going on,’ before Jimmy Johnson called about 8:30 p.m. to say that Donna’s body had been found. ‘But Jimmy did not come to (the parents’) house that night nor the next day.’ Jimmy also isolated himself and his family from the Ogletrees and others at Donna’s funeral service, held in Williams Funeral Home chapel, according to Becky. The Johnsons sat in a glass-walled room adjacent to the chapel, she says. ’I did not go to the visitation for my sister ‘¦ if I did not have to see her, this would not be true,’ Becky said she thought. ’I don’t see how my mama made it through all that.’ Though Becky was six years older than Donna, the two were very close. She recalls the youngster Donna as fearless and frolicsome. Donna was not afraid of the family’s chickens, Becky says, ‘but I was ‘¦ one day she grabbed one of those things by the neck and chased me down Piedmont Road ‘“ we laughed about that many times.’ Becky recalls that she and Donna spent the whole day together on July 14, traveling to St. Joseph’s Hospital on the north side of Atlanta. They went to visit a cousin who had had cancer surgery. During their talks that day, says Becky, ‘Donna told me she was pretty disgusted with Jimmy and with her marriage.’ Now, Becky feels that ‘the system has let us down,’ primarily Donna’s family, but also the community and society. ‘In my opinion elected officials get paid to do a job. I don’t think in this case they are doing their job. It is so frustrating knowing the evidence and yet nothing goes forward on the case. While we are forced to go on and mourn and grieve, her killer is still free,’ says Becky. ‘This is not fair.’ She bears the scars of Donna’s death with forbearance and dignity, but there are tears in her voice when she says, ‘It never goes away. But maybe, just maybe, this time ‘¦ we’ll know.’ 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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