Overview of Established Facts of the Case
66-year-old, Joanne Johnson was found dead in her bed at 3pm on Sunday, 25th June 2013, with an incision on her neck that caused a rupture of an artery. There was also an incision on her palm and multiple facial contusions. One of the windows of the room was broken and unlocked, and the house was searched, ransacked and some jewelry was missing. Her son Mark discovered the body. By then, rigor mortis had already subsided and was absent and lividity was fixed along the victims back.
There was no sign of forced entry on or around the door. Joanne had inherited her husbands estate amounting to almost $2.5 million ten years ago and lived alone in a fairly secluded house. She had been on poor terms with her son-in-law, Todd, for the last nine years and had been fighting for custody of his children. Traces of hair, dog hair and carpet fiber were found on the crime scene, which did not appear to belong to the victim or her house.
Analysis of What May Be Found in the Autopsy
A medical examiner will probably find that the death occurred due to severe loss of blood owing to a deep incision on the neck, starting from below the left ear, going across the midline of the neck and ending on the right side, lower than its starting point. An incision on the right palm suggests that the victim had tried to defend herself and ward off the attacker, while multiple facial contusions could have been due the attacker hitting the victim to get her to stop screaming. However, contusions could also point to anger-related murder.
Large amounts of blood around the neck and chest and drops consistent with arterial spurt, suggest that the victims carotid artery was cut. The wound on the neck suggests that the victim was attacked from the back. As reported by the medical examiner, there was no evidence of any sexual assault.
While typically rigor mortis starts around 2 to 8 hours after death and starts subsiding 18 to 36 hours after death, the process is quickened by warm temperature. Since the temperature over the weekend was warm (around 74 degrees), the time of death can be estimated to be between 18 to 48 hours before 3 pm on 25th June. The presence of unhatched blowfly eggs suggests that the body had been lying there for about a day, since blowflies normally appear to lay eggs within minutes of death and the eggs hatch in about a days time.
Putting together both these findings, it can be estimated that the death occurred between the evening of 23rd June and afternoon of 24th June 2013. Examination of the contents of the stomach will also help determine the time of death (time since last meal).
Lividity, or stagnation of blood, was found to be fixed along the body's back, implying that the body had not been moved after six hours of death and had been lying face-upward, on its back on the bed since. The position of blood in the body can be altered up to six hours after death by moving the body, after which it becomes fixed causing purplish bruise like discoloration. By this time, the body will have started putrefying and may have acquired a greenish tinge.
Overview of Victimology Facts
The victim, Joanne Johnson, was a 66-year-old Caucasian female, 51 tall, 110 lbs, having short brown and grey hair. She resided alone at 1600 Lakeshore Drive, a two storey, wooden house having four bedrooms, located on a 4 acre lot, overlooking the lake. The surrounding area was wooded and the house was not visible from neighboring houses, which were at a distance of almost two blocks, or from the road. She was retired and had inherited her husbands (Thomas Johnson) entire estate worth approximately $2.5 million dollars when he passed away in 2003 due to heart failure.
Their daughter, Juliette, drowned in 2004 due to a boat accident for which her husband, Todd, was blamed but not charged. Joanne had been fighting for custody of Juliette and Todds two children ever since Juliettes death. Joannes son, Mark, an insurance adjuster, seems close to her and would visit her on Sunday afternoons. He was the one who found the body and reported the crime. Joanne had two close friends whom she spoke to and met a few times a month.
Joanne was outgoing and often attended cocktail parties. She enjoyed gambling at casinos and playing cards with friends. She was also fairly wealthy and the same was evident in her taste in clothes and jewelry. Such behavior could have increased risk of victimization since the murder was accompanied by theft. The fact that she lived alone in a fairly isolated house increased her risk of being attacked. Overall, the victims lifestyle can be classified as that of medium risk.
The fact that she had a habit of drinking a few glasses of wine every evening, if known to the murderer, would have made her an easier target, having been in a slightly intoxicated state at the time of the attack. This again would put her in a medium risk category.
Overview of Established Crime Scene Characteristics
The scene of crime was the victims first floor bedroom, the house itself being in a secluded location. The crime scene suggests that the attacker entered through an unlocked window to the left of the victims bedroom, and attacked her from behind while she was standing beside the bed, to its left.
The method of approach appears to be a combination of surprise and blitz and the method of attack was severe. The victims neck was slit using a sharp object, possibly a knife or maybe even a piece of the broken window glass, and an artery was severed. The victim was then laid on the bed. This caused a great deal of blood spilling onto the carpet and both sides of the comforter on the bed. The blood splatter on the carpet was consistent with that of an arterial spurt.
However, no weapon was recovered from the crime scene. Since the broken glass pieces lay above the blood on the carpet, it seems likely that the pieces were dropped after the attack, so it could possibly have been used as the murder weapon. It is also possible that the window was broken while the victim was resisting.
Absence of fingerprints suggests that the attacker was wearing gloves and had come prepared for the crime.
The victim was dressed for bed in a silk nightgown, underwear and socks, but the bedcovers had still not been pulled back, suggesting that the incident took place just as the victim was getting ready to settle in bed to watch TV, that is, late evening of 23rd June 2013.
The only signs of resistance seem to be the facial contusions and incision wound on the victims right palm. The broken window, however, can also be considered as a sign of resistance provided it is at a short distance from the bed.
Also, no sign of forced entry was found on or around the door of the house, but drops of blood were found leading to it suggesting that the attacker entered through the first floor window, found a key during his search of the house after killing the victim and left through the main door.
Saturdays mail had not been removed from the mailbox, which also suggested that the killing had occurred before the arrival of the mail, that is, on Friday night.
Initial Hypothesis Regarding Potential Offender Characteristics
Since dark strands of hair were found at the crime scene, it can be safely assumed that the offender had dark brown or black hair, making both Mark and Todd at least initial suspects. However, since Mark had a key to the house, so wouldnt have needed to break in through a window, and was reportedly close to the victim, he can be ruled out unless additional evidence suggests otherwise.
Also, even though the victim did not get along with Todd, there seems to be no reason why he would suddenly kill and rob her when they have been on poor terms for the past nine years. However, he already has a past criminal record and a history of alcohol abuse and needs to be checked properly.
Since some jewelry was missing, it is possible that the main intent of the crime was theft. In such a case, the attacker could have been unknown to the victim, possibly someone who had observed her lifestyle and planned the murder and robbery.
The offender does not appear to be very skilled in crime, since strands of hair and carpet fiber were left behind at the crime scene. However, the fact that no fingerprints were left behind, points out that the offender came at least partially prepared. If it is confirmed that the murder weapon was a piece of glass, it is possible that the offender came only to rob the house and accidently chose the victims bedroom window to enter the house; he got surprised at her presence and decided to kill her.
Also, since there is an incision wound on the victims right hand, it is likely that the attacker was left-handed, however, this cannot be confirmed. The presence of dog hair on the crime scene indicates that the suspect might be a dog-owner.
If the blood drops leading to the front door belong to the offender, it can be safely assumed that he is injured and the suspects should be checked for recent injuries.
Initial Hypothesis Regarding Potential Motivational Behaviors
The fact that the house had been ransacked and the jewelry box emptied suggest that the crime was profit motivated. It is possible that the offender observed the victim and learnt that she was elderly, wealthy and lived alone, making her an easy target.
Since there was not much evidence of a struggle, other than injuries on the body, it seems that the offender did not hesitate over killing the victim and the killing had indeed been planned. This would point to the fact that perhaps the offender was not a novice at committing such crimes and would possibly have an existing criminal record.
The appeal of easy money is usually the motivational factor in such cases.
Suggestions Regarding Facts That Need to Be Determined to Address Logical Breaks in Sequence of Events
It is important to measure the size of the window and its distance from the bed to confirm that the attacker entered the house through the window. Since the ground was covered with pine needles, any sound of the attackers approach would have been muffled, but since the only trees near the window were also pine trees and difficult to climb, the way in which the attacker entered the first floor bedroom needs to be determined. In addition, perhaps Mark or Joannes friends would be aware of whether or not she kept one window open at night. If this was indeed a habit, it is possible that the offender was aware of it and used it for his benefit.
Additional Forensic Analysis That May Be Performed on Available Physical Evidence
If the dark hair found on the bed and floor has the root intact, it can be used for a DNA test to check if it belongs to the victim or attacker. The hair can also be microscopically observed to determine whether it was shed naturally or pulled out during a violent confrontation.
Since the incision wound on the victims right palm points to an attempt to defend herself, it might be helpful to check under her fingernails for skin tissue as she may have scratched the attacker while trying to protect herself. This would give us additional tissue to conduct a DNA analysis.
The blood drops leading to the front door should also be tested. Since the body had not been moved considerably after the murder, the blood leading to the door could either be the victims blood dripping off the murder weapon in the attackers hand as he left or perhaps the victim managed to injure the attacker while trying to defend herself and the blood could belong to the attacker.
All the DNA and blood samples should then be compared to those of Todd and Mark and then searched for in existing criminal databases so that if the offender already has a criminal record, he could be easily found. Elimination of suspects can be done based on the blood type itself.
The neck wound and the incision of the hand should be studied carefully to determine the type of murder weapon. Getting an x-ray of the areas might be helpful to check if some portion of the weapon is left behind in the body, especially if the attacker used a piece of glass as a weapon.
In order to get a more accurate time of death, the blowfly eggs could also be examined as they start showing change after 8 hours and typically hatch one day after being laid.
The area surrounding the house should also be combed in search for evidence as to how the offender entered the house. Most evidence points that the attacker entered through the window, but if the attacker broke the glass of one window, unlocked it and then entered through it, it would eliminate the element of surprise since the windows breakage would make noise. Using Occam's razor, the simplest explanation seems to be that the victim had left one window open, though which the attacker entered and the glass later shattered while the victim tried to defend herself. Measuring the distance of the broken window from the bed can verify this.
Suggestions Regarding Further Victimological Information Gathering
It is recommended that the victims is studied to see who the beneficiaries to her estate are. The status of the ongoing custody battle between her and Todd should also be confirmed to check if any recent developments occurred which might have aggravated the situation of Todd.
The victims friends and son should be questioned regarding specific information regarding the victims belongings and jewelry and if they believe anything else, perhaps important documents, is missing. If documents such as her will or estate papers are found to be missing, it can be assumed that the motive behind the crime was personal, but if the robbery is limited to jewelry and money, it was possibly carried out with only an immediate profit motive.
It would be helpful to know if there were specific days when she used to go to the casino or attended parties. Perhaps this will cast light on whether the offender had planned both the murder and the robbery or just the robbery and had to kill the victim because it was unexpected that she would be home.
Investigatively Relevant Suggestions Regarding Potential Strategies or Avenues for Suspect Development
Both Todd and Mark should be questioned and their alibis should be confirmed. Todds current financial status should also be checked. The blood leading to the door and the dark hair found at the crime scene should be analyzed and checked with theirs.
Initial elimination can be done based on blood group and expensive techniques like DNA analysis should be used only when the blood leading to the door is ruled out as belonging to the victim; if it belongs to the offender it might also be useful to check with local doctors or hospitals if anyone with cut or stab wounds visited them for treatment since the night of June 23rd. In case there is no match, the same should be matched against the existing criminal records within the databases to identify the killer.
The suspects homes should also be searched for presence of a dog, carpet fiber matching the crime scene or jewelry that had been stolen from the victims home. Pawnshops and local jewelers can also be contacted to see if someone tried to dispose of or sell any jewelry. The victims friends can be contacted to give a better idea of her jewelry designs.
It might also be helpful to study past crime reports and look for similar cases that may have occurred in the vicinity because robberies accompanied by murder are rarely one-off incidents.
Perhaps a suspicious person had been seen hanging around the area or observing the victim. Inquiring the neighbors and friends about the same could be helpful.