GBI cold case squad hoping to find new leads in 40-year-old murder of Lamar County woman

ATLANTA — It was a cold case that has baffled investigators for almost four decades.

In 1984, Donna Johnson’s body was found in a wooded area in Lamar County. Local authorities followed several leads, but no one has been charged or arrested in the case.

Channel 2′s Dave Huddleston learned how the new Georgia Bureau of Investigation Cold Case Squad has gotten involved.

The squad is made up of the state’s best investigators. Huddleston first reported on the new unit in May.

They are retired agents and supervisors that covered some of Georgia’s biggest murder cases.

They looked at the Johnson murder, hoping to find that one clue that will bring closure for the family.

“Naturally we won’t ever forget it, can’t. But at least we can put it behind us enough, so we don’t think about it, as much as we do. she was my baby. She was a very sweet person,” Donna’s mother Beula Johnson said.

But Donna Johnson was killed. She was hit in the head, tied up, sexually assaulted and then run over with a car.

Police and the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office have been looking for her killer since her death 38 years ago.

John Heinen, Mike Walsingham and John Cagle are three members of GBI Cold Case Squad.


Lamar County asked the newly formed squad to look at the Johnson case.

“I did the math. We bring — gosh this makes us sound old — centuries of experience to the table,” Heinen told Huddleston.

And that’s what’s needed for a case that’s been unsolved for almost four decades.

“We’ve got technology that we can bring to bear and that case and others,” Walsingham said.

“If some of these witnesses are still alive, do we need to go back and re-interview them,” Cagle said.

All three spent hours pouring over the Johnson files, marking pages with bright sticky notes to go back and review, and combing through evidence to try and find the killer before any more time passes.

“Witnesses die, people do forget things, evidence that was in certain locations degrade,” Walsingham said.

“I’ll come down here and say I’m only going to be 30 minutes and 8 hours later it’s 3 in the morning and I’m still up reading,” Heinen said.

The GBI said no unsolved murder is shelved. Current agents also work the case, but they also must work other cases. But the cold case squad looks at only case at a time.

“if we can help one family along the way, we can hold one person accountable, that’s good,” Heinen said.

But after hours of investigating, the cold case squad couldn’t find any new leads so Johnson’s killer is still out there.

“And that’s disappointing we can’t call a victim’ family, but I think we’ll get there,” Cagle said.

Channel 2 Action News interviewed Beula Johnson in 1998. She has since died, never seeing justice for her daughter. But the cold case squad is not giving up.

“I don’t think we’ll solve everyone, naturally, but if we can get one of two along the way, what a great sense of satisfaction that is,” Walsingham said.

The three members of the cold case squad are on to their third case. So far, no indictments. But it gives you a sense that if these guys haven’t found any problems with the original file, they may have to wait for someone who knows something to come forward.