ATLANTA — For nearly a decade, people riding past 933 Neal Street would see a perfectly-coifed Kathryn Johnston in the front window. Her bright red lipstick and beaming smile were a reminder of the loss an entire city felt when the 92-year-old woman was killed by police in a botched drug raid.
Now, that artwork, a piece of the slain woman’s legacy, is missing and the search for it continues.
“You cannot kill Kathryn Johnston’s memory by taking a painting or taking her life,” said Janssen Robinson, the artist who created the tribute in 2008.
In late October, Robinson contacted police to report the stolen memorial painting. Robinson had known Johnston his entire life. He is third-generation Neal Street, and bought his grandmother’s home in 2008. It sits next door to Johnston’s home, where everything has remained untouched since that fatal night in 2006.
The elderly woman’s killing led to manslaughter charges and prison for several officers, the dismantling of an entire APD unit and a $4.9 million settlement to Johnston’s small family from the City of Atlanta.
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The painting disappeared right before the city remembered the 10th anniversary of Johnston’s death. It was right after Robinson said he’d touched up that red lipstick, as the wear and tear of time took its toll on the memorial piece.
He doesn’t know what would make someone want the painting. He’s hoping it wasn’t out of ill-intent.
“(Maybe) someone loved it that much that they had to have it for themselves,” Robinson said. “ (I) had no idea. Not knowing was the most difficult part of it.”
As Christmas approached, there was still no sign of that painting, but Johnston’s home was lit with the finest holiday decorations, courtesy the neighborhood that keeps her manicured lawn in tact.
Robinson vows to keep his beloved neighbor’s memory alive with his talent.
“I will say this -- that one meant a lot, but it won’t stop me from painting another one,” Robinson declared. “It will be better than the last one and if they take that one, I'll paint another one after that.”