"Always go too far, because that's where you'll find the truth."
It was the 2nd of June 2017. A Friday. It was a sunny and beautiful day in Horn Lake, Mississippi, United States. Linda Johnson was trying to reach her daughter, Jessica Renee Johnson. Thirty seven year old Jessica lived with her two children, a son and a daughter, and her parents at their home. Her parents, David and Linda Johnson, loved having her and the children there. Jessica left the house on the 31st of May and called her daughter the next day and said she would be home soon.
Jessica Renee Johnson
Jessica told Linda she was staying with her boyfriend Garland Hart. Jessica's friends and family did not like him as they believed he abused her and that they had a toxic relationship but Jessica felt she needed him to help with her drug addiction. She was trying to get better. Linda was concerned when Jessica still wasn't home by the Friday morning as it was not like Jessica not to call Linda and let her know exactly where she was and what she was doing.
That day, the 2nd of June, Linda received a call from a coroner. Jessica had been found and he had some terrible news for her. Jessica had taken her own life. Linda did not believe it. She did not believe her daughter would commit suicide. When Linda discovered the official cause of death was ligature strangulation, she was even less convinced.
Jessica was found outside the home of Garland's best friend. Garland sometimes stayed in the house for a few weeks at a time. However, what happened between the time Jessica arrived at the home and when she was found is a mystery. The house was less than five miles from her parents' home.
Jessica's body was found tied to a mailbox in the front garden. Her friends and family do not believe that Jessica would have killed herself. She loved life and was outgoing and had a lot of plans for her future. Furthermore, they believe it would not have been possible for her to have hung herself from a 38 inch tall mailbox. It seemed nonsensical.
It was the mail lady who found Jessica that morning. Nobody had seen Jessica since 6pm on the Thursday night. Jessica may have been there for a few hours but even though the grass was overgrown and may have concealed her body a little, it seemed strange that nobody at all saw her from 6pm the night before until she was found sometime between 9.30-10.30am the next morning. Another mailman took a picture of Jessica's body in the position it was found in. It was unusual to say the least.
Jessica was not wearing any makeup which the family said was highly unusual. She was on her knees with her legs curled underneath her. Shoestrings were used as a noose around her neck. Even though the shoestrings were around her neck, one side was pressed against her cheekbone. Her purse was open on the ground placed between her legs. The mailbox was waist high and the shoestrings were not very strong.
Police officers say they later discovered a pair of shoes without shoe laces at the house where Jessica was found.
The night before Jessica was found dead, the homeowner said there were several people at his house. At some point, Jessica got into a fight with her boyfriend and wanted to leave but in the end, she stayed.
Jessica did not overdose but the coroner said she did have methamphetamine and Xanax in her system when she died. On her death certificate, DeSoto County Coroner Jeff Pounders ,ruled her death as a suicide caused by asphyxiation. The certificate stated no autopsy was performed.
Jessica's family hired their own forensic scientist, Dr. Maurice Godwin, to take a look at the case. He said:
"To me, this is a staged crime scene, and one thing you have to take into account is this is just within walking distance where she was visiting with her boyfriend. It's not like she drove into the woods and did this. One of the first things is the neatness of the knot tied at the end of the shoestring. It's almost at the end of both ends of shoe strings and the knot is tied very neat at the end. So, when she sits down to do this, how does she know how much slack that she's going to need in the string? Too much or not enough and everything for that to work and then tie that from a sitting position."
If Jessica had hanged herself, Dr. Godwin believes Jessica's hand would not have remained resting on top of her purse.
Jessica's family may never know the full truth about how their daughter died. No autopsy was carried out and she was cremated. They are however seeking answers and hope to establish some of the facts. Aside from the position of Jessica's body, there are other unanswered questions. Jessica's family have been unable to gain access to her phone. Apple would not release the data without the pass code. They want to gain access as on the day her body was found, Jessica's son received a text from her phone at 3.29 am.
In the text, she said she would be spending the day with "G." G is how she referred to Garland in text.
The other aspect of the case that her family want answers to is in relation to bruises and hole like marks that were on Jessica's arm and hand. The family also believes a photo they have shows a footprint on Jessica's arm.
Unfortunately without an autopsy and a body to exhume, Jessica's family will need to rely on witnesses to tell the truth about what happened to Jessica. Garland and a number of other people were with Jessica in the days and hours leading up to her death. Whether this is a closed case (due to cause of death being marked as suicide) or a cold case, there are still a number of outstanding issues that her family need answers to.
Horn Lake Police Department said the investigation remains open.
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"The criminal justice system will take a hard look at what happened to Matthew Eappen. It is up to the rest of us to take an even harder look at who is minding our children."
- Eileen McNamara, the Boston Globe
"The effects of abuse are devastating and far reaching. Domestic violence speaks many languages, has many colors and lives in many different communities."
- Sandra Pupatello