Case of the Month: Jackie Johns (20) was last seen alive on June 17, 1985. The next day, her sports car was found abandoned. The backseat was covered in blood as were the clothing police found there (a top, jeans, and underwear all soaked in blood). On June 22, 1985, Jackie’s nude body was pulled from Lake Springfield, Missouri.
For years, Gerald Carnahan was the chief suspect in her rape/murder. Jackie had once been employed by Carnahan. An anonymous caller alerted authorities that Carnahan was at the same place where Jackie had last been spotted. Witnesses reported seeing Carnahan parked in a convenience store parking lot where Johns stopped before disappearing. In 1986, a grand jury indicted Carnahan for lying to prosecutors and tampering with evidence about John’s death. Those charges were later dismissed.
In 2007, Missouri Highway Patrol trooper Sgt. Dan Nash, asked to review cold cases within the department. He was handed the Jackie Johns file and found that authorities had carefully preserved vaginal swabs taken from her body. Nash got Johns’ then-boyfriend to give DNA and found no match. Then he got a subpoena to check Carnahan’s DNA. The results came back positive.
One of the most anticipated murder trials in the Ozarks of the past quarter century was finally on its way. It was moved to St. Louis County after a judge ordered a change-of-venue for this cold case too well-known in southwestern Missouri.
The jury was not sequestered during trial but Circuit Judge Michael Jamison instructed them not to talk about or research the case on their own and to avoid news reports about the case. The jury found Carnahan guilty of first-degree murder and forcible rape. The first degree conviction carried the mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Defense attorneys challenged the validity of the DNA evidence. They questioned how the crime scene samples were stored and handled for the past 25 years. Defense attorney Dee Wampler said in an interview that the jurors had placed their fate in forensic science. He also said he had grounds for appeals and that he planned to use them.
During the trial, two former crime scene investigators took the stand. Dwight McNiel is a former Sheriff of Christian County, and Gene Gietzen is a former Springfield Regional Crime Lab employee. They both spoke about finding Jackie’s abandoned Camaro on U.S. 160 and how they went to Columbia to witness her autopsy. They told the jury that 189 items were pulled from Jackie’s car as evidence. Gietzen told the defense that those items placed Carnahan either inside her car or with Jackie that night. The defense called that into question because the evidence pieces had passed through many hands since the crime. They also pointed out that biological materials might have degraded since then.
Questions about physical evidence gathered from Jackie Johns’ car and during the autopsy of her body dominated the trial. McNiel and Gietzen explained what they saw, photographed, and about the evidence that was collected.
“She had been beaten severely about the face and there was significant bruising,” McNiel said. Greene County Prosecutor Darrell Moore asked McNiel to identify several pictures that were taken during the autopsy. Those picture were also displayed on an overhead projector for the jury.
On the crime scene pictures, mud obscured much of Jackie’ face and body. On the autopsy photos, some of that mud appeared to have been cleaned off. In those shots, dark, purplish bruises or dried blood covered most of Jackie’ face which was disfigured by significant swelling and bruising. Another photo showed a deep, red open wound in front of her right ear which itself was sliced or tattered. The open head wound ran “all the way through the skull plate,” McNiel said. He said Jackie had bruises on the back of her hands and knuckles (defensive wounds) as well as “some contusion and tearing in the vaginal area.”
Wampler conducted lengthy cross-examinations of both these witnesses. He repeatedly questioned how the investigation was conducted and how the evidence was stored. One of the points of interest was whether scrapings from Jackie’s fingernails were gathered during the autopsy. McNiel said that fingernail scrapings were indeed gathered but that he did not know where they were stored. Gietzen, however, said that he didn’t think that any fingernail scrapings were taken. “I don’t recall any fingernail scrapings being given to me.”
In October 2010, Carnahan was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole for Jackie’s rape and murder. He is now serving life at the Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri. He is appealing his convictions.
Very little is known about Jackie. Sadly, mistakes were made in a book about her case. Her father discussed some in an article. “Jackie wasn’t trying to go to college, she was in college,” he said. “I’ve got one of her English papers.” What were her plans for after graduation? She had won a beauty pageant. Was that a regular activity for her to compete?
I wish we had more memories about Jackie to counter the gruesome ones of her murder.
In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight old cold cases. These posts are not an in-depth analysis and of course, more information can be found online and in newspaper archives.
The goal of these posts is to get the cases back in the spotlights, to get people talking again, and if anything to make sure that we do not forget the victims.
If you have any thoughts or memories about Jackie Johns I urge you to post them on your own social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, etc.
Every time we mention her name online we enhance her digital footprint. She deserves to be remembered for the beautiful person she was.
You can help by linking to or sharing this post. If you do, the post will show up in new news feeds, reach new circles and networks with new connections. Let’s make sure she’s not forgotten.
Thank you for remembering Jackie with me.
“Murder on a lonely road” by George Pawlaczyk and Beth Hundsdorfer