Episode 10: Male Figures
They today marks twenty years since emergency responders found a murdered woman inside of a burning home and kill devil. Hills victimless thirty-three-year-old Denise Johnson. You wouldn't know it looking at this home that something terrible happened here. Twenty years ago. A horrible crime that has yet to be solved. Our pepper didn't heavy blocks load up air. Why just remember cold-blood at Hurley new way wrong for them to call on July Thirteenth Nineteen Ninety seven? Someone brutally murdered thirty-three-year-old Denise Johnson inside her childhood home in North Carolina. Then set it on fire for twenty two years. Johnson's killer has eluded police living among US undetected. This is counterclockwise the investigation into the unsolved murder of Denise Johnson. I'm your host. Delia December by the time. Denise was thirty three. She dated a lot among those men. Were several steady boyfriends throughout my investigation. There's one name a longtime boyfriend that keeps coming up Jeff mcgruder. It took me several months to get a hold of him for an interview for years. I guess for data for about three or four years. I Guess Jeff. Indonesia's relationship was one of the longest she'd had they had their ups and downs like any couple but even after they called it quits for good in early. Nineteen Jeff says he and denise remained close for much for an acid broken up. You know I've known her for a long time ham or no. We were just attracted another made. I saw Fayed that that you know I remember sitting down and talking to about the year came up. She was all excited about it. And everything it was. Just a damn changed. Every vive abated to in my notes. I'd written on a lot of questions that I wanted to ask Jeff. He was an insider Indonesia's life and knew her better than most people to this day. He still relives the shock of when he found out that she'd been murdered out of. Somebody's point would you want to know right away like everybody else? I wanted to know who did it. But here we go on these years. You still just still lives on the Outer Banks. He says it's been difficult. Never knowing who killed the woman that he once loved early on he says investigators actually suspected him for the crime got that call and found out that she had been murdered. A friend of mine said Hey cops have been by your house free or four cop. Cars are call them up today. You look for me. I'll just call you right now. Come all started. Where math about three tabs? Every time I say something they would change it on on what I said. And I give 'em hair samples and fingerprints and you know they have my keys at one point not copies of it because he was graphite stuff on it you know. I told him I said in my house long gone of course not and stuff like that you know. Kinda give me words. The last time that they came and got me for question and I just told them I said look cooperated with time and condo stuff works in a small town and you look at somebody now need to contact by turning I will never heard trump. They were bringing up Steph to you about items in the house trying to see if you would agree or not right like anyway. They brought up the fact that my fingerprints were found at the house will send her Bach. You know my first thing was list for. How long does that last long does fingerprints last title for the Path and they were telling me year so I said well shit you probably GonNa find them all over because there was plenty of thanks. I'll try fiction for her. You know Washington House. What kind of questions were they asking? You? What kind of information were they being? Upfront out know if I was there one foreign by Shit. They saw a silver Camaro something. Y- leaving early in the. Am Our for something well. I had a camera but I had a cover on at my house. Atlantic Street. Everyone I pulled the cover off. I had a green Camaro whether you running plus I have my daughter back twenty hour witnesses where our us and cleared my twice. It's natural for police to suspect a victim's boyfriend or ex boyfriend especially when that person is still present in the victim's life or lives in their hometown so winless last time that you saw denise before she was killed yours free which before and where you guys just out in ran into each other. She came by the House. I was working in. The yard came by the House to stop in the back because she always wanted to get back together. And I was like noth- not dos. So that was at her she was Dayton and fire. Fire did you feel like she was going through some troubles or anything in. Do you feel like there was anything that was bothering her. In life initials always call to travel. Jeff was first to admit he and Denise had rough patches in their relationship they fought but would eventually make up after a few weeks apart but despite it all his care for denise even as an ex boyfriend went deep on the day of her funeral. Jeff was one of the poll mirrors who carried Denise Casket so many people there a lot of people in place for president because they were trying to scope it out as well so being on solved. You know like somebody. I show up Tennessee. All that commodity and it wasn't just the presence of police or the enormous crowd gathered together for the funeral that was noticeable. There was something specific about Denise and her face that Jeff immediately noticed was wrong with home. Security there's two ways you can go about protecting your home. There's the traditional way where you wait weeks for a technician to do a messy installation that costs a small fortune. 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Were covered in bruises after Langdon. East to rest. Mcgruder left the funeral and every day since has pondered his own theory of what happened to denise he would have hated her that much. Turn the question. Everybody felt like it was a woman. Our friends always felt samoyed. Jeff Like Donny. Johnson and first responding firefighter Glenn. Rainy is in the camp of people who believe a woman likely killed Denise Jeff explained further to me his reason why he brought up a detail. I'd not heard from anyone else. So far in this investigation always had a Fab by Franck. No one thinks she got hit by that bad to begin with a wrong. I'll have beck. Area don't factor. Death was killed. Her was molested her being a bathroom and salt pile. That are blocked. Jeff's theory that somehow denise was knocked unconscious before being stabbed was possible. It's something I responding police officer Mark Evans alluded to when I asked him. If Denise had any wounds that indicated she tried to fight someone off or been incapacitated I do recall if you had several cut marks scratches abrasions whatnot and several wounds about her body that quickly indicated that she was in you know fighting for her life. Obviously it will struggle going on the next piece of evidence that lined up with Jeff. Magruder's theory was denise toxicology report after pathologists. Susanne whatley reviewed it. She deemed niece's blood saturation of twenty five percent. Carbon monoxide proved these inhaled smoke for several minutes before she died meaning. The fires were set prior to her death. Not after a carbon monoxide of twenty five percent citation is elevated above. What would be a normal level? She was alive enough to be breeding for a while but then died from some other cause than in Iran. Just theory by Donnie Johnson. I wonder if she ever knew needs to keep a baseball bat around the house. Like Jeffords said I'm not sure where she kept it but I think I remember saying that you played softball. I I think I do remember keeping bad but I don't remember seeing it afterwards Donnie. Not Finding a bad at the house after the murder could only mean one of two things it was never there to begin with or investigators took it as evidence and they took it as evidence then that means they believed it was involved in the crime. Jeff mcgruder remained Adam and our interview that denise had in her home for protection in the time. I had with them on the phone. I wanted to find out some more information about what had been going on in his life leading up to her murder. Jeff and Denise may not have been together as a happy couple but they still lived in the same area hung out from time to time and they went to the same parties he remembers a disturbing encounter at Denis's house within a year of her murder over there one day one guy was throwing beer bottles at the house early in a power glass. Shannon everywhere appalled. The police and the police came now. This guy never came face to face me because he would close down the road. I don't know who he was comfortably. Never did nothing event. Did they take a police report shorter? Maybe they never told me anything about it. But I doubt call them because I'm told to NASA's the distance enough you know I'll be on back and forth and this guy is screaming obscenities and AFC. Good works go back. But he wouldn't come down and van up show. I went and asked called cops. Denise didn't know who this person was. We she dare with you win. The man showed up in your house. Spend the night at her place most times state. So this random guy shows up and starts throwing beer bottles in yelling. What was he saying then curse words? Did he seem like an ex or something? Or that's so strange point. I requested that incident report from the Hills Police Department. They Captain John Taylor tells me it doesn't exist. Downey Johnson got that same answer when she asked about the report not long. After the murder she found out about the beer bottles being thrown at denise his house while Jeff was there when she pressed detectives to find the report and use it as something to look into in their murder investigation. They pretty much ignored it. I pushed on in my interview with Jeff and brought up a final topic that I knew. Only those closest to denise when no about the kidnap and Rape Denise told her family and happened to her in Florida stories of this but I mean for name. That didn't mean anything to me. He was messed up over sexual assault. She told me about it but she'd gone down there off to some guy that was into cocaine and from another state it was a black guy. She always told me the bread guy right there. You know that's all I know half that I didn't really though I knew denise you know beforehand but then when she went to floor we you know many years and between us is that something you think she would lie about him. Thanks I mean she was pretty affair better. Jeff says he told police about denise is sexual assault when they started questioning him as a suspect after detectives cleared him he still thought the information was useful and they should have looked into it more for because she was flirting with their mad earns. You how whatever I just always got that impression and I told police when they say they only talking about the assault and he's claimed occurred in Florida. Only made me want to know more about what really happened. Like you heard an earlier episodes. There's no police report I could find for the rape or kidnapping. It's been decades and many jurisdictions. Don't keep records that far back. Donny Johnson says the assault is what caused in east to come back to North Carolina. But she didn't return all on her own. Denise brother-in-law a man named Bob Burgess is who Donnie says escorted denise back from Florida after the attack. Bob's last name probably sounds familiar. He's the father of Mike Burgess Denise his nephew that guy who gave me the photographs of the niece from his family's garage his dad. Bob Is the ex husband of one at Denise is oldest sister's Donnie says Bob Brought Denise back to kill Devil Hills after her sexual assault but when I talked to Bob he doesn't remember it that way. Some family members had told me that you or a cousin of yours had tried to get her out of there and bring her back to North Carolina. Does that ring? Any bells. Doesn't her sister and widow near her sister's boy we. We took off and went to Florida during the time she was died. But we didn't see her well. I don't know where she was. I was told WAY BACK. Nand issues coming back to go to take some classes to become a stewardess on airline stewardess. That was you know Vachon and you don't know anything about how Denise from Florida to the Outer Banks No no no. What did you guys do when you got to Florida? Just turn around and come home. Oh no we would visit a boy. George Williams a friend of mine who was living in Florida And Dale One of the sisters the middle and herbal way would spend About a week I think with my friend George. Rent TO FOOTBALL GAMES TO MIAMI. All that kind of stuff you know and you guys were never able to make contact with denise. We never made any contact with the. I really don't know what happened. While she was dying of Florida. When she came up here she was just started. Work right away is a waitress somewhere and she would come to the Hash Service Hang. Around and actuality sisters is much tension. Well I don't know denise was the the Mama loved the niece I tell Bob was trying to answer my questions but in the end I honestly believe. He didn't go to Florida to get denise and doesn't know what happened to her while she was down there one memory though that isn't murky for him is July nineteen ninety-seven and the morning of Dennis's murder. The chief police came to our highest morning started to come up steps to the doll. Running back night at chase polices back into the car. That was around seven o'clock in the morning and I heard a commotion. I got up and called a dog and they came up and told the said killed. It was really hurtful. We had no idea you know it was just crazy. I think back on IT I. It was one of the saddest times for all girls. It was just a damn shame the NASA's the sister who actually come every Christmas. She made all her presence for all the girls. She made the president to early one of probably the best of all sisters as far as her. Kindness Burgess says in twenty two years. The case has gone unsolved. He's lost faith in police and never felt confident in their investigation. They ruined you're saying with roses. Maybe twenty five and walking in and out of their try and take a look at a naked girl really pissed me off. I was never like questions from any of them. Never never questioned me. Did ever strike you as odd that they didn't talk to you guys match. How could some of denise his own family members living on the Outer Banks not have been interviewed that seems like the easiest way to eliminate people but instead police continued to press denise is former boyfriends? They rolled out. Jeff mcgruder but now investigators turn their sights towards other men formerly Indonesia's life one man in particular had become publicly known for searching for Denise Killer himself obviously investigating true crime and unsolved murders. 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Trust me with over one hundred million downloads. This five star rated mobile puzzle game is a must play download best fiends free on the apple APP store or Google play. That's friends without the our best fiends. One of the most vocal people on the Outer Banks of North Carolina as Denise case grew colder and colder was one of her ex boyfriend's from the late nineteen eighties. A man named Paul de la Cruz vocal to the point world shave and we should do something to remember her. But when it comes to law enforcement that I don't think they'd reject anybody at that time it was such a small force has been like and I hate to say this but I don't want to compare city. The officials town with there was like almost like mayberry type of stuff and now I don't think you have. The manpower had investigative who's two investigative fully and on top of that. I don't think the workforce it was here that time you know the police force and deliver skate. I think they were really top. Notch your professionals. As the summer of ninety seven turned into fall. Paul La Cruz but a lot of effort into organizing and getting people to come to local fundraisers in honor of Denise. He wanted to keep her memory alive and even wrote a song for her. We had a kind of boil thing at at the time. It was called a quagmire. That's the only time I actually ever played that song in public. And basically I said it's called her slough. Paul did some sleuthing on his own in the years after the murder. He's a local and still fills deep down that whoever did this was from the area and had been watching denise unbelievable to what had happened and I have heard all kinds of reverse Like those so mysterious couple that had left to be and I didn't really know I think I knew what they looked like. They were but I couldn't remember their names. I heard the story about that. They were seeing near her house. One of the convenience stores or something like that around the comment that happen almost ten years had passed between the time. Paul dated Denise and when she was murdered he bumped into her occasionally around town and they remained acquaintances. He can't understand why anyone would have wanted her gone. Never mean that's what kind of made me feel more. Like what the Hell? I don't think I've ever seen like Nad dating wanting to do that. As Crazy Jeff mcgruder and Paul de la Cruz. Were two of denise is longest running boyfriends. I know there are other men. She dated who were out there. But I didn't have any proof or names to go on the only place. I had to turn was a photograph of her and a man lounging together by the water. It was that one in the stack. That Mike Burgess Denise. His nephew gave me and in the picture. Denise looks relaxed happy and comfortable with the man he has his arm around her. And to me it's clear they are in a relationship. I posted that photo on counterclockwise. Facebook page hoping someone would recognize him and tell me his name. After about a week. The man came forward and wrote me an email. I responded quickly to set up a time to talk. Hey is this chip Evan. Hey this is at the amber from the counterpart podcast. Horia chip Evans is not related. To Mark Evans. The police captain you heard from earlier in the podcast. Chip is one of Denise ex-boyfriends who claim to be the man from the photo and he was eager to find out why I had a picture of him and Denise Johnson Chip Is Demand. Snuggled up next to denise in the photograph taken in the. Early Nineteen Ninety s thought. She was. What the Hell is your photograph airport? I was gone. I don't know it didn't make sense to me her. She wasn't anybody else's photographs here wisely. You and I was going. I don't know and then when you told me that it was found in a box photographs of economy sense. We're was this photograph taken. The one that I have we were takes myself. We it had to be looked like to me. It wasn't on the Outer Banks. So my dad had a rented a house in the keys when winter and we drove down there and spent a week with him. I think so. It looks like the water was clear. My Daddy spent two or three winters in Marathon Florida and we drove down there one year and I think we spent a week with him. Kid told me that after Denise moved back to the Outer Banks from Florida they met and became a couple. What was the timeframe that U. N. Denise Dated Thinking ninety-one ninety-two or ninety ninety one right around. There could be here off either way but about that time period. My family had a store on the beach. During those years and it was bits now off Arthur speech shop so we had to do was called skippers. And that's how am I guess. She lived across the bypass. She's coming to store when the when we started dating and I think we were together for close to a couple of years when I first met her. She was working Atlanta's when this restaurant and exit. John Vallance Newman. Yeah I think she worked there with the woman named Laurie sellers because she told me that Lori and her work together at that restaurant to Lance Throw. Straw chip helped me establish a clear timeline of denise life prior to her murder. We both know denise lived in Florida for several years in the Nineteen Eighty S. He says by the time they started dating. Denise was really trying to turn over a new leaf and get a fresh start Donna. How long talk about a lot? This happened in Florida. That happened in Florida at the time. How long adult enough to know if you could put Tehran into the picture on. I came along. I think she had just gotten Cambridge. Gyping Denise dated from Roughly Nineteen Ninety to nineteen ninety two they broke up and then another major event. Indonesia's life occurred. Her mother died and chip says she was never quite the same. After that you this that she and I had dated for the period we did and then we had broken up and then her mother passed away because remember. She came by the store crying one day and we had already broken up saying that. Moma had died allows a lot too nice for the most part. She was extremely happy. Smiling Fun Fun loving but There was some sadness to she. Was I think things that happened in her life? She often said but we had actually at the time. Said I was what there. We had a lot of fun and great memories of her. And when you heard about the murder. What was your first reaction or thought out. Brother-in-law called me and a member. Yes they sitting down on. Dissent something about a mom or sister something but anyway and he told me that his tenacious had been murdered and one of his friends or in a fire department and so he was one of the people on the scene so he called me that morning. I don't know how long it had been. But that's what I found out. My brother-in-law called me because his friend worked on the fire departments and Shawn cable there. Because police had suspected Jeff mcgruder for the crime and he says he was questioned very heavily. I asked ship if he ever felt any pressure. From investigators at the time of the murder shipped lived on ocracoke island a small speck of land two hours and forty five minutes south of kill Devil Hills. It's only accessible by boat or ferry. Chip was not interviewed in Nineteen ninety-seven but he says years later. Jim Mulford knocked on his front door. Did law enforcement ever contact you? S John Offer. Who Knew He's coming to store? He called me and I think it was. I can't remember how long but it was a longtime after the murder and he came down and talk to me any specific questions for you. Or was he more just like? Hey how can you help me? Both of Oh he wanted to know was and you know if I was hearing ocracoke the time which was asked me. I can't remember any specific questions but anything that would be helpful which are pretty much. I didn't have anything. So after their talk chips out he wasn't much help to Mulford except for offering one piece of incriminating information. He still felt law enforcement. Should look into have one thing or not. But I'm sure it's been talked about before but I saw two letters from a guy in order was either imprisoned or got a pretty he'd been in prison. I was in prison that he wrote her a couple of very explicit sexual letters I saw and US Who SAYS ASK QUESTIONS? The thing I remember I said is this is a Black Guy. And she said No. He's he's Muslim sick. That's religion what I don't get it. She said well he's he's dark but he's not black. I mean they were sexually explicit sells one thing that popped in my mind when I got to think about once. She'd murdered. Who the hell could have done this? Because I didn't know hanging around with that time a death but that was one thing for my past that I remembered the description of a man with dark complexion harassing denise also matches Jeff Magruder's memory of a man. Denise told him at sexually assaulted her while living in Florida for she had gone on their tribe got at and it was a black guy she always told me that a black guy right. And that's all on how I couldn't say for sure if there was a definitive connection here but what. The two ex-boyfriends recall is incredibly similar. And something I can't write off. I asked chip more about the letters. He discovered written to denise prior to murder because she would have gotten letters in the years that you guys were dating headed in the nineties where the letters threatening in any way just six talk and he addressed her as if he knew her and she had some sort of interaction with him. Did she say she had dated him or they had just so shoe that. I don't know if it was a boyfriend or how serious it was. I don't know I good then. I don't remember now has a name I don't remember. I'm sure I think it was on the letter but I don't remember. Finding those two letters is a serious clue in figuring out who would have had motive to harm denise or worse one or dead. The crazy thing is is Jim. Mulford found out about the letters after he talked chip Evans which was years after the crime. Chips said he found the letters and discuss their contents with denise win. They dated which would have been in nineteen ninety-one or sometime around there so we're talking possibly six or seven years from when Denise got the letters until her murder and then tack on a few more years going by until Jim Mulford. The lead detective on the case found out about them. I remember he had a notepad and we sat there and we talked for awhile and That was one of the things that he wrote down. But I don't remember his reaction to it makes me wonder if kill. Devil Hills police had known about these letters in one thousand nine hundred ninety seven. Would they have done things differently? Chip says not knowing the answer to that question frustrates him? He's grown angry over the years. Never being able to understand why this happened to his former girlfriend. But I listen to you today and I got to wonder why. Why would someone do this? Why that's one thing. I just kept thinking all day long. Why my intention all along with this podcast has been to help? Answer that question. Why but what if the person who can answer? That question is trying to make themselves known to me to us. I wanted to tell you about this. I wasn't gonNa tell you but I said you need to tell me anything you know. And then she. How are you this and she shave me? She that you know sun damage. Somebody aren't that off there. Because they were the damages all stay and plaque was burn so sometime between July twenty seventeen and now in two thousand eighteen. The funeral home says it got burned. How does your bed and yourself every day but then again people were freaks who us crazy person is probably is walking the streets still near and I've been like every day's a scary for asthma like thing their story how around they're able to go up and see cemetery in only to her. There's just two episodes left this season and trust me. You do not want to miss them so make sure you're subscribed to counter clock on apple podcast spotify or wherever you listen to. You can get the next two episodes as soon as they become available. Your five star ratings and reviews help us draw more listeners to this show and yet Denisa story out for more people to hear follow counter clock on social media. We're on twitter at at counterclockwise bod and on instagram. Look for the handle counterclockwise. Podcast counterclockwise in audio chuck original podcast. Ashley. Flowers is the executive producer and all reporting and hosting is done by me Delia Diem.