Case Studies
Lucille Johnson Murder Case

Lucille Johnson Murder Case

It was in 1991 when, Lucille Johnson, a 78 years old woman, was found dead in her house at 4284 S. Holloway Drive (1960 East), in Salt Lake City, Utah. The last anyone had seen Johnson alive, she had been sweeping her porch on the afternoon of February 1st, 1991, according to Unified Police.

When her family tried to reach her and couldn’t, Johnson’s daughter, Shirley England, went to her house. Shirley discovered her mother dead in bed with a pillow over her face. Johnson was 4 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 122 pounds, and had been severely beaten. She suffered a fractured skull, 24 broken ribs and received numerous blows to her head. The autopsy report revealed that she died from strangulation and blunt force trauma.  

Investigation of Lucille Johnson Murder Case

While investigating, detectives found Legos (colorful interlocking toy bricks)­ on the floor of the living room, in the home entryway, and in the driveway. Family members told police that Lucille Johnson would not leave her grandchildren’s toys around the house, so they were collected as evidence.

At the time, the Legos were an insignificant detail to the police yet they were gathered up as part of the crime scene evidence. Investigators also learned that a ring and necklace Johnson regularly wore were missing. Detectives worked very hard on this case, but unfortunately, it went cold.

The case was reopened in August 2013 by the Greater Salt Lake Unified Police Department team headed by Sergeant Michael Ikemiyashiro. The detectives sent scrapings that had been collected from under Johnson’s fingernails for DNA testing and recovered a profile that matched a CODIS profile for John Sansing (47 years old), who was serving in the prison for unrelated rape and murder of Trudy Calibrese in the 1998.

A DNA profile was taken from Sansing in April and it matched the DNA found in the scrapings under Johnson’s nails. The investigators also matched fingerprints from the Lego toys gathered during the original investigation with one of Sansing’s children who were 5 years old at the time of the killing, according to the charges.  

Earlier the police believed that there was no connecting link between Johnson and Sansing. However, Sansing might have used the child to gain entry to the house. Then after the fingerprint analysis confirmed that the child was present in the house during the killing. Sansing’s son, who confirmed that he recalls being with his father in Johnson’s home on the night of February 2, says he has been “traumatized” since the murder took place.

A relative of Sansing later approached investigators and told them that he had overheard Sansing and his wife arguing on two separate occasions. He said he heard Sansing’s wife threaten that “she was going to tell police that he murdered a lady in Utah”. Sansing’s wife later confirmed to police her husband had told her about the incident in 1991.

A Salt Lake City social worker, Ann Lamphere, told The Arizona Republic in 1998 that John Sansing grew up in a broken home in Alabama, and stayed with his mother when his father moved to Utah. “She finally gave up on him and shipped him out to his father in 1984.”

Lamphere told the Republic. “He was a thief and drug addict even at that time, and she couldn’t keep him out of juvenile detention.” He met his wife, Kara Sansing, Lamphere’s adopted daughter, at a Salt Lake City mall, and they had four children together. Kara Sansing had run away from an abusive home in Bangladesh as a child and wound up in a Calcutta jail.

After marrying John Sansing, Lamphere told the Republic that John Sansing would often beat her. “In the East Indian culture, the husband is the one in charge, who is always right and can even tell the wife to kill herself,” Lamphere told the Republic. “She was definitely of that culture. She wouldn’t leave him despite all the abuse.”

Sansing was convicted for Johnson’s murder after 23 years on 28th August 2014. Sansing was charged by 3rd District Court with aggravated murder. Prosecutors also filed a warrant to bring John Sansing back to Utah, setting his bail at $5 million cash.

Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder said “When you hear the details of this particular case, you can see that this individual is barely human,”. He added “Occasionally we encounter people who are evil. The individual who perpetrated this is nothing short of that.” At the time, a veteran sheriff’s captain called Lucille Johnson’s death “as brutal as anything I’ve seen.”

This case is one of the good examples of the use of fingerprints and DNA as important evidence for solving cold cases. In the Johnson murder case, the fingerprints on Lego toys and the DNA sample from the fingernail scrapings are the heroes that led the investigators in the direction of solving this cold case after 23 long years.

The use of modern technology of CODIS (Combined DNA Identification System) made it possible to match the DNA samples from the fingernail scrapings with the DNA of Sansings.

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