September 2, 2014

Elyria
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Database targets homicide cold cases

Rachel Johnson was 24 when she was sexually assaulted, stabbed and set on fire on an Akron street in 1991.

Her murder remains unsolved, but that doesn’t mean Akron police have stopped looking for her killer and detectives are making use of a new online database of cold homicide cases sponsored by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to seek new leads.

Johnson’s case has an unusual tie to Lorain County because one of the early suspects in her death was Daniel Wilson, who was convicted of killing Carol Lutz in Elyria by locking her in the trunk of her 1986 Oldsmobile and setting the car ablaze in 1991.

Akron Police Detective James Pasheilich said that Wilson, who was executed in 2009, has long since been excluded by DNA evidence gathered in the case.

“We do have DNA evidence in this case and we have tested dozens of possible suspects, but we have not yet found a match,” Pasheilich said in a news release from DeWine’s office highlighting the case. “We believe the person who committed this horrific crime is still out there and may have talked with someone about the crime.”

Since the case was featured by DeWine’s office earlier this week, Pasheilich said Akron police have taken a few calls, but are still in the early stages of checking into the information they’ve received.

DeWine launched his Ohio Unsolved Homicide Initiative in September and the program is designed to create a statewide database of the roughly 5,000 unsolved killings in the state, the news release said.

“Too many crimes like these go unsolved each year, leaving too many children to grow up without a parent and without answers,” DeWine said in the news release.

Johnson was a single mother of a 3-year-old daughter when she and a friend got a flat tire and pulled into a convenience store parking lot on March 30, 1991. According to the news release, Johnson got into a small, faded gray van either willingly or by force.

Her burned body was discovered later that day.

Johnson’s case is one of 1,102 cases that have been submitted to the database by police agencies around the state so far. Akron police have submitted 73 cases so far, according to figures provided by DeWine’s office.

The largest number of cases has been submitted by Cincinnati police, which has handed in information on 423 unsolved homicides. Other law enforcement agencies, such as the Medina County Sheriff’s Office, have only submitted one case to the database.

The Medina County case stems from the May 29, 2002, discovery of the body of 79-year-old Glenn Griffin Jr.’s body at his property in Litchfield Township.

According to the database, a customer stopped at Griffin’s property to buy firewood and saw blood when they opened the door of the trailer Griffin lived in.  Deputies found Griffin’s body inside. He died from a gunshot wound.

So far no law enforcement agency from Lorain County has submitted information to the program, but Elyria Police Capt. Chris Costantino said he plans to look into forwarding unsolved homicides from Elyria to DeWine’s office.

“It’s certainly something we’d be receptive to,” Costantino said.

He also said that Elyria police detectives were planning to conduct a review of unsolved homicides in the city even before learning about the program.

Lorain County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Dennis Cavanaugh said he was unfamiliar with the database, but he too intends to look into contributing unsolved cases.

Anyone with information on Johnson’s case can contact Akron police at (330) 375-2552. Tips for any unsolved killing in the database can be made by calling the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at (855) BCI-OHIO.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.