Saturday, December 20, 2014

Who Killed Leah Lloyd Johnson?

Church Street, Near the Scene of the Murder
Teen’s murder was never solved…
by Robert A. Waters

The Leah Lloyd Johnson murder case in North Adams, Massachusetts baffled investigators for decades before it died of old age.

It was April 28, 1933 when Edward Dolan found Leah’s remains.  The body of the eighteen-year-old lay in a thornapple thicket east of Church Street.  Less than a mile from the murder scene, searchers located Johnson’s leather pocketbook.  Inside, police found a wrist watch that had stopped at 11:10, a comb, and a mirror.  The watch had been dented, as if it had met foul play.

The North Adams Transcript reported that “in order to reach the place where the pocketbook was found a person leaving the scene of the crime would have to cross the road, go down the steep embankment toward the tracks of the Boston & Maine railroad, and cross the land formerly occupied by the Hoosac Lumber Company, up another embankment and down the other side.  A person standing at the top of the second embankment might have thrown the articles away.”

Before nightfall, thousands of curious residents trooped through the brush-covered hillside where the body was found.  Any possible evidence that the killer left vanished as the crowds trampled the scene.

Investigators determined that Leah lived with her grandfather, A. M. Burdick, a retired janitor.  Grief-stricken, he arranged for funeral services and asked that only family and close friends attend.

Rumors began almost immediately.  The most persistent was that on the night of her murder she had attended a “whoopee party” with two couples.  This alleged night of “merrymaking” took place at a lakeside bungalow where women became “hopelessly intoxicated.”   Police questioned those who were supposedly involved, including a Navy sailor, and determined the rumor to be false.  Another discounted report was that Leah had eloped with a mysterious young man.

After finding letters written to the murder victim by Albert Reynolds, 23, police grilled him.  He stated that he had met Leah when she was sixteen, and they had become friends.  But he said he broke off the correspondence when his sister advised him that Leah was not the “type of girl” that he should date.  By the following morning, Reynolds, who had an iron-tight alibi, was cleared by police.

Leah had worked as a housekeeper for Mr. and Mrs. Walter Brunson.  They stated that she rarely spoke of her personal life, and seemed content to attend movies, read, or listen to the radio.  She was a reliable worker who often spoke on the telephone with her close friend, Ruth Crapo.  Ruth and several friends were interrogated for 48 hours, but provided no useful information.

Dr. Ellis Kellert conducted the autopsy.  The Transcript reported that “Leah was not carnally attacked on the night of the crime and [Ellert] indicates that there was nothing about her condition which needed to cause her or a boy friend to worry.”  Leah had been stabbed and strangled with a shoestring designed for use in a heavy work boot or a high-top shoe.  Police tracked down the owner of a local shoe store who stated that he routinely sold similar laces.

Throughout the investigation, the motive for the murder remained a mystery.  In fact, cops quickly became frustrated with the lack of leads.  On May 6, 1933, the Transcript reported that “Assistant District Attorney Harold Goewey and State Detective Silas P. Smith today suspended their investigation of the slaying of 18-year-old Leah Lloyd Johnson, convinced that the mystery is probably beyond solution.  The girl, employed by her neighbors as a household helper, was found stabbed and garroted in a remote field after she had left the home of her grandparents last Saturday night, ostensibly to go to a neighbor’s home to mind their children.  Investigators determined that the girl had misled her grandparents and did not have an appointment at the neighbor’s home.”

Periodically, police would take another look at the case.  In 1936, two confessed killers of a cab driver were questioned about the Johnson murder, but they were quickly eliminated.  In 1942, investigators spoke again with Edward Dolan, who found the body.  He reiterated that he was merely taking a walk when he stumbled onto the scene.  No evidence contradicted his story and Dolan was never charged.

Eventually, the case was shelved and the unanswered question remains: who murdered Leah Lloyd Johnson?    


Unknown said...

With all the forensics of today why has no one picked up this case to see if it could be solved, colder cases have been solved with today's science at least she have died in vain..

Sad that no one cares about an 81 year old case where a teenager was killed and is not solved, if it were today somebody would be all over it,at least for a while then it would go cold only to be turned over to a "cold case" squad.

Just sad, sad, sad.

Jeanie said...

My mother, who is 97 yrs old & sharp as a tack, was 16 yrs old & living in North Adams when this murder occurred. My mother said there were "loads of rumors" surrounding this girl's death. Initially, rumors swirled that some maniac on an Indian motorcycle was the murderer. My mother, her 2 teenaged sisters, & their friends, would run terrified whenever they saw "the maniac on the motorcycle" drive by. But then, my mother said the rumors began to change. They began to hear that Leah Lloyd Johnson was carrying on a secret relationship with a man who had a high profile job in North Adams. My mother said most rumors centered around a judge, who had money. Supposedly, "the judge" led the young girl to believe that he was going to leave his wife for Leah. And, supposedly he asked Leah to meet him that night. My mother does not remember if Leah thought they were going to run away that night, or make other plans to run away. But, my mother does remember hearing that the "judge" got very spooked by his hot and heavy relationship with 18 yr old Leah. My mother heard that he never really planned to run away with the young girl, though young Leah thought he would. Supposedly, once the "judge" became spooked, he feared his wife finding out, he feared losing his high profile job, and he realized that his relationship with Leah Lloyd Johnson was too heavy to let go. So, supposedly he killed her so no one would find out. And my mother said that's why no one could solve the murder because Leah Lloyd Johnson told no one of her affair with this high profile man in the city of North Adams, and of course the alleged murderer certainly told no one. And so, the rumor my mother heard might make sense in this's definitely possible.

Graham Clayton said...

The "other friends" who were interrogated were Victor Gigliotti (33), Edgar Lecuyer (26) and John Alcombright (23). The same newspaper report that gave these details also stated that Johnson had removed her most cherished belongings, making it appear that she was planning to leave town.

Unknown said...

In 1974 I was a senior in high school and was working as a maintenance man helper in the Holden Block. I was painting in a tenants apartment and listening to the radio when a story came on about the Kim Benoit murder. I mentioned to the tenant that I was a friend of Kim's and really sad about what happened to her. The tenant, Ruth (Crapo) Alcombright suddenly looked frightened and in a whisper told me that the same thing happened to her best friend Leah Lloyd Johnson in 1933. She seemed really scared and said if anyone found out that she was talking about it 'they' would come after her. At first she wouldn't tell me who 'they' were but eventually she whispered 'Gigliotti' and 'Jack', then quickly went into her bedroom and closed the door. She stayed in there until I left. *I believe her husband, John Alcombright went by the nickname 'jack'.