Former Nurse Arrested In 1999 Cold Case Slaying Of Illinois Woman
The victim suffered "barbaric brutality," according to investigators.
Twenty years after a Jane Doe was found dead in a Wisconsin cornfield, police have discovered her identity and accused a former nurse of killing her.
In July 1999, the victim’s body, clad in black sweatpants and an embroidered denim shirt, was found in Raymond, a small town just over an hour’s drive north of Chicago.
"The utter barbaric brutality inflicted on this young woman is something that none of us will ever forget,” Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said at a press conference last week, ABC News reported.
The 5-foot-8, 120-pound woman, was “slightly malnourished” and had “several suspicious marks, burns, abrasions, and lacerations,” according to the criminal complaint. The victim also reportedly sustained blunt trauma to the head and a broken nose and ribs.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office performed the autopsy and ruled the woman’s death a homicide. Cause of death was attributed to "sepsis pneumonia as a result of infection from injuries sustained from chronic abuse," according to a copy of the criminal complaint obtained by Milwaukee's WITI News.
While police knew how the victim died, they spent two decades chasing clues to her identity.
“It was just kind of sad that after all these years, she’s still nobody,” Megan Rios, who discovered the body while walking with her father, told Milwaukee's WISN-TV in 2012. "You know, I can still see her in my mind every day. You would think somebody who knew her before her passing away would recognize her."
Racine County investigators finally got a break in September. An anonymous tipster alleged Linda Laroche, a resident of Cape Coral, Florida, "was telling people that she had killed a woman back when she lived in Illinois," according to the criminal complaint.
The Jane Doe was subsequently identified as 23-year-old Peggy Lynn Johnson. Sheriff Schmaling said familial DNA testing confirmed her identity.
“After her mother died, Peggy was approximately 18 years old, cognitively impaired, on her own, and went searching for help at a medical clinic in McHenry, Ill.,” Schmaling said. “There, she met a registered nurse named Linda LaRoche.”
LaRoche took Johnson into her family’s suburban Chicago home, where she worked as a nanny and housekeeper until her death, according to police.
"There she suffered long-term and horrific abuse at the hand of Linda Laroche," Schmaling said.
"Laroche was verbally and emotionally cruel [to Johnson], at times screaming at her like an animal," investigators reportedly wrote in the complaint, adding, "At times when not working for the family, Peggy would be made to sleep and stay in a crawl space under the home."
Authorities further allege Laroche once went after Johnson with a pitchfork and stabbed her in the head.
Laroche’s ex-husband allegedly told authorities the last time he saw Johnson she was "lying on the ground lifeless.” His wife said Johnson, "overdosed and she was going to take her away from their house so they would not be involved,” according to the complaint.
When detectives questioned Laroche, now 64, she allegedly said, “Peggy would steal, have men come to see her at their house, and … would go into the crawlspace of their house to steal medications,” police said.
Laroche allegedly admitted abusing Johnson but, according to police, claimed things came to a head when the woman fainted after taking pills. Laroche said she "decided she couldn’t handle Peggy anymore and took her to a phone booth at a nearby gas station," and then “turned [her] over to her grandmother," according to the complaint.
"When confronted with the fact that Peggy’s grandmother had been interviewed by police and said she had never met Laroche or her husband, Laroche later changed her story and admitted that she was not sure who the person was that she left Peggy with," the complaint continued.
In another police interview, Laroche allegedly told a different version of what happened, saying she drove Johnson, who was never reported missing, from Illinois to Wisconsin, police said.
"Laroche admitted to letting Peggy out of the car in a rural area and leaving her by the side of the road," reads the complaint. "Laroche asserted that Peggy was not injured at all when she dropped her off and that something must have happened to her after she dropped her off."
Laroche, the reputed founder of a jail medical-care company, faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse, police said. She will be extradited from Florida to Wisconsin.
Johnson's family reportedly plans to have her body exhumed and reburied beside her mother in Belvidere, Illinois.
Read more: Washington Post
Watch Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling speak at a press conference regarding a cold case, the death of Peggy Lynn Johnson in 1999.