In the morning hours of July 26th, 2002, six-year-old Casey Williamson came downstairs in her nightgown to watch cartoons on the television. Her father was about to prepare her a bowl of cereal but excused himself to the restroom first. When he returned from the bathroom, Casey was gone. She wasn’t the only person who was gone, however. Casey’s father reported his little girl missing, explaining to police that a man who had slept on the couch the night before was also gone. The investigation into Casey’s disappearance would lead to a tragic discovery.
Cassandra Lynn Williamson, known as “Casey”, was born November 23rd, 1995, to Ernie and Angela Williamson. Her parents would have four children together, Casey being the second oldest. The marriage was not without difficulty, however, and Casey’s parents separated. Angela and her kids went to live with relatives in Valley Park, Missouri. Ernie stayed close by, renting a room at the house across the street from Angela and the kids. The kids remained close to their father, frequently staying the night at his house. That was the case on the night of July 25th, 2002.
By 2002, Casey was a vibrant, energetic six-year-old girl. She was described by those who knew her as “smart and hardworking”. She had an infectious smile and a love for God. In fact, Casey was a member of a protestant church near her home and participated in youth activities. Casey had an infectious smile and was very well loved by her entire family. Her older sister describes the six-year-old as fun loving, happy, and a huge Brittany Spears fan.
On July 25th, 2002, the owner of the house had an acquaintance over for drinks. This man was twenty-four-year-old Johnny Johnson. Johnson was somewhat of a drifter who occasionally crashed on the couch. This night was no different. Angela Williamson knew Johnson since he was a kid and knew his family. Neither she nor Ernie felt he was a threat to them, and certainly did not have any suspicions that he was a threat to their children. When Ernie came back to the bathroom to prepare his daughter’s breakfast, however, Johnny and Casey were both gone.
It was 7:30 in the morning when Casey and Johnny Johnson disappeared from the house in Valley Park. At 8:30 am, police found Johnson walking down the street. His clothing was soaking wet and muddy. He told the authorities that he went swimming in the nearby Meramec River. As the prime suspect in the disappearance of a little girl, Johnson was brought to police headquarters for questioning. A witness nearby stated they had seen Johnson carrying the little girl that morning. Detectives began to interrogate Johnson as the community and police searched vigorously for the little girl.
Johnny Johnson was born March 16th, 1978, in Missouri. He was the youngest of four children and was raised primarily by his mother. While his mother worked as a nurse’s aide at a local nursing home, the kids grew up poor in Valley Park. His father left when he was two years old and was rarely involved in his life. He died in 1999 of complications of diabetes. His grandfather, who he was particularly close to, died of a heart attack in front of him.
The circumstances of his upbringing contributed to depression and mental health issues from a very early age. As an adolescent, Johnson was moody, a loaner, and smaller than most kids his age. He became known as “Pee Wee”, a name he later tattooed on his abdomen. Johnny also struggled with learning and was mentally slower than his peers. Johnny did have a talent for drawing, however, and his sketches showed great talent.
Johnny struggled as a teenager, twice cutting his wrists so badly it required medical attention. He was known as a “cutter”, often inflicting harm upon himself. Of the four kids in his family, three of them would have criminal records including Johnny. Johnny plead guilty to burglary and felony theft in 1997. For this crime, he was given three years of probation. Just a year later, he pleaded guilty to felony theft, stealing a firearm, and burglary. These charges resulted from stealing an ATV and firearm from homes in Kirkwood, Missouri. He was sentenced to seven years in prison but was released on good behavior just four months later.
While on probation, Johnny was caught with drug paraphernalia, alcohol by a minor, and was charged with destruction of property. Despite these violations, Johnson remained free on probation as long as he followed up as scheduled with his probation officer. He began living with his sister and helping to care for her children. That is when he met the woman who would become the mother of his child. She had a son already, and the two welcomed their son together in December of 1999.
At this point, Johnny was in love and happy. He seemed determined to be a good father and provide for his son. According to his girlfriend, he was great with kids. He took care of the two little boys during the day while his girlfriend worked. He had no problem changing diapers and chasing toddlers around. Although his family was concerned about his ability to raise a child, the couple seemed to be doing okay. Then Johnny violated his probation… again.
In October of 2001, following a probation violation, Johnny Johnson was ordered to be confined to the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center in St. Louis. There, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by “hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs functioning” (Mayo Clinic). These patients require life-long treatment with medications and psychiatric professionals.
The judge asked doctors at the facility to determine if Johnson was a threat to himself or others. The report was favorable to Mr. Johnson, and he was released from the psychiatric center on January 9th, 2002. He was not released without conditions, however. Johnson was to live with his grandmother, continue scheduled appointments with doctors at the psychiatric hospital, work with a community support worker, apply for Medicaid and disability benefits, attend GED classes, and complete drug and alcohol abuse education. Johnny was compliant at first, but quickly strayed from the court’s orders.
As spring turned to summer, Johnny’s girlfriend and siblings noticed he wasn’t complying with court orders and had failed to meet his probation officer at least on two occasions. His brother warned him that he would be sent back to jail if he didn’t see his probation officer. Johnny promised he would comply. He and his girlfriend were fighting more and more as Johnny wasn’t coming home regularly. He was spending his time in Valley Park drinking and crashing on random couches. His family grew concerned, but they had no clue what Johnson was capable of.
After several hours of interrogation, Johnson finally admitted to kidnapping Casey Williamson on the morning of July 26th, 2002. Johnson said he asked Casey if she wanted to go with him to the glass factory. He picked her up and gave her a piggyback ride to an abandoned glass factory near the home. He led her into a pit with six-foot-tall walls. At this point, Johnny admitted to exposing himself to the little girl and tearing her underwear off. He then attempted to rape Casey before hitting her in the head with a brick multiple times. Casey was still moving, so he took a large boulder and dropped it on the little girl’s head. He then buried her body under rocks and left. He admitted to going to the river to wash the blood and evidence off of his body.
At the same time he was giving his confession, the search crew found the body of Casey. She was just where Johnson was describing to police, in the abandoned glass factory under several large rocks. She had severe skull fractures, and her cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head. The death was ruled a homicide. Johnson was charged with first-degree murder, armed criminal action, attempted forcible rape, and kidnapping.
The close-knit community of Valley Park rallied around the Williamson family, creating a memorial filled with stuffed animals and notes of love for Casey. Casey’s older sister told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that, “I realize now that Casey is in a better place. She always wanted to go to heaven and meet the angels” (1992). She went on to describe Johnny Johnson as someone she found “creepy”, stating he often walked around the neighborhood following little girls and staring at Casey. She called the red headed man Pee Wee, as that was tattooed across his abdomen, and he frequently walked around Valley Park without a shirt on.
At trial, the defense did not deny that Johnny Johnson had abducted, attempted to rape, and murdered six-year-old Cassandra Lynn “Casey” Williamson. Instead, the defense focused on the issue of intent. In order to prove first-degree murder, the prosecution had to prove premeditation. The defense pointed to Johnson’s untreated mental illness as a factor preventing him from being capable of calculated capital murder. Johnson has previously been prescribed Zyprexa, but stopped taking the medication as he stated it made him feel zombie-like.
The prosecution contended that Johnson planned the murder. Why else would he lure Casey away from home? The plan was to rape her and then killer her to avoid being identified, according to the prosecution. They also suggested that the act of washing up in the river proved that Johnson knew he had to hide the evidence of his crime. The defense argued, however, that the schizophrenia prevented Johnson from such fore thought. “He can’t turn off those voices like you turn off a radio or turn off a television” the defense said (Associated Press, 2005).
In January of 2005, Johnny Johnson was found guilty of first-degree murder, armed criminal action, kidnapping, and attempted rape. The aggravating factors considered for sentencing included the heinous nature of the murder, the attempted sexual assault, the victim’s age, and the fact that the death occurred during a felony kidnapping. Mitigating factors included Johnson’s history of being a victim of abuse, suicide attempts, trouble in school, learning disabilities, and drug and alcohol abuse. After reviewing mitigating and aggravating factors, the jury recommended the death penalty for Johnson. Johnson was sentenced to death plus three life sentences, all to run consecutively. The judge called this case the most heinous he had ever seen in his time on the bench.
The appeals process of Johnson centered around his mental and physical health. Johnson argued his defense did not properly present his claims of brain damage. He believes that if his defense attorney had asked for psychological and neurological testing, brain damage could have been proven and prevented him from receiving capital punishment. However, the review of the case noted that a neuropsychologist found that Johnson was not mentally impaired to the extent of retardation. The doctor stated that Johnson “does have an organic brain syndrome combined with significant psychiatric disorders and those are permanent conditions for him” (Johnson V. State). The appeals have been denied thus far.
On April 19th, 2023, a warrant for the execution of Johnny Johnson was signed and an execution date of August 1st, 2023, at 6:00pm was set.
Strange, J. (2002). Girl, 6, killed after abduction. The Times-Tribune. 27 Jul 2002
Kohler, J. (2002). Murder suspect’s slide troubled his family. St. Louis Post Dispatch. 04 Aug 2002
Associated Press (2005). Man convicted of killing child. The Springfield News-Leader. 18 Jan 2005
Franck, M. (2006). High court is asked to spare murderer’s life. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 26 May 2006
Kohler, J. (2002). He admitted trying to rape girl, then killing her, they say. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 28 Jul 2002
Bell, K. (2002). Mourners trek to house, try to ease hurt. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 28 Jul 2002
Associated Press. (2005). Man gets death sentence in slaying of girl, 6. St. Joseph News-Press. 08 Mar 2005