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Belleville Beauty Shop Murders

When a customer arrived at hairdresser Michael Cooney’s in-home salon in Belleville, Illinois, around eleven am on March 2nd, 2005, she discovered a horrific site. Puddles of blood covered the floor as three people lay on the floor lifeless. The three deceased were the saloon owner, Michael, and two elderly sisters and long-time customers of Michael, Dorothy Bone and Doris Fischer. The Belleville police responded to the scene and began to collect numerous pieces of evidence. The senselessness of the crime devastated the community of Belleville, Illinois, forever changing it.



Michael Joseph Cooney Jr was born September 30th, 1942, in Springfield, Illinois to parents Michael Cooney Sr. and Mary Agnes Cofer. Michael was a businessman who ran a hair salon and antique shop out of his home on West Main in Belleville. His friends described him as “a complicated, private person who loved good food, wine, art, friends, and everything beautiful” (Belleville News Democrat, n.d.). Michael loved his dear friends and his cat Oscar, named for Oscar Wild. He had been providing salon services in Belleville for years, often following his clients as they transitioned to nursing homes and performing styling services for free for their funeral. His best friend, Marcia Schrivner, said, “My favorite time with Michael was when he laughed out loud. He’d giggle and laugh, and it was just a heartfelt, loving, let-everything-go kind of happiness” (Belleville News Democrat, n.d.).



Dorothy Anderson was born August 17th, 1922, to Alonzo and Enola Anderson in East St. Louis, Illinois. She was followed by sister Doris on February 27th, 1926. The sisters had two brothers, Robert and Richard Anderson. Dorothy married William Healey and had four children. After her husband passed away, she married Maurice Bone. Dorothy was a beloved grandmother and great-grandmother. Doris married Julius Fischer, Sr. and he proceeded her in death. She had four children and was also a grandmother and great-grandmother. Dorothy and Doris were both members of the Memorial Hospital Auxiliary, Belleville Women’s Club, Red Hat Ladies, Birthday Club and Yaya Girls. The women were well known and liked in their community.

The bodies of Michael Cooney, 62, Dorothy Bone, 82, and Doris Fischer, 79 were found inside the Belleville home on March 2nd. All three victims had been stabbed to death. Forensic pathologist Raj Nanduri stated the cause of death was blood loss related to multiple stab wounds (Hundsdorfer, 2010). Michael appeared to be the primary target, suffering 25 stab wounds (Hundsdorfer, 2010). Dorothy and Doris suffered at least 10 stab wounds each (Hundsdorfer, 2010). The murders had been bloody and brutal, with lots of forensic evidence left behind.


Police initially felt they could investigate and solve this case, so the Major Case Squad was not initially called in to assist. An article in the Belleville News Democrat dated March 4th, 2005, says “Police say they are scrutinizing the gay nightclub scene as part of their search for the killer of a west Belleville hair salon and antique dealer and two of his customers” (Wuerz, 2005). Despite the initial thought that Michael Cooney’s sexual orientation may be a factor in the murders, that theory proved to be wrong. Most of the leads led to men living in North St. Louis city, across the Mississippi River.

Michael’s Nissan Pathfinder was found the day after the murders abandoned in a North St. Louis neighborhood. The vehicle had been damaged and police believed that happened after it was stolen from the home following the murders. A sixteen-year-old boy lived nearby and was considered a person of interest in the case. He was brought in and questioned. He denied ever being in the vehicle or knowing anything about the murders in Belleville. The boy, named Darrell Lane, was at school the day of the murders, but his school program did not start until 12:30 pm (Hundsdorfer, 2010). He told police he was near the vehicle, but never inside of it. He told the police that Demetrius Davis and Ray Robinson were in the vehicle the day of the murders and that he leaned in to give the men a CD (Hundsdorfer, 2010). Police weren’t so sure.


Darrell Lane was sixteen years old, but had an IQ of 63, read at a second-grade level, and functioned intellectually as a ten-year-old (Hundsdorfer, 2010). In fact, police had to help him read his Miranda rights because Lane could not read or write more than a few words (Hundsdorfer, 2010). Throughout his questioning, he denied ever being inside the Nissan Pathfinder, but the forensic evidence indicated that was not the case. A bloody fingerprint on the steering wheel was a match to Darrell Lane (Hundsdorfer & White, 2006).

There were other suspects, however. One of those was Samuel Johnson. In fact, Samuel Johnson was considered the prime suspect in this case. He was known to Michael Cooney as the two had discussed antique sales in the past. Samuel Johnson had made twelve calls to Cooney’s home from February 18th to March 2nd, with the last call being around the time of the murders on March 2nd (Hundsdorfer, 2010). In fact, Johnson made two calls to Cooney that morning: one at 8:26 am and one at 9:58 am. Johnson had also pawned a bracelet at a St. Louis pawn shop days after the murder that friends of Cooney said was similar to one Cooney owned (Hundsdorfer, 2010). That wasn’t all the evidence that pointed to Johnson either.

Johnson was unemployed, but in the days following the murder “purchased clothing, $200 worth of marijuana, and a $1000 down payment down on a Jeep Cherokee” (Hundsdorfer, 2010). There had been a break-in at Cooney’s home in December of 2003 in which a neighbor had witnessed a man running away. Following the murder, the witness identified Samuel Johnson as the intruder from 2003. Samuel Johnson was charged with attempted burglary (Hundsdorfer, 2010).


There were several fingerprints found inside the Nissan Pathfinder, including those belonging to Demetrius Davis and Ray Robinson, the men Darrell Lane stated were in possession of the vehicle the day of the murders (Hundsdorfer, 2010). Robbery was now considered the primary motive of the crime as Cooney was known to carry large sums of cash related to his antique business. Cooney’s wallet, cell phones, and credit cards were found in a trash bin on Page Avenue in St. Louis.

More evidence also pointed to Demetrius Davis and Ray Robinson. A jewelry box and antique chest belonging to Cooney were found at Davis’s home. The key ring and car remote for the Nissan Pathfinder were found in Ray Robinson’s apartment, with the ignition key found in the pocket of a pair of jeans belonging to Robinson. There was no evidence found in the homes of Samuel Johnson or Darrell Lane. There were several fingerprints, including one in Cooney’s blood, that was not matched to any of these suspects. Additionally, a male DNA profile intermingled with Cooney’s blood was also not connected to any of the suspects.

In September of 2005, a St. Clair County jury found Samuel Johnson guilty of the attempted burglary and obstruction of justice related to the break-in at Michael Cooney’s home fourteen months prior to the murders (Hundsdorfer, 2005). He was sentenced to eleven years in the Illinois Department of Corrections, but family anticipated he would also be charged with the murders. However, just hours after his conviction, St. Clair County States Attorney Robert Haida announced he will not charge Johnson with the murders at that time.

“One of the pieces of forensic evidence is an unidentified fingerprint in Michael Cooney’s blood; the other is a bloodstain which contains a mixture of Michael Cooney’s DNA profile and an unidentified DNA profile. Both pieces of evidence are linked to the homicide and could provide key evidence in a future prosecution” Robert Haida explained (Hundsdorfer, 2005). Family and friends of the three victims had mixed reaction, some applauding the investitive team for making sure the investigation was thorough before proceeding to trial, while others demanded Johnson be tried and justice be served.

In March of 2006, a year after the brutal triple murders, the Major Case Squad was finally called in to investigate the case. They investigated for a few weeks, sending several pieces of evidence to the crime lab. One of those, the fingerprint belonging to Darrell Lane, led the investigators to one conclusion: Darrell Lane, now seventeen years old, was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in June of 2006. Upon his arrest, it was noted that Lane had also shot two men in April of 2005 in north St. Louis, with assault charges still pending.

At the time of the arrest, Belleville Police Chief Dave Ruebhausen said “I will tell you that I don’t believe, and I don’t think there is anybody standing behind me that believes, that Darrell Lane acted alone. We are going to continue to work this case to find everybody that was involved in this homicide” (Hundsdorfer, 2006). He went on to confirm that Samuel Johnson was still considered a suspect. Ray Robinson, who was just sixteen years old, was shot and killed in St. Louis four months after the murders. Another teen identified as possibly being involved, William Sherill, was also shot and killed following the murders.

It took four years for the case to go to trial, and no other arrests were made during that time. Samuel Johnson was released from prison for the attempted burglary and obstruction charges related to the 2003 home invasion around the same time Darrell Lane, now twenty-one years old, went to trial for the murders. Evidence was presented at the 2010 trial including the fingerprint matching Lane. The fingerprint was on Cooney’s stolen vehicle’s steering wheel and contained Cooney’s blood. An expert believed the print was made within ten minutes of Cooney’s blood being on Lane’s fingertip.

Other forensic evidence, including footprints in the beauty salon, a bloody fingerprint containing Cooney’s blood at the crime scene, and the blood sample containing both Cooney’s blood and an unknown DNA profile were entered into evidence by the defense as none of these matched Darrell Lane. The defense also pointed the finger at Samuel Johnson who was a prime suspect in the case and had pawned items belonging to Cooney in the days following the murder. The jury deliberated for four hours and returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges. Darrell Lane was a free man.



Friends and family of Darrell Lane celebrated his acquittal. “I feel like it’s a dream come true” said his friend Jeffrey Lomax (Hundsdorfer & Pawlaczyk, 2010). His family celebrated his release after four years in custody awaiting trial. “I don’t even know… I am ready to go” Lane said to reporters about his plans following his release (Hundsdorfer & Pawlaczyk, 2010). It was a celebration on Lane’s side of the courtroom, but the prosecution was struggling with the disappointment. Some investigators said they were sad for the victims’ families, but they were not surprised by the verdict. In fact, some police officers voiced their belief that Samuel Johnson was the real killer in this case.

This case remained open from the time of Darrel Lane’s acquittal in 2010 until 2016 when St. Clair County charged Samuel Johnson, now fifty years old, with three counts of first-degree murder in this case. Johnson had been arrested and sent to a Missouri prison in 2013 on drug charges and was expected to be released soon. He would then be extradited to Illinois to face murder charges. The States Attorney, Brendan Kelly, indicated new evidence was discovered that secured the indictment against Samuel Johnson.

The evidence against Johnson was overwhelming. In the month before the killings, Johnson had called Cooney twelve times including twice the morning of the murders. The final call, just minutes before the crime had to have occurred, pinged off a cell tower less than two miles from Cooney’s salon. Johnson, who did not have a job, paid for a vehicle, drugs, and clothing just after the murders occurred. Johnson’s cousin and roommate provided a statement that Johnson “said he planned to rob someone” and that “he hurt three people, a man and two women” (Hundsdorfer, 2010). The cousin’s girlfriend provided a statement that Johnson took a knife from her nightstand the day before the killings and later told her he “messed up” and was carrying a large amount of cash (Hundsdorfer, 2010). Another witness said Johnson came to Cooney’s salon the day before the murders demanding money.

Samuel Johnson was set to go to trial for the triple murder in May of 2020, fifteen years after the murders of Michael Cooney, Dorothy Bone, and Doris Fischer. However, Covid-19 began to wreak havoc upon the world and resulted in many court cases being postponed. The trial was postponed as well as his trial for charges related to a jail house stabbing in 2018.

On February 19th, 2021, Samuel Johnson, age fifty-five, died in a local emergency room from complications of Covid-19 infection (Mansouri & Smith, 2021). He had been sick with Covid for several weeks and treated at Memorial Hospital, the hospital in which Dorothy Bone and Doris Fischer had been Auxiliary members.

Families of the victims expressed mixed emotions: disappointment that the trial had been delayed so long and Johnson was never convicted, yet relief that he was no longer alive. Fischer’s daughter Victoria said, “I felt that weight lift off my shoulders when I got the news, and that’s something I’ve wanted for a long time, but I am a little disappointed we’ll never get to hear the word ‘guilty’. He’s a mean, mean, bad person and I think he’s going to be judged by God now. It doesn’t bother me that he’s no longer on this earth” (Mansouri & Smith, 2021).

Samuel Johnson maintained his innocence and his defense believed he had a good chance of being acquitted. The defense planned to highlight the pieces of evidence that did not match Johnson and point the finger at other suspects in this case. His defense attorney said he wishes he would have had the opportunity to clear his client’s name. Brendan Kelly, State’s Attorney, said “The first time my eyes saw parts of this heart-wrenching case was when I was a young assistant state’s attorney. It never left my mind. The investigators and prosecutors never stopped seeking justice for the victims. With the defendant’s ultimate fate now determined, the quest is mercifully over” (Mansouri & Smith, 2021).

In August of 2021, Darrel Lane was arrested after he drove his vehicle through a police barricade on the McKinley Bridge where police were investigating another police chase that resulted in the death of an officer. Lane drove his Kia Optima around a police roadblock at 3:50 am, driving towards officers and hitting police vehicles. No officers were injured in the incident. Police fired shots, hitting Lane in the arm. He was treated for the wound at a St. Louis hospital and then placed in police custody. His sister said “He’s not going to intentionally just go through a roadblock. The main thing we wants to do is stay away from police” (Bell, 2021). His family indicates that police in Illinois are bias against Lane related to the acquittal. He is awaiting adjudication on these charges.

The murders of Michael Cooney, Dorothy Bone, and Doris Fischer were brutal, heinous, and senseless. The two elderly women, who were robbed of their rings, were simply going to have their hair done. Michael Cooney was a businessman who became involved with the wrong person who knew he had cash on hand. The murders changed the Belleville community and the way small business owners operated. Despite years of investigation and forensic examinations, not a single person has been convicted of the Belleville Beauty Shop Murders.


References

Hundsdorfer, B. & White, L. (2006) Chief: fired over hidden issues; Belleville News Democrat; 22 Nov 2006

Hundsdorfer, B. (2010) Unknown DNA found in evidence; Belleville News Democrat; 10 Nov 2010

Hundsdorfer, B. (2016) 11 years after grisly salon slayings, Belleville police think they have the killer; The Belleville News Democrat; 13 Sep 2016

FindAGrave (n.d.) Doris Jean Anderson Fischer. Doris Jean Anderson Fischer (1926-2005) - Find a Grave Memorial

Dorothy E. Anderson Bone. Dorothy E. Anderson Bone (1922-2005) - Find a Grave Memorial

Michael Joseph Cooney Jr. Michael Joseph Cooney Jr. (1942-2005) - Find a Grave Memorial

Wuerz, S. (2005) Several interviewed in slayings; Belleville News Democrat; 04 Mar 2005

Mansouri, K. & Smith, C. (2021) Man accused of triple murder at Belleville hair salon dies of Covid 19; Belleville News Democrat. Man awaiting trial for 2005 Bellevile IL murders dies of COVID | Belleville News-Democrat (bnd.com)

Bell, K. (2021) Man acquitted in triple killing in Belleville now jailed for running police barricade; St. Louis Post Dispatch. Man acquitted in triple killing in Belleville now jailed for running police barricade | Law and order | stltoday.com

Obituaries (2005) Doris Fischer & Dorothy Bone; Belleville News Democrat. 05 Mar 2005

Hundsdorfer, B. (2005) Haida decides against charging Johnson; Belleville News Democrat; 08 Sep 2005

Belleville News Democrat (2005) Michael J. Cooney. Michael Cooney Obituary (2005) - Belleville, WA - Belleville News-Democrat (legacy.com)

Hundsdorfer, B. & White, L. (2006) Teen charged in triple killing. Belleville News Democrat. 17 Jun 2006

Hundsdorfer, B. & Pawlaczyk (2010) Lane: Not guilty. Belleville News Democrat. 17 Nov 2010

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