On June 20, 1999, police in Hartford, Connecticut responded to a call reporting that a woman had been found dead on a Garden Street back porch.
“She had severe head trauma, including a crushed skull and injuries around her neck and head,” Hartford Police Department Lt. Mark Pawlina said. “Mark of a Serial Killer” aeration Saturdays to 8/7c on Oxygen.
These creepy tell-tale marks would become a familiar sight to city police within a year.
The medical examiner determined that the homicide victim, identified by fingerprints as 28-year-old Ladawn Roberts, had been dead for less than 24 hours.
Her mother told authorities that her daughter had fallen on hard times. Roberts was also pregnant when she was killed. For lack of leads, the case cooled.
Ten months later, the body of Aida Quinones, 33, was found partially undressed with severe head trauma, suggesting “she had been the victim of someone’s rage”, investigators told producers. The medical examiner determined that his skull, like Roberts’s, had been crushed.
Detectives found a possible clue near the body. Cigarette butts from Newport were collected and processed for DNA evidence. The autopsy also indicated that there had been a sexual assault. DNA evidence was sent to the crime lab for analysis.
Investigators learned from Quinones’ brother that she was living on the streets, they said “Mark Of A Serial Killer”.
To help get leads, the state’s attorney’s office offered a $30,000 reward. The strategy failed to produce viable information.
In June 2000, the body of Rosalind Casey, 32, was found under a bridge in Asylum Hill. Some of his clothes had been ripped off.
Like the other two victims, Casey’s skull had been crushed. It appeared that the killer had stomped on his head. A serial killer seemed like a strong possibility, and the community was understandably scared.
“He’s a guy who’s so filled with rage,” said forensic psychologist Dr. Joni Johnston. “He’s someone, I think, from what we see, who’s felt that rage for years…tThe crush mark of a skull tells me this is someone who wants to be so close to their victim that they don’t put a gun between them. He’s someone who just enjoys the physical act of annihilating another human being.
In August 2000, the body of 32-year-old Rosali Jimenez was found in an abandoned building on Cedar Street. A trouser leg had been lowered and a shoe had been removed. Jimenez’s head was crushed almost beyond recognition.
“She was very clearly stepped on. It was probably the worst case we’ve seen before,” Pawlina told producers.
Blood was found under his fingernails and analyzed at the crime lab. Newport cigarette butts were also found near the body. DNA evidence found on the victims was cross-checked for commonalities – and it turned out Quinones and Jimenez had matching DNA on their bodies.
Police have compiled a list of known offenders with a history of sexual assault and violence against women. They found 11 homicides that had some similarities to current cases, but after careful analysis, none could be linked to ongoing investigations.
In July 2001, the body of Alesia Ford, 37, was found. Like the other victims, his head was crushed, some of his clothing had been removed, and Newport cigarette butts were strewn near his body. In a new twist, a bloody boot print was found on his torso.
Forensic analysis determined the shoe in question to be a size 11 Timberland boot, medical examiner Dr. Henry Lee said. DNA found on Ford’s body matched evidence found on Quinones and Ford.
“A lot of these victims have been through tough times,” NBC Connecticut reporter Shannon Miller said, adding that some struggled with drugs. “They are used to walking the streets, which makes them even more vulnerable.”
In January 2002, the case took a major turn when the DNA database found a match to evidence found on the cigarette butts and bodies of the victims.
The name of the person: Matthew Steven Johnson, who had a lengthy criminal record involving violence against women. He also had a fraternal twin brother, Mark, who lived in Florida. Police were able to rule out any connection between Mark Johnson and the murders.
Investigators have learned that Matthew Steven Johnson’s run-ins with law enforcement began as a teenager. In 1980 he was sentenced to four years behind bars for beating a pregnant Asylum Hill woman until she miscarried. Upon his release, his crimes continued and he was sent back to prison.
The police eventually tracked Matthew Steven Johnson to a homeless shelter, where he was arrested without incident. At the shelter, authorities recovered the suspect’s personal effects, including a pair of size 11 Timberland boots and Newport cigarettes.
At the police station, the police were hoping for a confession. But the suspect strongly denied any guilt.
There wasn’t enough evidence to link Matthew Steven Johnson to each case, including Ladawn Roberts, whose murder remains unsolved. It was accused of the murders by Aida Quinones, Rosali Jimenez and Alesia Ford.
The case went to trial, and in 2004 he was found guilty of all three murders. Matthew Steven Johnson, 40, was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences.
For more on this case and others like it, watch “Mark of a Serial Killer” aeration Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen or stream episodes here.