July 21, 2016

AGE: 14 | DIED: OCTOBER 10, 1987 | Location: Dubuque

On the morning of Saturday, October 10, 1987, a fisherman discovered the body of a young white male, later identified as Kenny Joe Johnson, lying on the sandy beach area near a floodgate in Dubuque’s isolated Maus Park. The fisherman found the boy rolled in a 5-foot-by-9-foot piece of yellow-orange nylon carpet dumped at the park. An autopsy report stated the teen died by manual strangulation and also had been sexually assaulted. He also had a small amount of alcohol in his system.

Johnson had behavioral problems, which likely stemmed from a learning disability that wasn’t always handled appropriately. He originally resided in the Davenport area but had been court-ordered to the Hillcrest Family Services program in Dubuque about one month prior to his death. On Sept. 22, 1987, Johnson began his short stay at Hillcrest House. He started classes at Central Alternative High School in early October, and a few days later — Oct. 8, 1987 — got into a dispute with a teacher. Instead of reporting to the principal’s office at 9:30 a.m., the teen ran away. It was the third time he had run away in the two weeks that he’d been in Dubuque, and it was the last time anyone saw him alive.

In the days and week after the slaying, police followed up on hundreds of leads and implored anyone who knew anything about the case to step forward. Despite searching nearly three decades, investigators still haven’t been able to establish a clear picture of the teen’s whereabouts in the two days leading up to his death.

Investigators said the way Johnson’s body and evidence of his assault had been haphazardly disguised provided them with insight into the killer’s personality. They speculated the killer was a loner who had poor interpersonal relationship skills and had trouble making friends. Police theorized that even with antisocial tendencies, the killer had difficulty coping with the murder and probably told someone.