The Horrific 1985 Murder Of Beauty Queen Jackie Johns

The murder of small-town beauty queen Jackie Johns was so horrifying and unjust it has been the subject of numerous true crime podcasts and documentaries. It would take more than 20 years for the case to be solved, leaving Johns' friends and family to grieve with no closure for an agonizing period of time.

Known for her good looks and abundance of charm, Johns was a popular character in the little town of Nixa Missouri (via Oxygen). Unfortunately, her charisma attracted the attention of a twisted criminal who murdered the former pageant winner when she was just 20 years old. Her naked body was found by two fishermen on June 22, 1985, having been discarded in Lake Springfield, the Springfield News-Leader reported. The autopsy revealed that Johns had been raped during the horrific struggle for her life. Unfortunately, although the perp was identified fairly early on in the case, a lack of evidence and a good lawyer was able to help him avoid prosecution for many years.

The murder

In the days leading up to Jackie Johns' murder, she was working as a waitress at a local cafe populated by a host of regulars — including her killer, Gerald Carnahan. Carnahan had asked Johns for a date many times before he finally murdered her, and in the days leading up to her death, her friends said Johns felt she was being watched.

Following her last shift on June 17, the young woman vanished. Close to the time of the murder, Johns was spotted for the last time at a nearby 7-11, and her receipt gave officers an approximate time for the murder — sometime after 11 p.m. Carnaham's car was also spotted near the 7-11, and its presence was confirmed by several witnesses. That night Carnahan beat the young woman to death with a carjack after sexually assaulting her, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Her body was found badly bruised when it was pulled from the lake, indicating she had tried to fight off the attack.

Johns' distinctive Camaro was found the next day, June 18, complete with the car jack that had been used to kill her. Her clothes had been left on the back seat, saturated in blood. The actual body would not be recovered until June 22, when it was found by two local fishermen.

[Featured image by ThinkHat via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 4.0]

Justice more than 20 years later

Gerald Carnahan and his car were easily connected to Jackie Johns' murder by police in Nixa, and he was immediately called in for questioning. However, Carnahan had an alibi, albeit a shaky one — his stepdaughter said she had dinner with him before they returned home that night and claimed she had not noticed him leave again. Carnahan had marks all over his hands, but he blamed the scrapes on a volleyball injury, the Springfield News-Leader reported.

Realizing he may be in deep trouble, Carnham planned to abscond to Thailand but was arrested at the airport on the way there. Unable to connect him with actual crime, police charged him with tampering with evidence for lying about how well he knew Johns. Unfortunately, Carnahan was a wealthy man in Nixa with a well-connected family, and he was able to hire a competent lawyer who got him off the charges. Carnahan would prove his bad character to the police time and time again in the years that followed. Starting in 1993, he was arrested for attempting to kidnap a different young woman, assaulting an officer, burglary, and arson, the Springfield News-Leader reported. Many in Nixa knew he was also guilty of murder but they simply had to live with it.

The break in the case didn't arrive until 2007, when it was reopened by police. Advances in DNA testing meant it was now possible to connect the semen sample taken from Johns' body to Carnahan's DNA. In 2010 he was finally sentenced to life without parole for rape and murder.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).