This post has been updated with more detail on the murder and some links to recent media coverage of the case.
More than 20 years after she was laid to rest as Jane Doe, a cognitively disabled Illinois woman found murdered in Racine County has been identified and her alleged killer was arrested in Florida. Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling announced that deputies arrested a former Illinois nurse and charged her with murdering 23-year-old Peggy Lynn Johnson of McHenry, Ill.
“She suffered from significant injuries and had been brutalized by many means over a long period of time,” Schmaling said at a news conference on Nov. 8. From Fox6 Milwaukee:
RACINE — Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling on Friday, Nov. 8 revealed the identity of the young woman whose brutally abused body was found in a cornfield in the Town of Raymond in 1999. Jane Doe has been identified as Peggy Lynn Johnson.
Linda Laroche, 64, has been taken into custody in connection with her death. She is facing one count of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of hiding a corpse.
“This is a day of mixed emotions, ladies and gentlemen,” said Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling. “We are very proud today by the fact that we can finally offer some closure and some peace.”
More of the heartbreaking detail from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“In September Racine County sheriff’s investigators received a tip that LaRoche, who was living in Cape Coral, had been telling people that she killed a woman when she was living in Illinois with her then-husband and three of her five children.
After LaRoche met Johnson, who was a senior in high school at the time, she took her in because she was homeless, under an agreement that Johnson would act as a nanny and housekeeper in exchange for living with the family.
Now grown, LaRoche’s children told investigators that their mother was very abusive toward Johnson, who was forced to stay and sleep in a crawl space beneath their home.
LaRoche’s ex-husband confirmed the abuse, describing LaRoche as a “force to be reckoned with.”
LaRoche is being held by the Lee County, Fla., sheriff’s office on a $1 million bond, based on an arrest warrant filed in Racine County Circuit Court.
According to the criminal complaint filed in Racine County, Peggy suffered horrific abuse over an extended period of time. Her nose was broken. She had chemical-type burns over a 25 percent of her body. She had eight fractured ribs, injuries the medical
examiner said were inflicted after death. Four lacerations showed blunt trauma to the head. She had a penetrating wound to the left ear. The throat and upper chest areas showed evidence of burns or scald injuries. Her lower lip was split open on both ends. A number of the injuries were inflicted shortly before death.
“Laroche was verbally and emotionally cruel to Peggy, at times screaming at her like an animal,” the criminal complaint said. LaRoche’s children provided detectives with this information: “One recalled Laroche stabbing at Peggy’s head with a pitchfork, one recalled Laroche slapping Peggy in the head and face. They all recalled seeing Peggy with injuries and one even asked Peggy what had happened to her after noticing a black eye. Peggy told the child, who was then an adult, that LaRoche had punched her.”
The details are horrifying and sickening. Read the criminal complaint here.
Peggy was born on March 4, 1976 in Woodstock, Ill., according to online family trees at Ancestry.com. Her mother, Diane M. (Colligan) Schroeder, was a graduate of Marengo Community High School in McHenry County, Ill. Her high school yearbook photo shows a striking resemblance to her daughter. Diane died on Nov. 26, 1994 in Harvard, Ill., at age 41. She was employed at a nursing home at the time of her death. She had a son (half-brother to Peggy), Jesse A. Schroeder, who died in June 1998 at age 18. After her mother’s death, Peggy ended up homeless, which is why she crossed paths with the nurse LaRoche. Police said Peggy’s father, Scott Johnson, had not been a part of her life. He is also deceased.
No one ever reported Peggy missing. Her maternal aunt took out a classified ad in late 1999 asking Peggy to contact her, according to The Journal Times of Racine. LaRoche’s children and ex-husband were aware of the abuse Peggy suffered, but never contacted police, according to the criminal complaint.
We wrote about this case in July 2015 when “Jane Doe” was re-interred at Holy Family Catholic Cemetery in Caledonia, Wis. At the time I was director of Racine Catholic Cemeteries. Jane was initially buried at the cemetery in October 1999, but had been disinterred in 2013 for forensic testing at the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office. Sheriff’s deputies served as pall bearers that day as Peggy was reburied in a donated casket and cemetery vault supplied by Draeger-Langendorf Funeral Home.
LaRoche has waived extradition to Wisconsin and will face one count of first-degree intentional homicide and a felony charge of hiding a corpse. If she is indeed guilty of the charges, she shall also face the Just Judge. May God have mercy on her soul; the very mercy she denied to a lost, innocent homeless woman who turned to her for help.
There are tentative plans to disinter Peggy’s body so she can be buried near her mother and grandparents (Ellis J. Colligan and Zella M. Colligan Parker) at Highland Garden of Memories cemetery in Belvidere, Ill.