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High crime junkies Ashley Flowers here, and on a Thursday, I wanted to drop into your feed to tell you a little mini story of a case that I become obsessed with over the last year. I don't have enough to do a full story, but I figured that your curious crime junkie minds work like mine do, and you want to know everything I do. So let me tell you about the murder of Denise Johnson.
A year ago, I met an investigative crime reporter named Delia Dombra, and Delia told me about the one case that haunts her most, a case from her hometown that she's devoted the last two years of her life to solving. And I couldn't help but get sucked in. Delia grew up in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which before this story I didn't know anything about until I visited there myself after I became obsessed with this case. The Outer Banks are made up of a bunch of like little small beach towns right on the water.
And most of the big homes there are either rentals or at least rented out to vacationers. But there is a small local population that stays there all year round. Delia was one of those locals growing up, and she grew up hearing about another local who was murdered when Delia was just a young child and it was a woman named Denise Johnson. In 1997, Denise was 33 years old. And at the time she lived in this little two bedroom cottage in the town of Kill Devil Hills with a female roommate who had just recently moved in.
Now, the cottage was extra special to Denise because it was the same house that she grew up in as a young child, and they had managed to keep it in the family all these years later. Now, Denise's life, by all accounts, was fairly normal. She had steady work. She had a nice little place that was just a couple of blocks from the beach. She was one of six girl. She was the baby, actually, and all six sisters were close.
And many of them still lived in the area and saw her often. She also had a wonderful property named Carige, who she absolutely adored.
But in the early morning hours of July 13th, all of that normalcy was ripped away from Denise and the entire Johnson family. It all started with a call to 911 one. Someone on Norfolk Street, which is the street that Denise lived on, was calling to report a fire. Smoke was clearly coming out of a house on that person's street. And the caller asked the dispatcher to send the fire department right away. Now, when firefighters responded at first, I'm sure it seemed like a very manageable scene.
Yeah, there was a lot of smoke, but it's not like flames were looking up. The walls are pouring out of the windows.
They went inside and per their training, the first thing they do is make sure that no one was in the house. Now, again, this is a small place, but the firefighters still split up when they get inside to cover the entire place quickly. Living room, clear, kitchen, clear, first bedroom by the door, clear. And that's when they see her beneath all the smoke, there is a body lying face down on the floor, half in the bathroom and completely nude.
The firefighters first priority is always rescue. So they pull her out of the house and lay her flat in her driveway. And in the glow of police and fire truck lights, they realize that there would be no saving her. Denise had stab wounds around her neck and it was clear that she was already gone. So attention returned to putting out the fire.
But the fire was strange. It wasn't one big fire. And like I said, there were a crazy amount of flames. There were a bunch of tiny fires set throughout the house. Once the dust settles and the fires are out, it's clear that they have a homicide investigation on their hands and as much as possible is done to preserve the scene. But it's hard to preserve a lot from a scene that has been blasted with a fire hose. You know, all in all, 59 pieces of evidence were collected and catalogued.
And in that first day, investigators were sure that this was going to be an open and shut case. The crime seemed so personal, it had to have been someone that knew her, someone that was in her house, but who. Now police start piecing together Denise's last movements on the night that she died. Surely that would lead them to her killer, but they didn't have much to go on. Denise got off work. She stopped by this convenience store near her house, maybe talked to a woman there, but no one could ever track that person down.
And then she went home to an empty house because her roommate was out that night as days, weeks and then months pass. This case that was supposed to be so easy to solve got more and more convoluted until eventually it went completely cold and it was cold like that when D'Elia decided to turn her attention to the case.
Now, Delia started reporting on the case back in 2008 when I met her, and I kept asking her a thousand questions about Denise, about the motive, about the crime scene. Everything online just seemed so vague, like were there even suspects ever?
I was kind of expecting her to tell me that there wasn't a whole lot. But what she told me blew my mind. Nothing in this case is what I thought it was from the 911 one call to the fires to even the way Denise died. Delia has uncovered more than anyone who has ever reported on this case. And I even believe that she's gotten close to possible suspects in a case where I thought there were not. I was so enthralled in every detail.
She told me about the story that I told her, girl, we have to get as many people to hear this as possible because there is a piece of the puzzle still missing, a piece that I believe one of our listeners could hold and it could be you. So together, Delia and I reproduced her original reporting and we're releasing 12 episodes that dive into the details of Denise's case and take you as close. As anyone has ever gotten to persons of interest and to answers, you can listen to the first two episodes of that right now by searching for counter clock wherever you're listening to this right now.
That's counter clock, which is all one word. Or you can go to counter clock podcast dotcom and be sure that you hit that subscribe button because this case is unfolding in real time and you won't want to miss any updates that we push out as the investigation unfolds. Again, that's counterclockwise. All one word and make sure to visit Countercoup podcast Dotcom to follow along with the case. Crime junkie is an audio production.
So what do you think, Chuck, do you approve?