Jacqueline Johnson's Mother, Elizabeth Montgomery
Jacqueline Johnson's Niece, Crystal Gridley
In 1980, they were mourning the loss of their teenage daughter. And nearly 30 years later, the murder remains a mystery.
"Her and my Aunt Brenda look exactly alike," says Crystal Gridley.
"It's the eyes, the cheekbones," she adds.
Gridley is referring to her Aunt Jacqueline.
"I would always go to my grandmother's house and see her picture. It was just something about her eyes. I would always stare at the picture."
That curiosity left her with unanswered questions. She explains, "By me being 29, I wasn't really old enough to know her."
It was June 27, 1980, three weeks after Gridley was born.
She says, "That night I was being admitted into the hospital because I was sick and they found her body the next day."
Jacqueline Johnson, 17, had been murdered. According to published reports, an unidentified man called police tipping them off about where Jacqueline's body could be found. He gave police a bogus name and fake address.
Johnson was found off a dirt road near Mills High School in Pulaski County.
She had been stripped naked. Her clothes were found nearby. Her killer was never caught.
Gridley says, "By watching the cold case files it wanted me to dig a little deeper."
So Gridley started asking questions. She first learned how Jacqueline was killed.
"They had strangled her to death," says Elizabeth Montgomery, Jacqueline's mother. Montgomery is Gridley's grandmother.
Montgomery adds, "They had crushed her head, her forehead."
The man arrested was very familiar to the family.
"The suspected person was her boyfriend," explains Gridley.
He was 21-year-old Tommie Mason. The pair had dated for two years.
Gridley says, "It is still kind of puzzling as to why he was never brought forward on the charges of her murder."
He allegedly confessed and was ultimately charged with second degree murder. He plead not guilty. Days before the trial, the case was dismissed.
In court documents, Mason's lawyer asked for his confession to be thrown out citing, "the confession was not voluntarily made." That it was "written by police officers," and "not signed by the defendant." It goes on to say that the "physical facts surrounding the incident differ significantly from the confession." And that it "was the product of coercion by the police."
After the charges were dropped Jacqueline's family says the case was never looked at again. The investigators and prosecuting attorneys originally on this case have since retried, so Today's THV contacted the sheriff's office and current prosecuting attorney. Both agencies said the files are in storage, but after our request, they agree to take a look."
If there is still physical evidence it could be tested for DNA. Tommie Mason could be re-questioned. He was convicted of another in Arkansas in 1984.
"We would like to know who did it and why," says Gridley.
Next year, it will be 30 years. It's a secret held by the woods near the crime scene.
Montgomery says, "Life rolls. I said the sun rises and it is going to keep on rising no matter what."
She's a teen with stolen dreams. She wanted to have a family and join the National Guard.
"I think about that all the time I wonder what would she be like," says Montgomery.
All that's left is a family's love and a niece's curiosity to find answers. Gridley contacted Today's THV hoping we could help.
"I want closure as well as for my grandmother to know so she can rest in peace," she adds.
The family has forgiven the killer and says they'll never give up finding justice for Jacqueline.
If you have any information on this crime you are asked to contact the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department at 501-340-8477 or email your information to Crime Stoppers.
If you have a case you would like us to look into, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our series airs every Wednesday on the "THV 10:00 Difference." It is part of our continuing effort here at Today's THV to shed light on the state's countless unsolved murders and missing person's cases. We have been bringing you these stories since July. You can check out other unsolved cases by going to our Cold Case webpage.