Suspect identified in decades-old murder case involving Indiana woman

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On New Year’s Day 1985, agents with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation began investigating the death of a woman whose bound body was found alongside the interstate. Now, a grand jury has determined the evidence exists to indict a man in her death.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) announced Thursday that an investigation resulted in a grand jury finding implicating a convicted felon in a more than 30-year-old cold case.

We previously reported the Jane Doe in the case was identified as Tina McKenney Farmer, a woman reported missing out of Indianapolis after a Thanksgiving gathering in Indianapolis.

“We never just thought that, you know, we would ever see her again,” Tina’s sister Liza Plummer said.

Investigators say an autopsy showed Tina was strangled to death, most likely several days before she was discovered. At the time, all leads were exhausted, and no new updates would come for another three decades.

Another case, however, had striking similarities to Tina’s murder. A woman was bound and dumped along another interstate. The circumstances in the case, along with the woman resembled Tina and her case. The victim, in that case, survived and was able to provide information resulting in Jerry Johns’ arrest on numerous charges, including aggravated kidnapping and assault.

Johns was convicted on those charges in 1987 and died in December 2015 while in custody. It wouldn’t be until the next year that evidence would appear in Tina’s death connecting Johns to the case.

In 2016, a special investigator working on the case for more than a decade resubmitted evidence found at the scene for testing. The testing detected DNA evidence that matched Johns.

Two years later,  agents learned of a blog post about Tina’s missing persons case. She matched the description of the Jane Doe and the fingerprints matched up. TBI said it took so long to be identified because she was not entered into the databases they use to connect the dots in these kinds of cases.

A spokesperson said information about the unidentified victim was entered into NamUs but Tina wasn’t entered into systems as a missing person. IMPD confirmed police did not upload her case to NamUs or any other websites.

NamUs stands for the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System. It’s a newer resource funded by the Institute of Justice, coming online in the 2000’s.

“Usually that’s the primary ingredient of a John or Jane Doe is the lack of a missing persons report or maybe it was reported locally and not shared in a national database,” Todd Matthews, the director of case management and communications for NamUs, said.

On Wednesday, the Campbell County Grand Jury found that if Jerry Johns were alive today he would be indicted on a charge of First Degree Murder in Tina’s death. District Attorney General Jared Effler said while Johns did not face prosecution in Tina’s death, he is pleased that the investigation provided answers to Tina’s family.

“We also want this case to provide hope for other families in our state who are still waiting for answers,” TBI Director David Rausch said. “Our team will never give up on unsolved cases like this one as long as there are viable leads to follow.”

The Crime Justice Information Services reports at the end of 2018 there were 612,846 active missing persons records and 102,709 active unidentified persons records in the NCIC nationwide.

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