A grand jury on Friday issued murder charges against a man believed at one time to be a prime suspect in the grisly stabbing murders of three people in a west Belleville beauty salon in 2005.
Samuel L. Johnson, 50, was charged Friday with first-degree murder in connection with the slayings of Doris Fischer, 79, and her sister, Dorothy Bone, 82, and their hairdresser, Michael Cooney, 62, at Cooney’s home-based beauty salon in West Belleville on March 2, 2005.
Belleville Police Department reinitiated the investigation in 2014. The indictment was unsealed Monday.
“New evidence collected during the course of that investigation has been presented by my office to a St. Clair County Grand Jury,” said State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly. “The grand jury has returned an indictment charging (Johnson), of St. Louis, Mo., with three counts of first-degree murder of Michael Cooney, Doris Fischer and Dorothy Bone at 7813 Main Street in Belleville.”
Fischer and Bone were at Cooney’s to get their hair done. A bloody scene greeted Cooney’s next scheduled customer, who called police. At the time, Belleville’s chief of police, Terry Delaney, said Cooney was the intended victim of a rage-driven killing. The stabbing deaths in a beauty shop in the middle of the morning shocked Belleville and dominated local news for weeks.
“It was a terrible, senseless crime,” said Coroner Rick Stone. “Certainly, one of the worst crimes ever in the west end of Belleville.”
Jul Fischer, Doris Fischer’s son, declined to comment on the charges. He referred questions to the State’s Attorney’s Office. Kelly has said he asked the victims’ family and law enforcement not to make any comment on the case.
Johnson was arrested six days after the killings, but was charged only with an attempted residential burglary of Cooney’s home in December 2003. Delaney called Johnson the “prime suspect” in the murders.
Delaney, who drew some criticism for not activating the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis to investigate the case, was unable to get murder charges from then-St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert Haida. Haida had said there was not enough physical evidence to support a murder charge against Johnson.
Police reports obtained by the News-Democrat in 2010 showed:
▪ In the weeks before the killings, there were 12 calls placed to Cooney’s phone, including two the morning of the killings at 8:26 a.m. and 9:58 a.m. from the cell phone Johnson was using. Police determined the calls that lasted three seconds and zero seconds were relayed from a cell tower less than 2 miles from Cooney’s house at 7813 W. Main St.
▪ Johnson, who was unemployed, bought clothes and shoes, $200 worth of marijuana and treated his cousin to lunch and bus fare the day after the killings.
▪ DeMico Evans, Johnson’s cousin and roommate, told police that Johnson had said he planned to rob someone. Evans also told police that Johnson told him that he hurt three people: a man and two ladies.
▪ Johnson bought a 1994 Lincoln Town Car for $1,400 from a Pagedale, Mo., car dealer five days after the killings. Cooney was known to carry large sums of cash in connection with his estate sale business.
In an interview with News-Democrat reporters in 2005, Anna Nicole Hobbs, who was Evans’ girlfriend and also lived with Johnson and Evans at the time of the killings, said Johnson had taken a hook-bladed knife from her nightstand the day before the killings. Hobbs described to reporters how a nervous Johnson returned the next day with a wad of bills saying that he “messed up.”
New evidence collected during the course of that investigation has been presented by my office to a St. Clair County Grand Jury. The grand jury has returned an indictment charging (Johnson), of St. Louis, Mo. with three counts of first-degree murder of Michael Cooney, Doris Fischer and Dorothy Bone at 7813 Main Street in Belleville.
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly
A search warrant obtained by the News-Democrat stated that bloody knives were found in a kitchen drawer of Cooney’s home. A roll of cash usually kept in Cooney’s pocket, along with rings worn by Fischer and Bone, were missing. There were also bloody footprints inside the home.
For more than a year, no murder charges were issued in the case. In 2006, Delaney’s successor as police chief, former Granite City Police Chief Dave Ruebhausen, revived the investigation and activated the Major Case Squad.
That investigation centered on Cooney’s Nissan Pathfinder, which was stolen from outside the salon the morning of the killings. The Pathfinder was found by authorities the next day, behind an apartment building at 934 Maple Place north of Delmar Boulevard in St. Louis.
More investigation revealed that the Pathfinder was found abandoned, running with the keys in the ignition, behind F&R Liquors at 4071 Page Ave., just four blocks from the home of 16-year-old Darrell Lane. The Pathfinder was driven by one group of teens, then someone sold it for $20 later that evening. There were 30 fingerprints in the car and a single bloody fingerprint was found on the driver’s seat.
That fingerprint belonged to Lane, who had a learning impairment.
An Illinois State Police crime-scene investigator testified that liquid blood on the fingertip would dry within 8 minutes after the person touched blood, allowing less than 10 minutes for Lane to make the bloody print on the Pathfinder’s seat.
Based in part on the bloody fingerprint, Haida charged Lane with murder, but asserted that he didn’t think Lane acted alone.
During Lane’s 2010 trial, his lawyers argued that the fingerprint meant nothing, adding Lane could have left his fingerprint in the blood hours after the killings, when he was joyriding in the stolen SUV. Also during the trial, the defense produced a witness who testified that Johnson came to the hair salon the day before the slayings and told Cooney, “I want my money.”
The jury acquitted Lane after deliberating for four hours.
Johnson was sentenced to 11 years in prison on the charge of attempted residential burglary, which accused him of kicking in the back door of Cooney’s home in 2003. He was released from prison in 2010.
Three years later, Johnson was arrested in St. Louis County on drug and weapons charges.
Johnson is serving a seven-year term in the Missouri Department of Corrections in Charleston for receiving stolen property, possession of a firearm, possession of a controlled substance and possession of a controlled substance within a jail.
Missouri Department of Corrections lists 22 aliases for Johnson, including Felton Belson. He is eligible for release from Missouri Department of Corrections on Oct. 30. He can then waive extradition to face the Illinois charges or have a hearing so a judge can decide whether he should be brought to St. Clair County on the murder charges.
His bail on the Illinois murder charges is set at $3 million.
Reaction from the Fischer and Bone families, as well as the former police chiefs, was not immediately available.
Return to bnd.com later for more on this developing story.