The man accused of a triple murder in a Belleville hair salon in 2005 said in a jailhouse interview last week that he’s innocent, and that the prosecution knows it because they already charged someone else who was acquitted.
Samuel L. Johnson, 52, was charged last year with the murders of hairstylist Michael Cooney and two of Cooney’s clients, 79-year-old Doris Fischer and 82-year-old Dorothy Bone. The three were found stabbed to death on March 2, 2005, in Cooney’s home-based salon at 7813 W. Main St. in Belleville. Fischer and Bone were sisters.
“I am innocent,” Johnson said. “If you get a conviction, you will be convicting an innocent man.”
St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly charged Johnson last year. Johnson had been scheduled to go to trial last week, but the trial was continued at the request of the defense.
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Kelly brought the charges after he said new evidence emerged in the case.
Kelly declined to comment on the case, citing the upcoming trial.
“There is no new evidence,” Johnson said. “There is no evidence at all. No fingerprints. No scientific evidence. Nothing.”
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.
Johnson said that, on the morning of the killings, he got up and took a truck, loaded it with high-end merchandise stolen from the Saint Louis Galleria and sold it.
Police reports obtained by the News-Democrat in 2010 showed 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. Johnson bought a 1994 Lincoln Town Car for $1,400 from a Pagedale, Mo., car dealer five days after the killings. Johnson said last week that used money from the sale of shoplifted items.
Cooney was known to carry large sums of cash in connection with his estate sale business.
In an interview with the News-Democrat in 2005, Anna Nicole Hobbs, who was then the girlfriend of Demico Evans, Johnson’s cousin and roommate, told reporters that Johnson took a hook-bladed knife from her nightstand the day before the killings. Hobbs told reporters how a nervous Johnson returned the next day with a wad of cash, saying he had “messed up.”
Johnson dismissed Hobbs as a liar, who was angry about being cut out of the proceeds of the Galleria shoplifting.
“She’s lying about everything. Every time, it’s a different story,” Johnson said. “The girl ought to write screenplays or books or something. She’s wasting her talents.”
Johnson also discounts jailhouse informants expected to testify at his upcoming trial as “totally not true.”
“They were all just trying to make bond on my name,” Johnson said.
Johnson was always the prime suspect for former Belleville Police Chief Terry Delaney, but no charges were issued at the time. Johnson was only charged with attempting to break into Cooney’s house on Dec. 3, 2003 — more than a year before the killings. He eventually pleaded guilty and served a seven-year prison sentence.
While Johnson was serving his prison sentence, then-Belleville Police Chief Dave Ruebhausen activated the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis to investigate the case. 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 had been 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, then-St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert 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 initial police report, according to Johnson, identified the man as white.
Lane was acquitted in four hours.
Johnson said he didn’t know Lane.
“I’ve never seen him until that put him in the media,” Johnson said.
But Johnson did know Cooney. They met, according to Johnson, in a St. Louis antique store about 30 years ago. Johnson sold Cooney some items. Quilts, he thought. Johnson’s uncle bought old buildings, Johnson said, and it was his job to clean them out. Occasionally, he would find some antiques and sell them.
He denied ever being inside Cooney’s home.
“Those people don’t know who killed Michael Cooney and those ladies any more than you or I do,” Johnson said. “They are guessing, and this is now their theory.”
Johnson’s trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 18.
“We are prepared to go to trial,” prosecutor Kelly said.
Tom Keefe III, Johnson’s lawyer, didn’t want to discuss possible trial strategy or the evidence.
“I’m going to practice what I always preach to my clients and not talk about their cases with the press,” Keefe said.