Editorials

Justice may salve old wound of Belleville salon murders

Triple stabbing murders at Belleville salon get charges 11 years later

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly reads a prepared statement in this file video from September 2016, announcing first-degree murder charges against Samuel L. Johnson in connection with the 2005 slayings of Doris Fischer, 79, and her
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St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly reads a prepared statement in this file video from September 2016, announcing first-degree murder charges against Samuel L. Johnson in connection with the 2005 slayings of Doris Fischer, 79, and her

More than 11 years have gone by since the shocking news came out of a popular West Belleville hairdresser’s house: He and two elderly sisters were stabbed to death in his salon, a nightmare scene discovered by the poor woman who had an 11 a.m. appointment.

Doris Fischer and Dorothy Bone were matriarchs of their families, prominent in the community, active in their churches. They were known as good people who enjoyed their salon day together.

Michael Cooney had the confidence of many local women, either selling them antiques or doing their hair. His best friend of 40 years, Marcia Scrivner, said he loved good food, good wine, his cat Oscar and good friends. “He loved people who were beautiful on the inside.”

Former Belleville Police Chief Terry Delaney quickly pointed to a man who more than a year earlier tried to break in to Cooney’s home, Samuel L. Johnson. Johnson was a drug addict and thief who began his criminal career at age 17 by being convicted of the gang rape of a teen girl.

Johnson had called Cooney’s home repeatedly just before the murders, pawned Cooney’s bracelet the day after, had enough cash to buy a used car and told his acquaintances he’d messed up and hurt some old people. He was charged with the December 2003 attempted break-in to Cooney’s home, but not the March 2, 2005, triple murders.

Until Friday.

Belleville Police did not give up on this case, despite a special education teen being charged and acquitted of the murders in 2010. They reopened it in 2014 and the trail led to the man Delaney suspected and that the teen’s defense lawyers said they’d pursue if they were prosecuting the case.

Belleville Police on Monday visited Johnson at the Missouri prison where he’s now 50 and serving a 7-year sentence for drugs and theft and having a gun. It took 11 years, 6 months and 10 days but they handed him grand jury indictments for the three salon murders.

All those family members, friends and the community finally got a glimpse of what has been denied for so long.

A conviction will go a long way to closing this very sad chapter in the city’s history, however the tenacity of police and prosecutors to get things to this point brings a certain amount of solace. They deserve thanks.

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