RACINE, Wis. - Authorities in southeastern Wisconsin say they now know the identity of a woman found fatally beaten near a cornfield in 1999 and have made an arrest in her death.
Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said in a news conference Friday morning that Peggy Lynn Johnson was 23 years old when she was killed and buried as Jane Doe in Caledonia.
A criminal complaint Johnson's body was dumped where it was found, and that Johnson suffered burns, abrasions, lacerations and broken bones at the hands of a nurse who employed her as a nanny and housekeeper.
"When her mother died, Peggy, who was 18 years old, cognitively impaired (and) on her own, went searching for help in a medical clinic in McHenry, Illinois," Schmaling said. "There she met a registered nurse named Linda Laroche. Laroche recognized Peggy’s disability and took her into her home."
Johnson suffered burns, blunt force trauma to much of her body, a fractured nose and had "branding marks" that were inflicted within five days of her death, according to the complaint. An autopsy shows Johnson died of an infection suffered from chronic abuse, and that the manner of death was a homicide.
Schmaling said Johnson lived with Laroche in McHenry for the last five years of her life and suffered "long-term and horrific abuse at the hand of Linda Laroche."
Laroche, 64, was arrested Tuesday in Cape Coral, Florida, by Racine County sheriff’s investigators. Laroche will be extradited to Racine County.
Johnson's body was found on the edge of the cornfield in Raymond in July 1999. Investigators believe she had been tortured.
"The utter barbaric brutality inflicted on this young woman is something that none of us will ever forget," Schmaling said.
Johnson's body was exhumed in 2013 with the hope of using advancing technology to identify her. She was reinterred in 2015, 16 years to the day that her body was discovered.
The Racine County sheriff's investigative team has spent thousands of hours over the last 20 years in an attempt to identify Jane Doe and her killer, Schmaling said.
He said it wasn’t until recent weeks that Johnson or Laroche’s names came up in the investigation, and Johnson was never listed as a missing person.
Johnson was born and raised in McHenry. Her mother, father and brother are deceased, the sheriff said. She has a sister she’s never met.
Schmaling said Friday that arrangements will be made for Johnson to be buried alongside her mother in Belvidere, Illinois, "where she can be laid to rest with her true identity and at some level of peace."
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