When I first learned of this case, it had been transmogrified. I already knew that legends change from telling to telling, but this story is an excellent example of how the stories we hear aren’t always as they seem. What I had heard about a “vampire murder” was, in fact, a much greater tragedy. I briefly talk about my quest for truth in a previous blog article called “New Orleans Vampire Murder: A Lesson in Truth“. This article approaches the story from a different angle– it contains further details of the crime and investigation as described in the television broadcast of the Investigation Discovery network’s show “Dead of Night”. Tuesday, March 26, 2013 was when they first broadcast the episode titled “Bourbon Street Bloodbath” which regards this phantasmagorical murder. Because of the interest in this story, I’ve decided to summarize the details presented in the episode of Dead of Night.
Once again, please note that comments to this article have been CLOSED. This blog is NOT a memorial. It’s NOT meant to berate or glorify those involved in the murder. This is NOT a place to grieve for those who have lost their lives in conjunction with this event. This article was written for the purpose of conveying information about the event and also to correct misinformation being spread throughout the paranormal community.
The Scene of the Crime
The body of Shawn Christopher Johnson, 34, was found at 10:00 am the morning of July 20, 2003 partially submerged in a hot tub of bloody water in his New Orleans, Louisiana hotel room. Pages of the Gideon Bible had been ripped from the book and stuck to the walls and ceilings. A strange rag doll was laying on the bed. The doll had moss in its hair, and it was wearing a dog collar. Two glass champagne bottles were found in the hot tub with the body. Shawn’s body showed signs of blunt force trauma to his head. One of the bottles had shattered, but the blow to Shawn’s head hadn’t killed him– he’d drown.
Pieces of a Puzzle
This crime scene left police with a perplexing puzzle to unravel, taking them deep into the realms of the New Orleans Gothic (or “goth”) culture. The first piece of the puzzle the police pontificated was the timeline of events leading up to the murder.
After the Microsoft Convention, Shawn had some free time. A colleague of Shawn’s said he’d been at a bar in the French Quarter called The Dungeon, which was open from midnight to 6:00 am. (The bar, which was located at 738 Toulouse Street is now another business.) The charismatic and friendly Shawn was at The Dungeon at 3am, hanging out with several members of the goth community. He left the bar with several of the goths, and they stopped to chat with other friends near Jackson Square. This was corroborated by witness Jerry Lambert who was at Jackson Square that night. Lambert said that a couple of goths who were with Shawn told him that they were going to “roll” (or rob) Shawn. The group was headed to Shawn’s hotel.
The hotel surveillance camera recorded five people heading up to Shawn’s room. This was a huge break in the case– police had faces of those who had last seen Shawn. Now they had to determine who those people were. This was particularly difficult to solve because the goth community could only give police street names of those involved, and getting even that much information was like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. The four people from the surveillance video were identified as Deardre, Worry, Never, and Ben, leading police closer to deciphering street names, turning them into real names.
Deardre, whose real name has been withheld by police for her cooperation during the investigation, had gone to the hotel with the group. She had left early and, as she left, she was told that she ‘wouldn’t know how much fun she’d miss’ by Never. When she left, Shawn, Never, and Ben were in the room’s hot tub sharing a bottle of champagne.
Ben was also easy for police to track down as his real name is “Benjamin Anthony”. Ben also cooperated with police. He confessed to being at the crime scene and that he had been in the hot tub at the time of the murder. He admitted to tearing pages from the Gideon Bible and sticking them to the walls and ceiling of the hotel room.
The other two suspects were more difficult to pin down. They were only acquaintances of Deardre and Ben, and the New Orleans goth community only knew them by their street names. Detectives finally got a lead on the petite blonde whose street name was Never when they spoke with a goth named Spin who worked at Reverend Zombie’s VooDoo Shop. Spin told police she knew the blonde, but the blonde hair in the surveillance video was actually a wig. The girl in the video was a brunette named Karla Frye. Spin was also able to explain the significance of the strange rag doll which had been left at the scene of the crime– the doll is what is known as a familiar in the goth community. Never always carried the doll with her, so for her to leave it at the crime scene meant that she had likely left the crime scene in a hurry and forgot her doll.
Police still did not know who the fourth suspect in the murder was, but they chased the lead on Karla Frye and found her 700 miles away in Florida. Karla turned herself in when she learned police were looking for her. When the police were interrogating Karla, her story kept changing. Karla claimed to have been kidnapped by some Italian guy who held her and her boyfriend prisoner for days. Her statement was devoid of emotion, but when police asked her if she knew she was a suspect in a murder case the details of her kidnap story began to change. It was obvious to police that she wasn’t telling the whole truth.
The last piece of the puzzle came when police received a hot tip from a random caller stating that they wanted ‘Worry’ off the street. The caller identified the fourth suspect as Kris Mitchell Lane, and police were able to find him and bring him in for questioning. As soon as Karla learned Kris was being questioned, she turned on Kris and the story police got finally put enough pieces in place to determine what exactly happened in the final moments of Shawn’s life.
Based on witness testimony, the final disturbing moments of Shawn’s life were unveiled. After leaving the bar at 3am, the group headed up to Shawn’s hotel room. Karla and Ben joined Shawn in the hot tub. Deardre hung out on the bed, but left after a short while. The remaining four were having a good time drinking champagne and messing around. Ben had pulled the Gideon Bible from the drawer and had torn pages from the book and stuck them to the wall. Ben finished joking around and got out of the hot tub.
At around 6:45 am, Kris approached Shawn from behind, striking him with an empty champagne bottle. The bottle broke and Kris picked up a second bottle, using it to assault Shawn again. Shawn lost consciousness and Kris held Shawn’s head under water. The unconscious Shawn then drowned.
Ben lost his composure and threatened to call the police, but Karla laughingly assured him everything was fine, telling him, “It’s okay. We’ve done this before.”
The group left in a hurry and Shawn’s body was found several hours later.
A Tragic Turn of Events
Karla Frye’s trial took place on August 25, 2005. She received five years in prison for negligent homicide. Kris was able to plea bargain for 45 years in prison for the murder. In March 2013, Kris committed suicide while carrying out his sentence.
The ripples of this one event are far-reaching in their tragedy. Family and friends lament the loss of friends and loved ones. Significant others are left broken-hearted. A child now has only memories of a father he will never see again. Nieces and Nephews wonder about their uncle. Probably the greatest tragedy is the significance of one singular event that in a split-second changed so many lives.
All too often those of us who are left behind can’t help but think that, if there is a God, why would he let such bad things happen to good people. The thing we all ought to remember is that all of us are able to make choices which can have far-reaching effects on those we love and those around us. We all have the potential to do great things, but our focus should be on the lasting impact of the decisions we make in our lives. Our choices can impact the world in so many ways.
May the ripples of these tragic events becalm as the sands of time settle once more.