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Stow -- Five days after a Stow police officer discovered the body of 21-year-old Michelle Johnson in a shed behind her Maplepark Road home, police arrested her housemate in her murder.
At a March 20 press conference, Police Chief Louis Dirker said 44-year-old Roxanne Lee Buck had been arrested and arraigned that morning in Stow Municipal Court on charges of first-degree felony murder and third-degree felony tampering with evidence, charges authorized by the Summit County Prosecutor's Office. She was being held in Summit County Jail on a $1 million bond.
Dirker said Buck lived in the duplex home's basement in Maplepark's 4400 block while Johnson and her mother, Diane Johnson, lived upstairs.
He said Buck has not confessed nor provided any information regarding a motive.
"Miss Buck is not speaking. We also have not found the murder weapon," said Dirker, adding that "there was definitely a weapon involved, a sharp-edged weapon."
Investigators did find the victim's blood in Buck's car, he said.
The medical examiner's office ruled Johnson's death a homicide March 17, when an autopsy was done, and her death was determined to have been caused by "sharp force injuries to the neck," according to Gary Guenther of the medical examiner's office.
Dirker said it was a "crime of passion."
"It was a pretty violent crime scene and it was obvious that there was a lot of passion involved, a lot of passions, a lot of violence involved," said Dirker.
The murder charge carries a possible 15 years to life sentence and the tampering with evidence charge, a nine to 36-month sentence, said Dirker.
Mother calls police for welfare check on daughter
Police said that on March 15 at 5:30 p.m., they received a call from Diane Johnson, who requested that police check the welfare of her daughter at the home, whom she had not heard from in two days. In West Virginia at the time, Dirker said, Diane Johnson became concerned because she lost contact with her daughter on Facebook, where there was normally "a lot of back and forth" communication between them.
An officer checked the residence and received no response when he knocked on the front door. The officer then went to the rear of the residence to see if he could get a response at the rear door.
When he passed by an open shed near the rear door, he saw a hand protruding from underneath a pile of blankets in the shed. The officer found Michelle Johnson's body under the blanket.
"I believe that they attempted to hide the body as it was almost completely covered by the blankets, but either it was dark and they did not see that the hand had not been covered, or they were in somewhat of a hurry," said Dirker in a March 19 email.
Buck initially 'cooperative, but evasive'
Dirker said police discovered that Buck was at work at a local Burger King. Officers went there and asked her to follow them to the police department in her vehicle for an interview. Dirker said she was "cooperative, but evasive."
"We tried to narrow her down to a timeline of her whereabouts, what she had done that evening," he said.
Buck, said Dirker, had been living at the home for about two months and was somehow distantly related to Diane Johnson through a cousin by marriage. Detective Sgt. Steve Dunton, the lead investigator on the case, said that when police interviewed Buck, they discovered that Buck planned on moving out.
"She was behind in her rent at one time and they had asked her to move out, so she was planning on moving out in April," said Dunton.
"She said she welcomed it when we talked to her," Dunton added, because she "didn't like her living conditions in the lower part of the basement."
Evidence found linked to victim
Dirker said that police not only obtained a search warrant for the home, but also one for Buck's vehicle because she had become "a person of interest." Investigators interviewed her again March 19, but she "still would not give a statement," he said.
Dirker said that on March 20, The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation informed police that "the DNA evidence in the roommate's vehicle could be directly linked to the victim, so it was obvious that Miss Buck was somehow a suspect." Dirker said the DNA evidence was blood on some books, although evidence indicated Johnson was actually killed in Buck's room.
Because of the cold temperatures, investigators have not been able to pinpoint exactly when Johnson was killed, he said, nor is there any evidence that more than one person was involved.
"My thoughts and the administration's thoughts are with Miss Johnson's family," said Mayor Sara Drew, also on March 18.
Dirker said the last time there was a homicide in Stow was March 11, 2002, a murder/suicide.
"It's been a long time, since before I was chief," said Dirker, who was hired in 2003.
Dirker praised Patrolman Jason Bailey, the officer who discovered Johnson's body.
"It was an incident where an officer went above and beyond," said Dirker, adding that if Bailey had only done a cursory check and had not found Johnson, a later investigation might have been even more complicated.
"Jason did a great job in being observant," said Dirker. "Don't assume it's just a welfare check."