Murder haunts Logan
Messenger file photo
Dale Johnston smiles as he is led into Hocking County Common Pleas Court in 1984 to hear his sentence on a double-murder conviction. He was sentenced to death, but his conviction was overturned and he was freed in 1990. One of the deputies accompanying Johnston is Lanny North, right, now sheriff of Hocking County.

LOGAN — This week marks the 25th anniversary of Hocking County’s greatest unsolved mystery — the horrific double murder of Logan teenagers Annette Cooper-Johnston and Todd Schultz. In the 25 years since their disappearance on Oct. 4, 1982, a satisfactory conclusion to the case has not been found.Todd Schultz’ family thought justice was served when the main murder suspect, Annette’s stepfather, Dale Johnston, was found guilty of two counts of aggravated murder and sentenced to die in Ohio’s electric chair. However, Johnston’s conviction was overturned and no one else has been charged with the crime.Cooper-Johnston and Schultz were last seen at the end of Gallagher Avenue and Front Street in Logan, by the old Kroger, according to Todd’s oldest brother, Greg. On Oct. 5, 1984, Todd’s mother, Sandra, had a feeling something bad had happened, but had not yet feared the worst. She called Annette’s mother.“The morning of the fifth, when they hadn’t come home the night before, I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong,” Sandra Schultz remembered. “I called Sarah (Annette’s mother), and she asked me why Annette was living with us. I said, ‘Because Dale can’t keep his hands off her,’” (referring to allegations of sexual abuse).Sandra said the Saturday after they’d disappeared, Johnston came by their house asking for Annette’s clothes.“I said, ‘no,’ and he said, ‘That’s all her mom has to remember her by,’ Sandra recalled. “I wasn’t thinking they were dead — why was he?”Greg also remembers that Saturday’s visit from Johnston. “We thought, ‘They’re missing,’ but (Dale) was acting like they were dead and talking about them in the past tense,” he recalled. Schultz would have been 44 this year and Cooper-Johnston would have been 43. Past news accounts described her as, “pretty blonde Annette Cooper-Johnston, 18, a local beauty contestant with a troubled past,” and described him as “19-year-old Todd Schultz, her good-hearted fiancé.”Todd’s mother, however, said they weren’t quite engaged, though they’d talked about it, and Greg said that their yearlong relationship had deteriorated a bit, and was mostly based on a physical attraction at that point.“They were typical teenage kids from a small town. There are thousands of other kids like them,” Greg said.Even if the story is often exaggerated with a “slain lovebirds slant,” it’s not an exaggeration to say that the incident changed the comfort level of the community, and ushered in a shade of cynicism that other parts of the country were already experiencing. Greg described what Logan was like before his brother’s murder.“When I grew up, we’d have the run of the town, because it was a small town. We’d take off in the morning, be gone all day and come back home at night. When the street lights came on, you went home. My dad was a firefighter, and my uncle was a police officer for awhile, so everyone kept an eye on us — it was like growing up Opie,” he said. “You never heard of those sorts of crimes before that happened. It was a small town, and it put everyone on edge.”Greg said he felt like the whole world started changing after that. “It was like the ‘coming of age’ for the whole country, and (the murder) made it real in Logan. It was surreal,” he said.Hocking County Sheriff Lanny North was involved in the case as chief deputy at the time.“A lot of things changed since the homicide happened,” North said, recalling how the county canceled Halloween that year and still holds trick-or-treating during daylight hours.Schultz’ younger brother, Erich, said, “It’s not something you get over, but you get around it,’” while Greg said it seems the situation is still constantly on their mother’s mind, and that the family probably would have benefited from counseling at some point, to help them not remain “stuck” in the whole nightmare.“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about (Todd),” Sandra said. “I think about what it’d be like if he were still here, what he’d be doing. He loved kids. He did graphic arts in high school, went to vocational school and was quite a photographer. He wanted to get into something where he’d take pictures and write articles. He was a good kid with a great sense of humor … such a waste.”The Schultz family isn’t afraid to admit their suspicions. They think Dale Johnston murdered Todd and Annette.Todd’s sister, Kendra, who shared a room with Annette when she moved into the Schultz home, began her interview with Brown News Service by saying, “I heard you got quite an earful from the man that murdered my brother,” (referring to Dale Johnston). Sandra Schultz said, “He always said he wanted to get out of prison so he could find the murderer. I always thought, ‘Gee, I guess they don’t have mirrors in prison — he did it, and he knows he did it.”Sandra Schultz said she refuses to let Johnston make her more of a victim than she already is. “I’m not bitter. I really don’t have feelings one way or the other, but that might be because I don’t have to look at him. I’m not sure what would happen if we crossed paths. “I put it in God’s hands and gave it to him to take care of,” she continued. “What he sees fit to do, he will do, and Dale will get his day in the end. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t like to see him behind bars.”North said that law enforcement personnel involved in the case were also surprised by the outcome. “We were probably all surprised he got a retrial, that the Supreme Court overruled the decision of three judges,” North said, “but you have to look at the basis of why he was retried, you have to look at that too.”Johnston, on the other hand, said he was surprised to hear he was found guilty. “To be truthful, I feel I was sentenced before the trial even started,” he said. “I know quite a few of news media people there were as shocked as I and my attorneys was when he said ‘guilty.’”Johnston said he thinks he was originally found guilty because witnesses were influenced to say certain things during police questioning. He said people probably try to force themselves to accept false memories when such a horrible crime happens and everyone wants it solved. He used witness Steve Rine as an example, referring to the testimony that was eventually questioned by the court because Logan Police Detective James Thompson used hypnosis to help Rine access latent memories.“The first time sheriff’s deputies talked to (Rine), he wasn’t sure what day it was, who the kids were, or who the person was who was with the kids, and he wasn’t sure of the kind of vehicle,” Johnston said. “Then after he talked to Thompson several times, and was incorrectly hypnotized, he (thought he) knew it was me, and he knew it was my daughter, and he knew the vehicle and what day it was.”North and Hocking County Prosecutor Larry Beal both said that today’s technology would certainly have helped the investigation.Erich Schultz said, “If they did DNA testing on the blood-covered evidence they have found, it would either seal the case or acquit him.”“They could do forensic science with the old stuff if they still have that, the problem with certain types of evidence is that it deteriorates sometimes,” Beal said. “I hope that they have it somewhere.”Authorities said that they do have the evidence stored, but some of the evidence that could have been used for DNA testing was suppressed when a court ruled it was obtained during an improperly executed search warrant.If anyone ever comes forth with new evidence, Beal said, they would certainly look into it, and that it is legally possible for Johnston to be tried for the murders again. Because he was never found innocent, double jeopardy wouldn’t be an issue.“The case is never closed. It’s always open until we get a conviction on it,” North said. “All of us involved in the investigation still think about it and hope to get closure — for us and the families as well.”Dale Johnston said he has found peace regarding his stepdaughter’s murder, and that he knows the truth behind the crime.“Sometimes you know something, but there’s no way you can actually prove it,” he said. “If you can’t prove something, I think it’s best not to say anything. I have had a lot of serious questions about their death, and I believe I have the answers to it, but without police power, there’s nothing I can do. But I have peace with it and feel I’ve done everything I can do.”

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