Cold case solved because murderer in Tenn. wanted to be returned to Maryland
Tia Johnson(Oct. 19, 2012) Although it was a man who pleaded guilty on Oct. 11 to murdering her daughter in 2007, Lynn Dodenhoff’s rage was directed at the woman who knew about the murder, but said nothing.
Of all three defendants in the case, Dodenhoff said in Circuit Court in Snow Hill last Thursday, “I hold the most contempt for this one.” She was referring to Tia Johnson.
Johnson, now 32, had invited Dodenhoff’s daughter, Christine Sheddy, 26, of Milford, Del., and two of her three children to move in with her and her boyfriend, Clarence Jackson, now 38, in a ramshackle farmhouse on Byrd Road in Pocomoke in the fall of 2007. Johnson’s cousin, Justin Hadel, then just 17, from Texas, was also staying there. Just two weeks later, Sheddy went missing.
Jackson called Dodenhoff to say Sheddy had taken off and left her children behind. Dodenhoff did not believe it.
She had her daughter declared missing and started on a years-long quest for justice. She also started rearing Sheddy’s three children.
For two years, three months and seven days, Dodenhoff waited for her daughter’s body to be found. Numerous searches on the Byrd Road area and nearby woods by detectives, skilled searchers, ordinary citizens and an aerial unit turned up nothing.
Dodenhoff sought help from Johnson, whom she knew also had children.
“I begged her to please let somebody know where my daughter was,” Dodenhoff said. “What kind of mother would let a mother go through this pain and agony and not tell?”
Johnson knew exactly where Sheddy’s body was located. She had driven her car, with her children sitting inside, and Sheddy’s body in the trunk, to a bed and breakfast in Snow Hill where she and Jackson had worked. Climbing up a fire escape and passing her children into a room, she stayed in the room while Jackson and Hadel buried Sheddy’s body in 18 inches of dirt adjacent to the building.
They had killed her while Johnson was away from the farmhouse.
Some time after that, Johnson and Jackson moved to Tennessee and Hadel returned to Texas. Jackson ended up in prison in Tennessee, but he wanted to be in Maryland so he could see his daughter, now age 9, so he came up with a plan to get back to this state.
On Feb. 15, 2010, detectives talked to Dodenhoff, who had received a letter from a woman in contact with Jackson. She relayed a message that he would give Dodenhoff what she wanted, the location of her daughter’s body, in exchange for being moved to Maryland.
Two days later, detectives went to meet with Jackson in the Tennessee prison. He pointed the finger at Hadel as the murderer, said he himself was the mastermind of the cover-up and told them where Sheddy’s body was located.
Two days after that meeting, Sheddy’s remains were located exactly where Johnson had said they would be. An autopsy revealed she had died of blunt force trauma. She had been struck at least four times with a blunt object.
“But for Mr. Jackson, Christine Sheddy’s remains would still be at the bed and breakfast,” State’s Attorney Beau Oglesby said.
Johnson could have put an end to Dodenhoff’s suffering, but did not, Oglesby said.
Johnson’s defense attorney, Stephen Cox, said Dodenhoff’s pain “is beyond the depths of my comprehension.”
Nothing could alleviate that pain, he said, but Tia Johnson was not unaffected by what had happened. Cox read from Johnson’s journal where she had written, “I live with this every day. I can’t imagine my children living without me.”
As if she were writing to Sheddy, Johnson wrote, “Please forgive me for not telling so you could go home.”
She also wrote, “I just want to die and be with her. If I had never brought her to live in my house, she might still be alive.”
Johnson’s written words meant little to Judge Thomas Groton III, who said it is easy for people to write in a diary that they are eaten away, but most people would not be able to go without telling what occurred.
“It’s not that she drove the car. It’s the fact that she knew what happened. She continued that cruel charade,” Groton said. “Ms. Johnson was up to her eyeballs in the cover-up. That’s her culpability.”
Groton then sentenced Johnson to five years in prison for being an accessory after the fact and 10 years in prison for third-degree burglary. He suspended all but twoand a-half years of the 10-year sentence. The sentences will be served consecutively. After her release, she will be on supervised probation for five years and she must have no contact with Sheddy’s family.
Groton sentenced Jackson to life in prison, with all but 30 years suspended for first-degree murder.
Both Johnson and Jackson had entered Alford pleas to their crimes. In an Alford plea, the defendant does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that the state has sufficient evidence for a conviction.