Heartland Unsolved: Free Spirit

Peggy and her son, Frankie (Courtesy: Roberta Bodecker)
Peggy and her son, Frankie (Courtesy: Roberta Bodecker)
Peggy Davis (courtesy: Roberta Bodecker)
Peggy Davis (courtesy: Roberta Bodecker)
Roberta and Peggy Daivs (Courtesy: Roberta Bodecker)
Roberta and Peggy Daivs (Courtesy: Roberta Bodecker)

MURPHYSBORO, IL (KFVS) - There's no question Peggy Davis Johnson enjoyed life.

"Everybody loved her," her sister Roberta Bodecker tells me.  "She liked to party.  She liked to go out a lot."

The 36 year old from Murphysboro could be seen out drinking with friends, nearly every night.

But in August of 1995, a Wednesday night on the town led to a now 21-year-old mystery.

Peggy hasn't been seen since that night. Her body has never been found.

In this edition of Heartland Unsolved, we traced her final steps through the eyes of the man she was last seen with, a man police call the main suspect in her disappearance and likely her death.

A Free Spirit

"It's rough. I really want to find out what happened to her."

Roberta Bodecker's never stopped asking what happened to her younger sister, Peggy Davis Johnson.

Although her gut tells her it was bad.

"I know she's gone," Bodecker admitted. "You know, I know she's dead. I just hope they didn't mistreat her."

"Through the years we've followed up on numerous leads to try to solve this case," said cold case Detective Mike Laughland.

Laughland showed us Peggy's case file.

The bulk of the information inside comes from interviews done with three local men who all admit they spent time with her in both Murphysboro and DeSoto the night she disappeared.

"I would say all of them are lying," Bodecker said plainly. "I would say, out of all of them, somebody knows something."

"They're all lies, in my opinion," Laughland said of the men's statements.

Officer Brian Brewer was new to the department when he worked on the initial missing person's case.

He sat in on all three interviews.

"There were a few inconsistencies in some of the interviews," Brewer said. "And of course if you have any inconsistencies at all, it starts playing on your mind."

Laughland believed the last man seen with Peggy that night holds the key.

"I believe somebody killed her. And I believe we know who that is," Laughland said.

21 years ago: The night Peggy disappeared

It was August 9, 1995.  A local factory worker and his buddy grab a few beers after work.

"Well, we took off work at six o'clock and we went up to Gene's," a local man told police of that night.

This is the man police call their main suspect in Peggy's disappearance and, most likely, her murder.

He's 27 years old with shoulder length brown hair and a brown beard, known around town for driving a beat up 1969 Buick.

You're hearing his exact words, given during a police interview six days after Peggy went missing.

"And we drank a couple of beers up there and she walked in there and she sat right down beside of me," he told the officer.

"And when you say she you're, are you referring to Peggy Johnson?" the officer asked.

"Peggy. Yeah, Peggy, Peggy sat right beside of me."

After sharing several drinks, he told the officer he and his buddy got up to leave. They were heading to another co-worker's house in DeSoto.

Peggy, he said, had a question.

"Can I go along, go along with you guys?" he recalled her asking.

The men said "sure," and the three left Gene's together.  Peggy rode in that late '60s Buick to the buddy's home in DeSoto, the man told police.

The main suspect then told the officer they kept the party going.

Peggy, he said, was mixing drinks and at one point actually passed out. The three men decided to go back to Gene's.

"And uh, [name removed] asked me, you want me to take her home. Said no, I'll take her home."

"Kay," the officer replied.

"And uh, I carried her out to my car, put her in the back seat of my car."

During the ride, Peggy woke up and wanted to get some food, he said. So they ended up at the Hardee's on Walnut Street.

They go through the drive-thru, he said, where Peggy paid for their food. He pulled the old Buick around the building to park.

"And we just got done eating and everything she seen one of her friends walking to the car, First thing, I says, 'I got to get to Gene's,'" the man told police.  "They're waiting on me."

And here is where we hear the only version of Peggy's final moments, told by the man police call their main suspect.

"And then she got out of the car and she was, she was drunk. Real Bad. She looked like she couldn't even hardly walk," the man seen with Peggy said.

You don't think she walked off with a friend at the Hardee's do you? We asked Detective Laughland.

"No, I don't," he responded. "I believe that something bad happened to her, that they never made it to Hardee's. Where they ended up, I don't know."

So, do you believe his story?

The interviews given by that main suspect and his two buddies don't match up.

Plus, a big clue seems to point his way too.

"Well, I ain't the kinda person to kill anybody and everything I mean, I would never hurt a girl or anything like that," the last man seen with Peggy Davis Johnson told police.

But, cold case Detective Mike Laughland isn't buying his story about drinks at a friend's and dropping her off in a fast food parking lot.

"Something bad happened between the time she left the house in DeSoto and the time she was supposed to arrive back at Gene's Tavern in Murphysboro," Laughland said.

The first clue in Peggy's case comes the morning after she goes missing.

A man dropping his wife off for work at the local unemployment office described seeing a man with longer hair sitting in an older car, his head down as if he was looking at something.

When the man comes back outside, the car is gone but a woman's purse is now laying on the ground in its place.

Roberta got called to the police station, where she identified Peggy's purse.

"Oh yeah, it was that feeling. Yeah, I knew something was wrong," Roberta Bodecker said.

During his 1995 interview, police asked the last man seen with Peggy if he ever had her purse.

"She took her purse with her," that man told them.

Do you believe that was your main suspect in that car, we asked Laughland.

"I believe the person in the car was responsible for her death," he answered.

And then dumped the purse?

"And then dumped the purse."

Plus, the stories all three men partying with Peggy that night gave don't add up.

Remember the main suspect said he had to carry Peggy from the DeSoto house to his car and put her in the back seat because she was so drunk.

But, his two buddies said, while she had been drinking quite a bit, she walked to the car on her own, and climbed into the front seat.

"That was one of the first big ones that came up that caught me, caught my attention," Officer Brian Brewer recalled after sitting in on that 1995 interview.

Next, the main suspect said after he left Peggy at Hardee's he got back to Gene's Tavern "between 10:30 and 11 probably."

But, that's not what his friends said.

One said he got there "between 12:30-1 a.m."

The other said, "it was close to closing time, one o'clock."

That means it could have been, again, up to a two, two and a half hour difference.

"Absolutely," Officer Brewer said and agreed that it jumped out at him.

And what about that mystery friend at Hardee's? Police aren't buying that either.

"The fact that we could not find her would lead me to believe otherwise," Brewer said.

"What do you think ought to happen to them if, if they did do something to kill her?" the police officer asked the man seen with Peggy.

"You'd have murder charges against you," he answered.

Detective Laughland said now is the time to solve Peggy's case.

Old evidence has been sent in for new DNA testing.

Plus, DNA from Peggy's family is being used to create a profile to hopefully identify her remains.

"The body's your biggest piece of evidence," Laughland admitted.  "And without that, your case is, I'm not going to call it unsolvable but it makes it very difficult."

Roberta Bodecker's made it her mission to keep her sister's case in the public eye over the past two decades.

She said she's heard rumors, horror stories really, about where Peggy's body could be.

"Her in a well, an abandoned well, which they have looked in several," she said. "I've heard of her being thrown on a pig farm, which I know there was one looked at in DeSoto. And actually just a couple of months ago, I was told that she was thrown off a levee somewhere."

In the meantime, she worries her elderly mother may never learn the truth.

"She's 81 and this stuff has just went on too long."

Do you feel like, in a small community like this, there are people right now in this town who know what happened to your sister?

"Oh sure. I'm sure there are several of them that know."

If you've heard anything about Peggy's case then or now, Murphysboro Police would like to hear from you.

You can message Kathy Sweeney and she will share that information, which can stay anonymous if you like.

Message her on her Facebook page if you know of a cold case you'd like to see profiled on Heartland Unsolved.

Watch the Facebook Live chat that followed the airing of Heartland Unsolved below.

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