July 3, 1989
Martha Ann Johnson is arrested on suspicion of murdering her children
On September 23, 1977, Johnson rushed her 23-month-old son to the hospital. She claimed James William Taylor, from Johnson’s second marriage, was unresponsive after his nap. James was pronounced dead at the hospital, his death attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
On November 30, 1980, paramedics attempted to resuscitate 3-month-old Tabitha Jenelle (alt. spelling Tibitha Janel) Bowen, who, similarly, was found unresponsive after a nap. Tabitha’s death was also attributed to SIDS. Tabitha was fathered by Johnson’s third husband.
On February 12, 1981, 2-year-old Earl Wayne Bowen, also from Johnson’s third marriage, suffered cardiac arrest while in transit to the hospital to be treated for seizures. Though medical personnel were able to revive Earl, he was pronounced brain dead and taken off life support three days after being admitted to the hospital.
On February 21, 1982, 11-year-old Jenny Ann (alt. spelling Jennyann) Wright, from Johnson’s first marriage, was found face-down on Johnson’s bed with foam coming from her mouth. She was unable to be revived; her cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on the deaths in December 1988, and the attention caused official investigations to be reopened. Johnson was arrested on July 3, 1989 and confessed to murdering Jenny Ann and Earl, claiming to have killed them by rolling her own body onto theirs as they slept. She claimed she did not kill the younger children. During her confession, she admitted each murder was preceded by an argument with her husband, and each killing was meant to punish him.
Johnson was found guilty of three of the four deaths and sentenced to death, though the sentence was later commuted to life following an appeal.