SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – It’s a police file that has been kept secret for 50 years.
And the family of Johanna Leatherbury would like to see what’s inside the file in hopes they can help solve her cold case murder.
“At some point the time has come,” said Karra Porter with the Utah Cold Case Coalition. “This case is now 50 years old.”
The only report released to the family was a 4-page file from 1971. Most of it was redacted. The police report dealt mainly with the body being found.
According to the report, two men found a body and “appeared she had been shot.” It was later confirmed to be 17-year old Johanna Leatherbury, a 17-year-old who recently graduated from Olympus High.
The night before, she was with high school friends who’d gathered near 2500 South and State Street in Salt Lake City.
In 1971, authorities were optimistic of an arrest. But the investigation later turned into a “dead-end”
“My mother and father went to their graves totally changed people, totally changed,” said brother Jack Leatherbury.
50 years later, the Leatherburys have not been satisfied with the way it’s been investigated over the years.
“I am so angry and frustrated because there was a door being slammed in our face all of the time,” said Sandy Leatherbury, Johanna’s niece.
They want access to the police file in hopes it will lead them to a suspect and to see if investigators followed through on their suggestions.
Example, they claim there was a jealous classmate of Johanna’s.
“She was the one that her and Johanna liked the same man and she also wore Johanna’s shirt a couple of days after the murder,” said the niece. “It was also on the file that she had scratches all over her.”
To gain access to the records, the family as well as ABC4 filed a grama request. Both requests were denied.
“The detective is still on the case,” said Melody Gray with Unified Police Department. “He doesn’t think it’s a dead end.”
Gray claimed people have been questioned but no one as of late.
She said revealing their hand could jeopardize the integrity of the investigation.
“If we’re able to arrests someone what we want is a conviction,” Gray said. “And if we allow that evidence to get out, it could taint the case and the district attorney may not file charges.”
The Utah Cold Case Coalition is helping the Leatherbury’s in their appeal of the records. But the co-founder also claimed five decades is enough time to yield results.
“At some point it’s been long enough,” Karra Porter said. “I don’t know if it requires some legislation.
Porter said other states have laws in place that set time limits on old cases. She said she’s been reluctant in the past but this case deserves attention.
“The family believes they may have something to bring to the conversation,” she said. “They knew Johanna. They knew her friends, her schoolmates, her habits. They might spot something.”
The Leatherburys said they’re not trying to impede the investigation only jump-start a case that’s been languishing for 50 years.
“It feels like we’re handing them information but they’re not doing anything with it,” Leatherbury said.