UPDATE: Relatives now believe the killers were looking for a safe that didn’t exist. Though holes were punched in the walls and rooms were tossed, the bad guys left behind jewelry, computers and TVs, leading relatives to believe they were looking for a bigger score. See update after the jump…
The young couple’s hands had been duct taped and there were plastic bags over their heads
didn’t get an answer. That struck her as odd, since the 21-year-old from
suburban Toledo was truly a “mama’s boy.” And that’s when her sixth
sense that something was wrong kicked in.
Johnny Clarke’s mom called his cell phone early Monday morning, but
She called 911 for a welfare check at 1:24 a.m. She called again at just after 2. But when police arrived both times, they found no one home, no tracks in the snow, no indication of forced entry, nothing. So they let it be.
A few hours later, Johnny’s dad John decided to take matters into his own hands. He went to Johnny’s Springfield Township home at 4 a.m. and kicked in the door. That’s where he found Johnny and his 20-year-old girlfriend, Lisa Straub, dead on the floor. Their hands were bound with duct tape and plastic bags were over their heads. They appeared to be suffocated to death.
There was no sign of a break-in, leading police to believe that the couple either knew their killers, or had let them in house for some other reason. It appears that someone had gone through a portion of the home looking for something, but that’s the only evidence thus far.
Lisa was a pre-nursing student at
Owens Community College who worked at TGI Friday’s. Johnny was about to enter barber school.
Perhaps the saddest part is that Lisa’s parents were on a Caribbean cruise to celebrate their 25th anniversary when they were informed of their daughter’s murder. They were flying back to Toledo from Miami yesterday.
UPDATE: Johnny Clarke was talking on the phone when the killers arrived.
Johny Clarke was talking to a friend on the phone at 11 p.m. on the night of the murder. He was supposed to go pick her up, according to the Toledo Blade. “He was telling her
he was going out the door,” says his mom, Maytee Vasquez-Clarke,
in her first 911 call at 1:21 a.m. “And all she heard was the phone drop and
heard my son saying in the background, ‘Who are you? What do you want?
What are you doing here?'”
The friend repeatedly tried to call and text both Johnny and Lisa after the incident, but didn’t get a response. So she eventually went to their home to check on them. When she got no answer at the door, another friend called Johnny’s mom.
Police said they found nothing alarming on their first check, nothing to believe that the couple would be in any danger. So they left.
But Johnny’s mom called them out to the house again. This time John Sr. was there to meet them, as was Maytee Vasquez-Clarke and another relative. But there was still no visual sign of foul play. And police declined the Clarkes’ entreaties to kick in the door.
So after the cops left, John Sr. went around back with a cousin and hoisted her up so she could see through a window. The cousin saw the couple taped and laying on the floor.
John Sr. ran to the front of the house and kicked in the door. Johnny and Lisa were on the floor near the kitchen. They were both bound with plastic bags taped around their heads. He tried to deliver CPR, but their bodies were already cold by then.
Johnny Clarke and his girlfriend Lisa Straub were suffocated to death with plastic bags over their heads, leading some to believe this was very personal
UPDATE II: Cops defend their response to the 911 calls.
The Lucas County sheriff’s department is defending its actions in the wake of the murders. Major Ron Keel says deputies were sent to the scene twice that night. They arrived just seven minutes after Johnny’s mom called at 1:21 a.m. and checked out the house for about 10 minutes.
They went back to the home after she called a second time about a half-hour later. This time they stayed for 36 minutes, looking in windows to see if they could find anything. But in both incidents they saw nothing amiss.
After seeing nothing to indicate danger, it would have been a tough call to simply kick down the door. Besides, Johnny’s dad could have kicked it in at any time as well. If you’re the man of the family, you don’t need to wait around for cops — or anyone else, for that matter — to do what’s right for your loved ones.
Though police are being ripped for their response, it’s likely they just didn’t look in the window that would have allowed them to see the bodies. A coroner has ruled that both Johnny and Lisa died of asphyxiation.
Lisa’s uncle Jim Verbosky says he isn’t blaming anyone.
“I understand how the system works and I understand what their probable
cause is and I understand that if they don’t have it, they don’t have
it, and they’re liable for whatever damage they would cause,” he told the Toledo Blade. “If they went to every ‘check the safety’ call and they start breaking
doors down for everybody, it gets pretty expensive.”
UPDATE III: Detectives believe the couple was killed in a robbery gone bad.
Detectives are saying the murders were likely a robbery gone bad. The house showed clear signs that someone had gone through it looking for something, but police won’t say what — if anything — was taken. But police have found a digital scale in the home, suggesting that Johnny was dealing dope.
In the meantime, detectives are also looking into whether Johnny made any enemies in prison. Daniel St. Clair, Quintwez Sanders and Johnny were busted in 2007 for robbing two different men in Toledo at gunpoint. Johnny was just 18 at the time.
He pleaded not contest to second-degree robbery and was given three years in the slam. But a year later, the judge granted him early release and placed him on probation for three years. St. Clair has also been released, though Sanders remains in the slam on a 6-year sentence because he was the one carrying the gun.
UPDATE IV: Relatives believe the killers were looking for a safe.
“There’s a lot of work involved in this. That’s
not random. That’s targeted,” Doyle Burke, a retired Dayton
homicide detective, told the Toledo Blade. “The average
burglar or robber is armed, but they’re not walking around with duct
tape and plastic bags.”
That has led some to believe that the perpetrators knew the victims, and that this was personal. Slowly suffocating the couple to death would indicate they wanted Johnny and Lisa to die slowly — and painfully.
But Jim Jim Verbosky, Lisa’s uncle, believes the bad guys knew Lisa’s parents, Jeff
and Mary Beth Straub, were out of town for their anniversary. He also says they were looking for a safe that didn’t exist.
“There is a kitchen with an island and an open
eating area that went into an open family room,” he told the Blade. “That was not ransacked,
but you could tell there was a fight that ensued there. Plants were knocked over. Things were broken and knocked over, but
upstairs, Mary Beth and Jeff’s room was ransacked to the point where it
looked like a TV show. All the drawers were out, and they had punched
holes in the walk-in closet looking for a safe that never existed. There
was no safe.”
All that was stolen was $84 in cash from a change jar. Valuables like jewelry, TVs and computers were left behind.
See our last story from the Unsolved file: Phylicia Barnes, 16-Year-Old Honor Student, Disappears While Visiting Relatives in Baltimore.