Kenny Joe Johnson

Kenny Joe Johnson (Courtesy Dubuque Police Department)

Kenny Joe Johnson


Kenny Joe Johnson
14 YOA
Maus Park, Dubuque, IA
Dubuque County
(Home Residence: New Liberty, IA)
Investigating Agency: Dubuque Police Department
Case No. 87-21572
DCI Case No. 8705013
October 10, 1987


The following case summary has been compiled using information provided by the Dubuque Police Department and from the Dubuque Telegraph Herald article, “In Search of Kenny’s Killer,” published July 20, 2008, and written by TH Staff Writer Courtney Blanchard.

Dubuque County in Iowa
Dubuque County in Iowa
Dubuque in Dubuque CountyDubuque in Dubuque County

On Saturday, October 10, 1987 around 8:45 a.m., an elderly fisherman discovered the body of a young white male lying on the sandy beach area near a floodgate in Dubuque, Iowa’s isolated Maus Park.

Upon arrival police found the lanky, brown-eyed boy deceased, and ultimately identified him as 14-1/2-year-old Kenny Joe Johnson.

At the time of his death, Kenny Joe resided at Hillcrest Family Services and attended Central Alternative High School. He originally resided in the Davenport area and had been in Dubuque about one month prior to his death.

The fisherman found the boy rolled in a 5-foot-by-9-foot piece of yellow-orange nylon carpet dumped at the park.

An autopsy report stated the teen died by manual strangulation and also had been sexually assaulted. He also had a small amount of alcohol in his system.

He wore a purple and gray sweatshirt beneath a black and gray ski jacket, and officials found the ski jacket partially taken off and covering the teen’s right arm. Kenny Joe’s underwear were found still down around his mid-thighs, even though the assailant took time to pull up the boy’s jeans and fasten them.

In the days and week after the slaying, police followed up on hundreds of leads and implored anyone who knew anything about the case to step forward.

Despite searching nearly three decades, investigators still haven’t been able to establish a clear picture of the teen’s whereabouts in the two days leading up to his death. The case is unsolved and the offender(s) responsible for Kenny Joe’s death remains unknown.

Learning disability led to school-to-school bouncing

The lanky, brown-eyed boy did not call Dubuque home. In his short life, he’d already been bounced around from school to school and lived in several different towns.

He had behavioral problems, which likely stemmed from a learning disability that wasn’t always handled appropriately, said his sister, Crystal Licht, 37, of Davenport, Iowa, in a phone interview with the Telegraph Herald for an article published July 20, 2008.

When he was in first grade, Kenny Joe’s teacher made him sit in the front row of class with a dunce cap on, Licht said. Throughout his life, he encountered impatient adults.

Teachers interviewed after his death recalled him as extremely hyperactive and impulsive. Some said he craved attention; others said he seemed sad.

Dubuque Telegraph-Herald interview with Crystal Licht, Kenny’s sister. Aired July 20, 2008

The summer before he came to Dubuque, Kenny Joe moved from Davenport to rural New Liberty, Iowa, with his mother. He channeled his attention on the farm’s horses and his behavior started to improve, Licht said.

The farm was the perfect place for the “outdoorsy” teen to begin to calm down and discover who he was, Licht said. But then he received an unexpected and abrupt court order to enroll in the Hillcrest Family Services program in Dubuque because of behavioral issues, she said without elaborating.

He had no family in Dubuque, his sister said, and desperately wanted to stay in New Liberty with his mother and the horses. It was not to be.

On Sept. 22, 1987, Johnson began his short stay at Hillcrest House, a residential treatment facility operated by Hillcrest Family Services. Kenny Joe started classes at Central Alternative High School in early October, and a few days later — Oct. 8, 1987 — got into a dispute with a teacher. Instead of reporting to the principal’s office at 9:30 a.m., the teen ran away.

In the two weeks since he’d come to Dubuque, it marked the third time he’d run away.

It also was the last time anyone saw him alive.

Crime scene haphazardly disguised

Investigators said the way Johnson’s body and evidence of his assault had been haphazardly disguised provided them with insight into the killer’s personality.

In 1988, Steven Conlon, with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), profiled the killer and speculated he was a loner who had poor interpersonal relationship skills and had trouble making friends. Conlon theorized that even with antisocial tendencies, the killer had difficulty coping with the murder and probably told someone.

kenny_johnson_mur_scCourtesy photo Dave Kettering/Telegraph Herald
Capt. Mark Dalsing, head of the Criminal Investigation Division at the Dubuque Law Enforcement Center, points out the area where the body of Kenny Joe Johnson was found in Maus Park more than 20 years ago.

At the time, some Dubuque investigators thought the killer was a local person because the park is neither well-known nor easy to stumble upon by accident.

In 2008, Dubuque Police Capt. Mark Dalsing told the Telegraph Herald investigators still hadn’t pinned down whether a “local” committed the crime or whether it was someone passing through, perhaps on U.S. 61/151.

If anything, the passage of time improved chances of police finding an exact DNA match with samples found on the body, Dalsing said.

More than 20 years ago, investigators could only compare blood and fluid samples and deem them “similar,” he said. Now, those samples can be determined to be a nearly perfect match. DNA analysis has helped police rule out potential suspects over the years, he said.

After a story about Kenny Joe’s unsolved case ran in 1997, one person who’d held onto a secret for 10 years finally stepped forward to clear the shroud of mystery around the carpet’s origin. The owner of the carpet called police to say he’d dumped the carpet at Maus Park, which let investigators know the killer hadn’t brought it with him with intentions of hiding a body.

Kenny Joe Johnson’s case file takes up 30 binders and is the department’s largest open case. Over the years, fresh pairs of eyes have scanned pages by the hundreds, hoping for a new lead or different perspective.

Dalsing went on to lead the Dubuque Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division, and in 2008 said there’s still an investigator assigned to the case at all times. Capt. Scott Engleman has since replaced Dalsing, with Cpl. Chris Gorrell currently taking lead on the boy’s still unsolved case.

Licht told the Telegraph Herald she keeps in close contact with the police department and Cpl. Rick Hanten, who worked the case from the beginning until he retired in 2003.

About Kenny Joe Johnson

Kenny Joe Johnson was born December 28, 1972, in Moline, Rock Island County, Illinois.

He died Saturday, Oct. 10, 1987 in Dubuque after being sexually assaulted and strangled.

Kenny was laid to rest at Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Davenport, Iowa.

Information Needed

When the Iowa DCI established a Cold Case Unit in 2009, Kenny Joe Johnson’s murder was one of about 150 cases listed on the Cold Case Unit’s new website as those the DCI hoped to solve using latest advancements in DNA technology.

Although federal grant funding for the DCI Cold Case Unit ran out in December 2011, the DCI continues to assign agents to investigate cold cases as new leads develop or as technological advances allow for additional forensic testing of original evidence.

The DCI remains committed to resolving Iowa’s cold cases and will continue to work diligently with local law enforcement partners to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice for the victims and their families.

Anyone with information about Kenny Joe Johnson’s unsolved murder can contact Dubuque Police Department Case Agent Cpl. Chris Gorrell at 563-587-3806, Lt. Jason Pace at 563-589-4439 or Capt. Scott Engleman at 563-589-4467.



45 Responses to Kenny Joe Johnson

  1. Taylor Payette says:

    Some people who are very charismatic who seem normal live right next to parks for a reason. My antisocial (sociopathic) biological father would watch for kids across the street in the local park and wait for the perfect opportunity to use a childhood photo of me to get them to run to a specific location nearby using a non-suspicious, consistent method. The location would have had everything he needed that someone else was responsible for placing in that location—He was opportunistic in that regard. The criminal behavior escalated to violence or something more serious when there was greater opportunity for it. It might not necessarily be the case in that regard that this would be a serial offender as other factors of the profile I’m proposing might indicate to an expert.

    Considering this as a similar scenario, the killer could be nearby and the profile given could be a bit off. The antisocial characteristics in this circumstance would be greater. Again, an antisocial opportunist would have identified that this individual had a disability/was naive and vulnerable. The interpersonal skills in this scenario would actually be highly evolved. Trouble “coping” with the murder would look more like “I got away with it.” Check the neighborhood for individuals, an older male, living in the neighborhood. In this case, he might be responsible in day-to-day life, but might have also displayed tendencies reflecting anger or emotional volatility and immaturity. He would have wanted to do what he did. He would have liked it. And he would have liked getting away with it. He might have been a lonely loner, too, but I think the opportunistic aspects have been overlooked in some capacity. I’d check the neighborhood again and look for public opinion to determine the presence of aggression and biased mindsets.

    (Medical research, psychology, clinical psychology)

    “In 1988, Steven Conlon, with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), profiled the killer and speculated he was a loner who had poor interpersonal relationship skills and had trouble making friends. Conlon theorized that even with antisocial tendencies, the killer had difficulty coping with the murder and probably told someone.“

  2. Aimee says:

    Also I believe “BRYCE PETERSON” was involved with the murder of “MOLLIE TIBBITS”, also, Bryce has “co conspirators, Megan Walford Baustian, and Ben Ardvinson” from Brooklyn, Iowa whom Bryce brought from Brooklyn Iowa after meeting her on a dating app, whom I caught in my apartment together, they were having sex, and smoking crack, when I came home to this, they shoved me in my bedroom and held the door closed so I could not get out for sometime, for 2 years they were covertededly in a relationship in my face, hone, bed etc, they are part of what “Bryce calls his perfect circle”, after I caught on Megan Walford Baustian and Ben Ardvinson went back to Brooklyn Iowa thinking they were going to “escape criminal investigation and prosecution”, to this day that’s exactly what is happening even after I have reported a multiple of times to the Iowa City Police Department, Johnson County Attorneys, and the Judges” THIS IS BEYOND CRITICAL AND SERIOUS”!!! I had previously just commented on Kenny Joe Johnsons “murder”, A concerned person!

  3. A very concerned person! says:

    I have been reporting “Bryce Laurence Peterson”, for the last 2 years now, absolutely NOTHING” My uncle is an “unsolved murder ” in Des Moines Iowa, and when I showed Bryce my uncle’s story, he brought up Kenny Johnson, I had not known about his murder until than, I grew up in Des Moines, Bryce Peterson wanted to take me to his hometown and take me to MAUS PARK, Bryce has an obsession with “males, knives, and strangulation during sex”, Bryce is a “COVERTEDED, MALIGNANT GASLIGHTING PSYCHOTIC SOCIOPATH, WITH BPD, WHO WAS EMOTIONALLY ABUSED BY INCEST, AND WAS SEXUALLY INCESTED BY 1 OR MORE FAMILY MEMBERS “! Bryce will tell you for “no apparent reason” his “adopted mom and dad” Lyle, and Jean Peterson made him leave the house as soon as he graduated from Dubuque High School, Bryce “pulled knives on me multiple times, stuck knives in my neck threatening to kill me, cut up my furniture, physically and sexually abused me with a multitude of people in 2 years and less, he was in jail over a year of the two years”, Bryce is now in PRISON NO ONE WILL INVESTIGATE HIM, FOR Kenny Joe Johnson, his family and all affected, and “All VICTIMS VICTIMIZED BY BRYCE PETERSON AND HIS PERFECT CIRCLE” SOMEBODY DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS! Thank You and God bless all of us in Jesus name! SWIFT JUSTICE!

    • Taylor P. says:

      It seems like he definitely fits the profile, but I imagine they need time, place, and something more than convincing hearsay to do something about it.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Jeff Smith did this. Run the DNA

  5. john twogunns says:

    who the hell dumps a carpet in the woods..that was the killer

    • Otis Driftwood says:

      Sadly, it’s not uncommon for carpets and other bulky trash items to be dumped in semi-remote areas. I have seen everything from carpets and rugs, to stoves and wash machines, dumped in areas off the beaten path. Maus Park in Dubuque, due to it’s location, is a prime location for dumping items. Today, it is a mostly forgotten space, chiefly inhabited by the homeless.

      • Taylor P. says:

        I would be interested in knowing whether it was inhabited by homeless at the time of the murder.

  6. Brian says:

    I grew up in Dubuque Iowa same age has Kenny joe Johnson , trust me Dave Soppe did this i remember this like yesterday because as a kid i was scared all the time after this that it would happen to me or my little brother, Dave Soppe drove around in a ice cream truck and would try to pick kids up all the time. My dad ( rip ) would run him off all the time. Dave Soppe would run his mouth to Kenny lick about doing it Kenny was a friend of my older brother about 5 years older then me and he hung out with us. Kenny got a pool table from my dad in late or early 1987 /1988 my dad was getting rid of it Kenny had no way of getting it to his home he lived with people down by the old Dubuque packing house it was a brick building , i remember this also like yesterday when me and my dad took the pool table to Kenny’s house Kenny was all shook up my dad asked him whats up Kenny replied by saying” Dave Soppe just threatened me if he told anyone about killing that kid in the carpet at Maus park he would be next “. This can be proven if they can pull up where Kenny Lick lived at that time trust me it’s where i said by the packing house. now Kenny Lick was no saint but he trusted my dad big time, a few years later Kenny lick was charged with multiple rapes around the Dubuque Iowa area. I believe Dave Soppe died in davenport Iowa. Dave Soppe would always tell Kenny if he told he would be next, yes sure Kenny lick could of made this all up, But you ask anyone who grew up there they would of told you Dave Soppe did this. I feel so bad that this has not been solved i truly think the Dubuque police messed this up like other cases. Now if you think i’m full of it look up the records about Kenny lick and Dave Soppe pretty sure Dave is dead but Kenny i have no idea we moved away from Dubuque Iowa in 90s. Hope this helps. feel free to contact me i’m 47 years old now this needs to be fixed so this young man can be in peace now. I know so much about hill crest my sisters where in there trust me this place was a joke and not good for kids. And yes we told the police the same thing before but my dad was not liked so they would blow it off.

  7. Brandy says:

    I have tried calling and nobody will contact me.

  8. Brandy says:

    My thoughts are I know who killed these people, I know who took Johnny Gosch and the other paper boy. I know who put the body’s in the barrells in New Hampshire. But nobody really wants to know the truth because I keep trying to tell them. If anyone would like to hear what I have to say my number is 9184243575.

  9. Tim Wernke says:

    Wow. Almost 30 years

  10. Susie Bisping Moore says:

    please read over this case and help if you ban

  11. Gina Watson says:

    Thank you for keeping these cases fresh. It’s so important.

  12. Wow they should really be looking into the staff there at Hillcrest and start with the people who sent him there.

  13. Diana Jo says:

    God bless this to be solved, now.

  14. Diana Wilson says:

    The teachers didn’t treat him very well….but we’ve come a long way since that time. I feel sorry for the life he had. I hope you can find who did this to him.

  15. So very sad. My heart goes out to his family

  16. Kim Wilson says:

    Thank you for sharing Kenny’s case!!!!! I went to school with Kenny and his sister!!! My brother played baseball with him. My family had moved out to California. I will never forget when I got the letter in the mail from a friends about Kenny’s death…my brother and I were devastated!!!!!

    • Thanks so much for posting, Kim. It’s so hard losing childhood friends, especially given the circumstances of how he died. He seemed like such a happy and friendly little guy. I’m sorry for your loss. Jody at ICC

  17. Kim(Darrough)Wilson says:

    Crystal, Sure you don’t remember me it has been SO many years!!! But we were good friends in jr high! I actually tried finding you on FB a while back! Never got to say how sorry my brother and I were to hear about Kenny. We had moved to California in ’85. When we got the news from a friend about Kenny we were truly heart broken!!!! I never new they didn’t solve the crime up until Mike Rump and another friend posted your interview on FB!! I hope they find the person who did this and your family is able to heal!! We talked(still do) about him numerous times over the years. Please know he is still in our hearts and thoughts as the rest of your family!!
    Sincerely, Kim

  18. Lori says:

    I am so sorry Crystal. What was done to Kenny is horrific and the killer needs to be brought to justice. God speed to the police and may some sense of closure be given to Kenny’s family and friends.

  19. chris says:

    mike paulsen evidently has something to get off of his mind. did anyone ever do a backround check on him? just wondering.

  20. Crystal says:

    Believe me Mikie, Kenny has not been forgotten. I recently spoke with a reporter from the TH on an article they did a couple of months ago and remain in contact with Hanten. I am meeting with the new detectives on the case very soon for updates. Thank you again Mikie for being such a good friend to him, it fills my heart with joy knowing that he had you to stand by him.

  21. Theresa says:

    Now that being gay or bi-sexual is more accepted, and lots of people are out of the closet, I think a bit of research in that direction might be a good idea. Back when this happened there was lots of homophobia, and whoever did this may have had difficulty dealing with his feelings.

    • Taylor P. says:

      He might even have a wife and otherwise normal existence, and if he expresses biases related to sexuality I think that could be correlated with a higher rate (when antisocial traits are involved) of violent crimes involving sexual assault.

  22. chris says:

    Mike. maybe you should contact the authorities if you have information regarding this case.

  23. michael paulsen says:

    call me 563-513-7313 mike paulsen,22 orchard lane court lot 22 mancester iowa

    • Crystal says:

      Who is this?

      • chris says:

        crystal. i hope some day you will find closure on your brothers death. my family and i was subjected to dna analysis for this crime. i keep hoping that someday they will find the real monster who has done this to your brother. chris

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