The murder of Helen Bernstein by Aaron Johnson is featured in the latest episode of Homicide City on Investigation Discovery.
On January 14, 1995, Bernstein — a 64-year-old retired nurse — was found dead inside her bathtub in the High Tower Apartments on Stenton Avenue near Mermaid Lane in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. She had been beaten and strangled to death, according to Assistant District Attorney John J. Doyle.
Not long after Bernstein’s murder, police arrested Johnson and charged him with first-degree murder, robbery, and burglary. An investigation revealed that Johnson, a fired maintenance worker at High Tower Apartments, would often sneak into Bernstein’s apartment when she wasn’t there and steal her cash.
However, when he broke into her apartment for the last time, she was home. Johnson told police that he was drunk and high, and when he saw her sleeping in the bathroom, he attempted to bend her over, but she put up a fight. That’s when he strangled her to death, using his hands and a cord. Johnson then stole the victim’s gold watch and a bracelet, and he sold the items for $20.
Johnson initially denied the murder, but he later said he had to confess to murdering Bernstein because he was unable to live with himself. In a statement to police, he stated that “I haven’t been able to sleep since it happened. It was not intentional. I didn’t want anything like this to happen. I am truly sorry.”
When relatives learned that Johnson was found guilty of second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder, they weren’t pleased. The victim’s daughter, Tracey Christmann, stated that she felt as though Johnson wanted to kill her mother and that it was premeditated.
Judge David N. Savitt sentenced Johnson to life in prison. He told him that he was lucky he wasn’t found guilty of first-degree murder because if he was, he would have been facing the death penalty.
Homicide City — High Rise Murder, airs at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.