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Murder of Joel Larson by Jay Thomas Johnson spread fear through the gay community in Minneapolis in 1991

Mugshot of Jay Thomas Johnson
Jay Thomas Johnson is serving two life sentences. Pic credit: Minnesota Dept. of Corrections

In the summer of 1991 killer, Jay Thomas Johnson, spread fear through the gay community in Minneapolis by embarking on a violent homophobic rampage.

On July 21, 1991, 21-year-old Joel Larson was about a block from his home in Minneapolis went a gunshot to the back fatally wounded him. Ten days later, former state Senator John Chenoweth, 48, was shot and killed, and 19-year-old Cord Draszt was injured.

Approximately six months after the attacks, and with rising friction between police and the gay community, investigators announced that they had their man in custody.

The police have the wrong man

However, at this time, a six-page letter was sent to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, KSTP-TV, and gay advocacy groups, that contained details about the crime that only the killer would know. It had not been sent by the man police had in custody.

The writer who claimed to be part of an organization called the AIDS Commission, a fabrication on his part, wrote about how he’d killed Larson. By way of explanation for the attacks, he chillingly wrote that he was attempting to slow the spread of Aids by shutting down areas popular with the gay community.

He finished the letter by warning that “members of the gay community should avoid public places,” and he bragged, “you’ll never catch us.”

Thankfully he was wrong about that as Johnson was arrested at a boarding house in February 1992. His downfall came when he placed two phone calls to the Gay and Lesbian Community Action Council, and police were able to trace the calls to his residence.

Investigators determined he had acted alone.

Jay Thomas Johnson’s sinister journal

When police searched Johnson’s home, they discovered a journal containing his sinister writings. He wrote that after being diagnosed HIV-positive, he decided he wanted to be a serial killer. “In these moments, I knew what I had to do,” he wrote.

“My dream of committing homicide on a large scale and entering the ranks of the nation’s most notorious serial killers, an ambition which had grown as dormant as the AIDS virus now in my cells, were now reawakened. They had found a new sense of urgency.”

“I fully intend to expedite a number of souls on their journey to the gates of heaven or the dungeons of hell.”

Instead, Johnson pleaded guilty to murder and received two life sentences plus 15-years for wounding Cord Draszt. He will be eligible for parole in 2032.

More from Hometown Homicide

Follow the links to read about more crimes profiled on Hometown Homicides, including the case of 17-year-old Alexis Murphy, who meant missing a short distance from her home in Virginia in 2013. Despite no remains being recovered, Randy Taylor was sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder.

Then there’s the murder of Jessica O’Grady, who disappeared in 2006 from Omaha, Nebraska. The 19-year-old student was murdered by Christopher Edwards, who was sentenced to 100 years for the crime.

Watch Hometown Homicide at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

Jerry was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, but is now based in the UK. He specializes in true crime and entertainment news stories. When... read more
Jerry Brown

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