In August, EBONY.com launched an investigative series looking at the death of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson, the Georgia teen whose body was found rolled inside a mat in his high school gym. Since then, the suspicious killing—and the questionable regard shown to his family's search for answers by local law enforcement—has made national headlines, with people across the country wondering if justice would ever be served.
Now, we've learned that private investigator Beau Webster claims to have solved the teen's murder—and he's naming names.
Speaking exclusively to EBONY.com, Webster says that he was contacted by one of the family's lawyers in February and that he's been searching for answers ever since.
The teenager, known to friends and family as "KJ," was found dead in a rolled up gym mat at the Lowndes County High School, Valdosta, Georgia, on the morning of January 11, 2013. Lowndes County Sheriff, Chris Prine, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), who performed the autopsy, claimed the seventeen-year-old student died from positional asyphyxiation.
But they couldn't get their stories straight on how it happened.
As reported here, the GBI claimed KJ fell in trying to retrieve a book, while Prine said it happened when he tried to retrieve a shoe. They did both agree that he smothered to death,
"I tried getting into one of those mats the way they said KJ did and I couldn't do it. It's impossible," Webster continues.
Webster spent the first four years of his life in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, until his father moved the family to northern Florida. From February through July of this year, Webster commuted the one hundred and sixty miles from his office in Tallahassee to Valdosta.
"I interviewed students, families of students, the workers at the funeral home and the body removal service, the first paramedic on the scene, family and friends, in trying to get to the bottom of what happened. I went to the old gym where KJ's body was found, to take measurements and photos. But school officials denied me access. It was very frustrating."
Webster is a former Broward County, Florida police officer who bares a striking resemblance to the actor Sam Elliott—same gray handle-bar mustache and chiseled cheekbones, same glint in his eyes. But despite looking like a movie star, Webster has had a real life private eye's problems during the course of his investigation.
"I opened my own firm, Webster's Investigative Services, LLC eight years ago. Since then, I've investigated a lot of murder cases, but none like this. I have never had a situation where I didn't get any cooperation from anyone," he reveals.
Webster continued to pound the well-worn Valdosta pavement, sometimes traveling into the countryside, interviewing his sources and looking for answers, until finally...he got them.
"Eventually, I was able to identify five suspects through my investigation. I wrote up my reports and gave them to the family's attorney."
That was in early June.
Later that month on June 14, 2013 before dawn, Webster joined KJ's parents Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, their family and friends to witness the exhumation of the teen's body at the Sunset Hill Cemetery in Valdosta. The vault containing KJ's body was loaded onto a truck and driven to Florida, for a second, private autopsy by Dr. William Anderson, a forensic pathologist.
As reported here, Anderson found that KJ had not been asphyxiated. Instead, he died from one terrific blow to his neck that caused his heart to stop.
Despite the very public release of the results of Anderson's second autopsy of KJ, both Sheriff Chris Prine and the GBI refused to relent. They still claimed that KJ had died accidentally, falling into the mat where he suffocated. Since both Lowndes County and the state of Georgia refused to open a criminal investigation, the only option was to turn to the Federal government.
"My office enforces civil rights and anti-corruption laws," says Michael J. Moore, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.
He was notified of the case months ago by the Johnson family attorney and began to review it, pending the opening of a full scale investigation. But when Webster found out that Moore had not received his reports, he contacted him directly and traveled to Macon, where the U.S. Attorney is based, for a meeting.
"Mr. Moore had already spoken with the family's attorney. I met with Mr. Moore and his executive assistant for two hours and laid out my case. He's just a great guy. I found him to be very open. He wanted to help and was very interested in getting to the bottom of this too. He would love for the family, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, to come in and speak with him."
Moore says that he is willing to