Is the occult responsible for the double murder of a young couple?

Left: Smiling Michael Johnston with a mustache, Right: Smiling Rochelle Robinson

Michael Johnston and Rochelle Robinson

Left: Smiling Michael Johnston with a mustache, Right: Smiling Rochelle Robinson

Bodies were found 5 miles apart

CASE DETAILS

On a cool night in June of 1994, four young people from Tacoma, Washington, were playing a game that involved mystical creatures, fantasy and magic. The next night, two of them were dead. The victims were 25-year-old Michael Johnston and 19-year-old Rochelle Robinson. Detectives soon discovered that Michael and Rochelle had been lovers. Authorities believed the motive for the double murder was jealousy over the affair. Others believed the couple was lured by a charismatic killer into the dangerous world of the occult.

A table with a pack of tarrot cards and a crystal ball

Was the occult responsible?

Michael Johnston’s body was found near Rochelle’s car less than six hours after they left the card game. His throat had been cut and he had been shot once in the head at point blank range. Rochelle’s body was found later that day on a remote road five miles from where Michael’s body had been found. She had been stabbed repeatedly, and her throat was slashed to the bone. Police believe that sometime after 1:00 AM, Michael and Rochelle parked their car on a quiet road near a popular shooting range called the Tacoma Sportsman’s Club. They were alone … for a while.

Fred Reinicke was a Detective for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department at the time of their murder:

“They were forced to dress hastily, Rochelle Robinson had Michael Johnston’s t-shirt on, inside out, when her body was found, and they were removed from her vehicle, probably at gunpoint.”

A box with information written on the side that reads 'India White, 23 x 35 95m sub22 short 1500 sheets'

Primary clue: Box used to cover body

According to Detective Reinicke, forensic evidence suggested that Michael was handcuffed, then forced to kneel near the front of Rochelle’s car:

“Law enforcement believes that Michael Johnston was a passive victim. That the real target was Rochelle Robinson. There were several, knife pricks in her neck, which would indicate to me that somebody held a knife to her throat, to force her to accompany him.”

Detective Reinicke concluded that the killer then drove Rochelle to the isolated road and brutally murdered her. He believed it was a crime of passion.

Kevin McMitchell was a friend of Rochelle’s and recalled how, in the months leading up to her murder, she was terrified that someone was following her:

“Rochelle felt that she was being stalked by a guy that came into her work, approximately three or four months before they found her. She felt that… he’d followed her home several times, that he’d come to her work and stared at her until she left work.”

Unfortunately, the stalker’s identity was unknown and after a year, the official investigation began to wind down. To keep the inquiry alive, Michael Johnston’s wife Janet hired a private investigator, Jim Wright. Jim Wright played it by the book and the first person he questioned was Janet Johnston. According to Janet, Wright wanted to know if she was aware of Michael’s extra-marital affair:

“He and Rochelle were seeing each other. I don’t know how long it had been going on, I don’t know if they were going to stop soon or if he was going to leave me, or what… we don’t know any of that.”

Janet passed a polygraph test and Wright dismissed her from any involvement in her husband’s murder. However, he did discover that Michael loved the world of fantasy games, black magic, and the occult. Wright believed that this passion put Michael and Rochelle on a collision course with their killer:

“Because of the nature of this crime, we believe that people who were involved in possible occult-type activities could be the kind of people that would commit this type of a murder.”

But more than a year had passed since the murders. Every way he turned, Jim Wright found the trail stone cold. Clearly, this was an investigation that demanded an unorthodox approach. Wright then turned to Nancy Myer, a well known psychic who had helped police on more than 300 homicides:

“It was very hard on Jim, because I said, you will not tell me anything, because it has no validity if you tell me things ahead of time. I don’t want someone else’s theories. Because to me, if you’re going to work psychically and work purely, you should not pre-read. You should go out there and work it cold.”

Without revealing his destination, Jim took Nancy to the road near the Sportsman’s Club where Michael had been murdered. She was inundated with visions and had a completely different story of what happened that night. According to Nancy, Michael and the murderer knew each other from their involvement in black magic:

“I would not be able to agree with the theory that would have Michael as an innocent you know, bystander, not the object of this killing. To me, from what I can sense, it’s the other way around. Michael was the actual object.”

As Nancy saw the crime, Michael and Rochelle were parked on the isolated road. She believed that the killer, a man in his late thirties, and two young accomplices crept up on the unsuspecting lovers:

“They seem to be accusing him of, of violating some kind of regulations, it almost felt like a cult type of situation.”

According to Nancy, the killer then stabbed Rochelle and, along with his two accomplices, proceeded to drive Michael to the Sportsman’s Club. Myer claimed that her crime scene impressions were so vivid, that she was able to envision all three assailants. The authorities, however, are unmoved by Nancy’s visions, or theories that the double murder was linked to the occult. They remain convinced that the killer will be found among Rochelle Robinson’s friends or acquaintances. Meanwhile, Rochelle’s mother, Lynn Robinson, must wait for a resolution:

“It’s a horrible, horrible feeling. You just keep going around and around and around. It’s almost like a merry go round, and some days you just want to say let me off! And you can’t. You’ll never, never get off of it.”


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season eight with Robert Stack and in season three with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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20 Comments

  1. Bill Blaski

    There were many serial killers in Tacoma WA in the 80s and 90s. Research Mike Reimer and Diana Robertson who were murdered in Tacoma mountains. Before them Stephen Harkins and Ruth Cooper murdered in the mountains. 9yrs later Michael and Rochelle were murdered in a rural area of Tacoma. Gary ridgeway was arrested in 2001 but his M.O was to kill prostitutes. I believe these murders were committed by a serial killer.

    Reply

  2. Lwebb

    Going strictly off the segment alone it looks like his car was found on a traveled road and her body was found on a secluded road if you’re having sex in a car you would want privacy which makes me wonder if maybe the car started where her body was found and actually ended where his body was found which would go along with the psychics assertion she was killed first (not that I believe psychics) …it would help to know who the real intended target was, I think logically it makes sense to think her because of the rage the killer unleashed on her (seemingly personal) but what if the killer was actually obsessed with him thus releasing a jealous rage on her? Was he maybe carrying on MULTIPLE affairs? Not unheard of. Someone out there has more information. I’m also shocked how many of these stalker killings that happen that the police dismiss that so readily…but yet occult is more plausible?!?! People that stalk escalate! A lot like peeping toms.

    Reply

  3. Julie

    Where is the composite drawing of the suspect? Sure looked like someone I knew from Tacoma.

    Reply

  4. Sieran Vale

    1994 — the tail end of the Bush-era far-right Christian inspired “occult mania” that was unscrupulously used to easily solve cases, and to prosecute and imprison hundreds of innocent persons. The West Memphis Three are the best known example of this awful “witch hunt” period of American history, which extended well into the Clinton reign until sex and drugs once again became the most accepted murder motives. Law enforcement’s nationwide focus on “the occult” resulted in THOUSANDS of unsolved murders and THOUSANDS of real murderers walking free. All part of King George the First proving to us that America was founded on religious freedom — as long as your religion is far-right Christianity.

    Reply

  5. Michael

    Unsolved, was there any DNA recovered from either scene and compared to DNA on file?

    Reply

  6. Shanna Rabe

    I was a good friend of rochelles and this being unsolved bothers me. At the time I lived in Roy, basically traveling for miles with nothing in sight and right before this happened I was followed home from where we both worked and it always haunts me. Also the detectives dropped the ball because apparently I was supposed to be interviewed after and I didn’t get a call until a few years ago from the cold case detectives. 20 plus years later my memory isnt as good as it would have been then and that pisses me off!

    Reply

  7. Lindsey Davis

    Could this be the killer? Would have been around same age and description, and was in/near the same area.

    https://www.foxnews.com/us/washington-state-teens-cold-case-murder

    Reply

  8. Phillip Larson

    I wonder if they ever looked at Tim Burkhart as the murderer?

    Reply

  9. Nick

    The fact that this mystery had not been solved is not surprising. These two were D&D geeks and they twisted that into an “obsession with the occult” and take the investigation off in the wrong direction. This has happened time and time again. They spend too much time demonizing a role-playing game that the trail grows cold.

    I hope whoever is in charge of the cold case file isn’t focusing entirely on this absurd “occult” angle.

    As for the rest of you armchair detectives, repeat after me: black magic isn’t real, the “occult” is just nerdy nonsense, there is nothing mystical about this killer, and a friggin’ boardgame did not compel someone to commit a crime.

    Reply

  10. James

    Had to be a reason they were separated.

    Reply

  11. Anonymous

    Stalker, feeling of being followed, and strange man staring at you. The knife pricks on the neck are a huge detail. This indeed seems a crime of passion. Why take the time to drive anywhere with her? Stab wounds like that. She was the main victim it seems. Getting dressed hastily.. Yeah they were disturbed on their “outing” the black magic is likely just coincidental. Just a hobby of the guy the girl was sleeping with. Everyone is easy to point to them because its weird and evil and simple but as weird as that stuff is in my opinion, it doesnt account for this tragedy. And a psychic? really? might as well ask dr phil who he thinks did it. Its not hard to play the guessing game and ask questions in between to put the final pieces together making everyone including yourself think you are someone making a difference. Attention thats all these “psychics” want.

    Reply

  12. Anonymous

    At the time, I lived about 3 blocks from the Sportsmans Club. Today, I found myself wondering whether this had ever been solved. I’m sad to hear that it hasn’t been. Such a horrible crime and tragic loss for those families. I think the stalker theory makes more sense…don’t believe in psychic ability.

    Reply

  13. Debra Sarmas

    It’s time the case is looked at again. So much mismanagement has cause the lose of evidence in the case. Where is the murderer now? Does he/they live next door to you?

    Reply

  14. Verity

    Michael and Rochelle were friends of mine. Michael had told me he thought he was being followed about 6 weeks before the murder. I think they were both the primary victim. I’m saddened the case still is unsolved.

    Reply

  15. Anonymous

    let me know if this case is solved rob main winnipeg [email protected]

    Reply

  16. J. Williams

    I went to High School with Rochelle, and lived a few blocks down the road from her, this obviously happened a year after we graduated and I moved away and was shocked to find out from friends of her death. After this many years later, and with the advancement of forensics solving so many unsolved cases, has Cold Case detectives looked back into this case for possible DNA search for any new leads? I would love one day to know that her killer(s) were finally revealed, caught, prosecuted and….welll let fate decide.
    This many years later, I still think of Rochelle from time to time & pray for justice.

    Reply

  17. Random person

    Did the murder involve black magic

    Reply

  18. Thomas

    the box comes from £@&€#%¥+

    Reply

  19. rob

    has the killer ever been caught

    Reply

  20. Tavia Roach

    So There Is No leads Or names Of The Possible Killers?

    Reply