Two boys die mysteriously in a shack fire.

Scott Johnson

The shack they played in caught fire

CASE DETAILS

Bullhead City, Arizona, is a small, desert community on the banks of the Colorado River.  Sue Johnson moved there from California in 1973. She and her husband felt it was a great place to raise their children, Scott and Angel. Sue recalls how her children took to the place immediately:

“They loved it. Scott was a natural born fisherman. He loved to fish and go out in the desert, catch lizards, catch a snake, whatever. He was just a desert rat. He just fell in love with it.”

A criminal claimed he witnessed the murder

Less than fifty yards from the Johnson’s new home stood an old shed once used by copper miners as a powder magazine. It became a playhouse for Scott and his friends. Sue used to watch them play in it:

“Oh, they just played there and played cops and robbers and Indians and cowboys and whatever else little boys do. I never felt any apprehension towards that building at all. It was within sight of the house. It wasn’t anything to worry about. It was the typical thing that children would pick to use for a fort or a clubhouse.”

On April 3rd, 1974, at 3:45 P.M., the Bullhead City Volunteer Fire Department responded to a call: the old powder magazine was on fire. Former Bullhead City Fire Chief Larry Adams remembers the details vividly:

“What I could see through the smoke is what appeared to be upholstery on the floor. When I got the pike pole, I stooped down to look under the smoke to hook this material and hook it out to extinguish it.”

Other witnesses corroborated the murder theory

What Adams found was the badly burned bodies of Scott Johnson and one of his friends. Seven weeks later, the coroner concluded that the two boys had died accidentally, suggesting they were probably playing with matches and gasoline when the shed caught fire. Sue Johnson didn’t buy it:

“I was shocked, I was very shocked. My child was certainly smarter than to just lay in the back of a building and wait to be asphyxiated by smoke or burned by fire. It’s kind of an obvious thing. I always knew it was murder, always.”

Sue Johnson was not alone in her opinion. From the beginning, former Fire Chief Adams also believed that Scott and his friend were victims of foul play. He had noticed that the door of the shack had not been locked or obstructed in any way:

“All anybody had to do to escape that building was push on the door. In this case, a building six-by-six, they would hit that door and escape the building, had they been able to.”

A few feet from the door, Adams found a 2-by-12-inch wooden plank. Adams thought it was odd that the board had a small charred circle on one side:

“It indicated to me that somebody had prevented their escape through that door. They may have initially tried to hold the door, but it’s metal, it got hot, they couldn’t hold the door any longer. They’d need something to insulate them from the heat. They picked up the two-by-twelve, one on each end or more, and held the two-by-twelve against the door with one person on each end of it.”

Despite this evidence, police closed the case. As the months went by, Sue Johnson continued her efforts to have the case reopened. Four years after the fire, Dale Gordon Meador, a convicted felon, came forward with a shocking story. Meador was serving time at a county jail in New Mexico. At the time of the fire, he was living in Bullhead City. Former Detective Robert L. Melton was one of the men who spoke with Dale Meador:

“There was knowledge there. Meador advised us that he saw two men holding these two young kids and pushing them in the powder magazine. One of the kids looked like he was heavily drugged and the other was fighting. Then he saw one of the men with a gas can. One of them told him in street terms to get lost. And that they’d just burned up two kids.”

Dale Meador told police that he came to know one of the men while serving time at a prison in Nevada. Authorities questioned the man that Meador accused of setting the fire, but they were unable to make a case. However, other witnesses backed up Dale Meador’s account.  Residents Tena Moe and John Kalous reported the fire on the day Scott Johnson and his friend died. They are also convinced that the boys were murdered. At the time of the fire, Tena and John were teenagers. Like Dale, Tena recalled seeing two men:

“There were two men, one was standing on the side of the hill facing the door of the shack and the other one, well, he didn’t like the idea that we were there and he took off and went running.” 

John Kalous was with Tena and also saw the event unfold:

“That’s when I said, ‘You know, Tena, I think we should go call the fire department on this, because I think those guys set this place on fire.’ And that’s when we left.”

John and Tena told police about the two men they had seen. However, John believes their statements were ignored because of their own previous scrapes with the law:

“It didn’t seem like they took it seriously at all. It seemed like they didn’t believe my story and, from my past reputation, they seemed like they just disregarded it. And I never heard anything more about it.”

As time passed, the tragedy faded from public memory. But Sue Johnson continued her quest for the truth:

“You wonder if there is someone who just wanted this tucked away quickly and for good.  Or was it just sloppy investigation, or just circumstances? I honestly feel that it was a combination of a lot of things.”

In 1989, Dale Lent became the new Chief of Detectives. He reopened the case as a murder investigation:

“I’ve talked with Sue on the phone and in person many times. I told her in the beginning when I started out that there may not be an answer to this. But we’re going to keep looking.”

Were Scott Johnson and his friend deliberately burned to death? If so, why would anyone kill two ten-year-old boys? One clue may be the unusual discovery that Scott made three weeks before his death: a $100 bill. Sue Johnson believes that could have been a small key:

“I think it’s possible that there could’ve been someone that used that area, possibly for a drug transaction or something. And maybe the people that they saw doing this thought that the kids would run a block away to the sheriff’s substation and report them, and therefore they felt like they had to do something to stop it.”

To date, no answers have been found, but Sue Johnson refuses to give up hope:

“It’s very hard to live every day of your life and wonder why your son was murdered and why no one’s ever done anything about it after all these years. I hope that whoever did it gets to pay for what they did someday. I don’t care how long it takes. I’ve been patient this long, I can wait longer if that’s what it takes.”

Detectives hope that a new witness will come forward and provide information that will point them to the killer.


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

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22 Comments

  1. Alexis

    I find it interesting that nothing was ever said about the other little boy who lost his life, not even a picture. There barely is any mention of him, why is this?

    Reply

  2. Anonymous

    I used to live in Bullhead, Az I was with a man Steven Thomas West. When I met him he was in a wheelchair. Before he got paralyzed he was able to walk. A few times the undercover police would come to talk to him, and Steve would tell me to leave. When I came back I would ask m what they wanted and he would tell me a completely different story then what I saw on Unsolved Mysteries I really believe Stephen West had something to do with the murder of them two boys in Bullhead City Arizona the man that was with him was convicted and sent to prison for life but why they did not come back Stephen West to charge him with the murder of them two boys I live there with Steven at 410 River Glen Bullhead City Arizona for 4 years it was the worst time of my whole life I finally left and came back to Phoenix in 1996 I never came back to Bullhead City ever but did learn that Stephen West was killed in an automobile accident around 2000 2001 I think it’s really sad that the police department can even come back Stephen West and then two boys murdered Police Department in Bullhead City is really a sad sad Police Department setting two little boys had been murdered in a very cruel way I hope that Steven was dressed in hell and that man that was with him and serving time I believe in California I hope he goes to hell right next to Steven

    Reply

  3. sade Wheeler

    i think that was mean for killing them boys for no reson

    Reply

  4. Anonymous

    How incredibly sad. Poor boys just being kids. May the murderers rot in hell.

    Reply

  5. Blue bird

    What in the Hell Is Going On Here? Scott Johnson And his friend Were Murdered ! And to U People At Unsolved mysteries I Love Your Show Good Luck!

    Reply

  6. Mother Of A BHC Runaway

    My daughter ran away when she was 14 was in California at the time… Her boyfriends mother came and picked her up without consent from me or anyone else that would be responsible for my daughter crossing state lines. The BHC PD said that running away was not illegal… There were sightings of her in BHC the police never questioned her bf mother or even tried. When someone would tell me that she was at a house mysteriously she wouldn’t be there anymore by the time the PD got there. Turns out the mother of one of her friends was working for dispatch and tipping her off every time they were called. Anyway a month later she was found in a house full of underage kids drinking several had to be taken to the hospital for alchoal poisoning. The mother still never was even slapped on the wrists or anything for what I call kidnappings my daughter for her son. Ridiculous. But at least my daughter realized the kind of crowd she was hanging with was no good and changed her ways and is now a mother herself(this happened almost six years ago) and hopefully will not have to deal with what we did from her daughter!

    Reply

    • Azgrl

      Thats because you didnt have custody of your daughter!!! And look where your at now dealing drugs being raided ect. Your no angel yourself and your daughter turned out amazing and is an amazing Mother!!!

      Reply

  7. I HATE BULLHEAD

    Bullhead is full of incompatant lazy ignorant people. But so is any city you go to. Doesn’t mean everyone is. Just who you choose to surround yourself with. As far as the law hors in bullhead…. Not the best.. I do have to admit. My daughter ran away and they told me that running a way was not illegal, (she was 15) and the fact that she was taken from California back to bullhead city Arizona by her boyfriends mom whom didn’t have permission at all by me or anyone else who my daughter would receive permission from didn’t make them try to find her or even question the boys mom about it a priority whatsoever. They tried knocking on the door once and that was about it. Them when I would receive calls telling me that my daughter was spotted at a house when I called dispatch to send out a car her response was ” I will if we have a chance to…” Turns out the dispatch lady was one of my daughters friends mother who was in on her disappearing and would alert my daughter or the house she was at that they were on their way evryyime, making it so when they arrived the house she would be at would be empty. She was found about a month later at a house party where several underage drunk kids had to be rushed to the hospital and has been straightened out ever since then thank goodness for that. But if this is the kind of people in Bullhead that is working for the people… Things need to change because obviously its been that way for years.

    Reply

  8. rob main

    i think what happened here was it was a drug deal gone bad and the boys came across something they shouldn’t have had.the hundred dollar bill is was dropped in a drug transaction robbmain@hotmail.com.

    Reply

  9. Linc

    I was a 11 year old runaway in 74. Many of us kids were from L.A. foster homes. AZ. was popular spot to transport dope, kids were the best mules-did not draw attention from the man. This was a very bad scene that happened in B.H. City, a kid/courier was hurt/wounded-cash was missing for the drop, the dealers went looking for the $, found 2 boys, a 6 year old & a 10 year old….

    Reply

  10. Mandy

    I’m sorry for your loss Mike Hill. This case is definitely suspicious, and I do believe that those two young innocent boys were victims of murder. Absolutely horrible. I hope that someday this case will be solved, and that the family members finally get the justice they deserve.

    Reply

  11. mike Hill

    My brother’s name was Peter Hill. Scott Johnson was actually my friend, but for some reason he was hanging out with my brother and found a hundred dollar bill. I don’t know if the hundred dollar bill had to do with anything but it still could be a good piece of evidence. Peter was 6 years old and was a very inspirational brother. I will always remember him as a caring brother. R.I.P Peter. My family and I will miss him always

    Reply

  12. Pam

    It’s a cruel world and with the advanced technology of DNA, thi case should be solvable. Please let a bulldog detective in the cold case unit pick up this case and solve this horrific crime. SOMEONE has to speak for those murdered children.

    Reply

  13. Ebz

    THIS was a cover up. Several reports of 2 men and even claim of witness to the murder.
    What a terrible world we live in

    Reply

  14. Debra Ballinger

    WOW! I do not believe it was police corruption or deliberate…maybe just failure to cover the issue forcefully? I pray for your justice!

    Reply

  15. mike Hill

    Other victim was my brother didn’t know half of this info parents didn’t talk about it my son looked it up and showed me I was in same grade as scott

    Reply

    • Ursula

      Hi Mike. So sorry for your loss. I’ve been curious about this case ever since it first aired. Still no new leads? I hope your family’s get justice soon.

      Reply

  16. Rebecca

    I agree they were deliberately murdered, those boys didn’t get a chance to grow up. Such an inhumane act, how could someone do that to two children. I hope the killer or killers are brought to justice it is never too late. Justice for the two boys and for their parents as well. Too many unanswered questions, but someone has the answers, they really need to come forward this family need closure.

    Reply

  17. Dahlia

    Scott and Peter were obviously murdered. It was reported neighbours heard the boys screaming out for help, and since the door was easily able to be pushed open for entry/exit, someone must have held it shut to trap them inside and set the powder magazine alight. The $100 bill is an interesting clue. To me it was homicide and I hope somebody is arrested soon and pays for this horrific crime.

    Reply