1991 Seaside park killer identified- The Vicki Renee Johnson murder

August 15, 2023

At approximately 12:42 on 3 January 1991, in the city of Seaside, California, a resident reported a burning body in a children’s park. When police arrived at the scene, they found the burning body of a woman in a sandbox, her clothing alight.

The woman was later identified as 34-year-old mother of three, Vicki Renee Johnson, a teaching aide at the local Seaside pre-school.

Police canvassed the area, interviewing residents who lived near Darwin Park and H Place, and carefully combed the sandbox and surrounding park for clues that could point them in the direction of a suspect, but found nothing to aid them in the investigation.

They put together a timeline of Vicki’s actions leading up to the murder, but were no closer to identifying a suspect nor a motive; they even ruled out gang activity, despite the area having an issue with gangs, and confirmed that Vicki was no associated with any kind of gang in the area.

In an article about the murder published in The Californian on 4 Jan 1991, a neighbor said: "I never heard of nothing like this. Shootings and stuff, but nothing like this. It's sickening, to get burned up like that."

 Autopsy revealed that that victim had been strangled to death and bitten all over her body before being set on fire.

Terrified neighbors said they were somewhat used to shootings in the area, but never had they seen anything as cruel as what happened to Vicki Johnson and found it particularly distressing that it happened so close to home in a park where their child had played for most of their childhood. According to those in the area drug problems were an issue at the time, although things had gotten slightly better.

At the time, a potential suspect in the case was that of a known felon, a one Joseph Dermontte Mitchell Jr., who in 1988 pleaded with a judge for another chance at life with his family after sexually assaulting a young woman and beating the victim’s handicapped mother. Mitchell was sent to jail, serving less than four years for his crimes, and was released back out into society, where he continued to offend, leaving a string of violent crimes against women in his wake.

Mitchell was never charged in Vicki Johnson’s murder, and the case went cold, and remained unsolved for decades.

Earlier this month, Vicki Renee Johnson’s killer was identified as Frank Lewis McClure. Due to staffing issues and a backlog of unsolved cold cases, it took over two years to get a hit.

On July 31, 2023, Seaside Fire and Police posted a statement to their Facebook page stating: Working collaboratively with investigators from the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, additional items of evidence were submitted to the CA Department of Justice for DNA testing, resulting in the identification of the murder suspect, Frank Lewis McClure.

McClure, who died at the age of 77 in 2021, was local to the Seaside area and had a history of domestic violence towards women. He was identified after his DNA, which was found under the victim’s fingernails, was entered in the CODIS database. McClure, whose information, including DNA, was entered into the system on account of his previous arrests and jail time served, came up as a match. 

Police commented that Vicki had fought so hard against her killer that she had broken one of her nails in the process. The evidence collected from underneath her fingernails was preserved long enough for DNA technology to aid in the future identification of her killer.

Battery, resisting officers, assault with a deadly weapon and domestic violence were amongst the type of crimes McClure had been committing throughout the 1990s. McClure continued committing crimes up until 2011 and had spent time behind bars for domestic violence and assault.

Despite his violent history, police say they did not expect that he would murder, and although he wasn’t the greatest example of a civilian, those who knew him were shocked that he had committed the Vicki Johnson murder back in 1991.

"He has been to prison for assaults with deadly weapons and domestic violence against women but nothing that rose to the level that would alarm or alert us that this guy would be engaged with murder. He was pretty well known in the community, not so much as a great person, but his family was well known and everyone was fairly surprised," Seaside Police Chief Nick Borges said of McClure in an interview with FOX News.

It is unclear if McClure and Johnson knew each other. Police say although there is no known link, both the killer and victim were local to the area and both used drugs. Police have speculated that they could have known one another through drug use, although there is no confirmation of this. Vicki Johnson had begun struggling with drugs, specifically crack, throughout the last years of her life. Pictures published alongside articles across various media outlets show Johnson smiling, her skin glowing and a halo of curls on her head. Police don’t believe they will ever know McClures motive for the cruel and violent murder but hope that someone may still come forward with information.

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