Registered sex offender and suspected serial killer William Reece formally sentenced to death

April 02, 2022

On July 26, 1997, 19-year-old newlywed, Tiffany Johnston, went missing from the Sunshine Carwash in Bethany, Oklahoma. Tiffany worked at an electronics store called Sight n’ Sound during the day and as a waitress at a Mexican restaurant at night. Her shift ended at 11pm that night, however, she would never make it home.  

Her husband of three months, Ryan Johnston, 21, finished up his shift at a local City Box and arrived home to find his wife wasn’t there. He couldn’t recall if the pair had made plans to go out that night and Tiffany hadn’t left a note like she usually would, so Ryan began asking around to see if anyone had seen her. He asked various friends of the couple if they had seen or heard anything from Tiffany, but they had not. He dropped into local establishments in the area that the couple often frequented, including a club, but she was nowhere to be found. The last time Ryan had seen his wife was earlier that day when she had accidentally locked her keys in her 1995 dodge neon. 

At some point during his search, Ryan’s pager buzzed. He retrieved it from his pocket to see he had received a message from the Bethany police. 

Tiffany Johnston's 1995 dodge neon was seen outside the Sunshine Carwash in Bethany, just a few blocks from the Johnston's home, at around 11:30pm that same night. During one of his routine checks of the area, police Sergeant John Reid of the Bethany police, spotted Tiffany's car at the carwash. On his drive back, around 15 minutes after midnight, Sergeant Reid noticed that the vehicle was still there and approached it to investigate. When he got closer, he noticed Tiffany wasn’t in her car and didn’t appear to be in the immediate area. The floor mats had been left out of the vehicle, as if to be washed, the doors were all unlocked and the keys were in the ignition, but the owner was nowhere to be found. 

Reid ran a check on the vehicle and discovered it belonged to Ryan and Tiffany. Since they had only been married three months to the day, Tiffany had not gotten around to registering the vehicle under her married name. Reid contacted Tiffany’s mother, explaining the situation, and asked her for a contact number. Tiffany’s mother provided Sergeant Reid with both Tiffany and Ryan’s pager numbers.  

Tiffany would never respond. 

Her body was discovered the following day in a patch of overgrown grass just off a road in Canadian County. A truck driver and his wife, who were part of another search party looking for a different missing female, accidentally discovered Tiffany’s body. A depressed section in a patch of long grass caught their eye and when they went to investigate, they found the body of Tiffany Johnston, naked except for a floral print bikini top.

She had been raped and strangled to death before her body was discarded by the side of the road.

William Lewis Reece, now 62 years old, confessed to the 1997 rape and murder of 19-year-old Tiffany Johnston. He said he forced the teenage girl into a horse trailer where he raped and strangled her. He was charged with first-degree murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to death in Oklahoma last week. It has been reported that Reece knew the victim’s mother, Kathy Dobry. Kathy Dobry had once driven her daughter’s killer to Oklahoma as a favour to pick up his driving licence. She knew him through his family whom she had done ironing for in the past. 

"I believe in God and all that, but I will never forgive him, and I'm glad people can- but not this momma," Kathy Dobry would later comment in court. 

Registered sex offender and self-proclaimed serial killer, Reece, confessed to three additional murders in 1997 in Texas. He claimed he was responsible for the murder of Kelli Cox, Jessica Cain and Laura Smither and led police to the remains.

Laura Smither was just 12 years old when she went out jogging on April 3, 1997 and failed to return home. Laura and her family had been making pancakes that afternoon and Laura asked her mother if she could go jogging before she ate. Her mother permitted her to do so but grew concerned when Laura had not returned home by the evening. Despite extensive searches in the coming days, she was not located. Her body was found on April 20 near a retention basin. 

Kelli Cox, 20, went missing in July of 1997 after attending a tour of Denton jail in North Texas, a trip that was organised by her university. When she returned to the university car park, she discovered that she had locked her keys inside her car and the spare set she had didn't seem to be working. Kelli called her boyfriend from a gas station pay phone and has been missing since.

Jessica Cain, 17, went missing the following month in August 1997 after leaving a local restaurant in Houston, Texas to drive home. Her unlocked car was discovered abandoned along the I-45 with her personal possessions still inside the vehicle. Although he had been a person of interest in the case, Reece was never arrested in the disappearance of the teenager. Then, in 2016, police began digging in a Southeast Houston field where Reece was photographed overlooking the scene in restraints. Although it took several weeks, police finally discovered Jessica's remains and indicted Reece for her murder.

Reece was incarcerated in Huntsville at the time he claimed responsibility for the disappearance of Kelli Cox, Jessica Cain, and Laura Smither. He informed a ranger of his involvement and was transferred to Friendswood where he would cooperate with police and lead them to the bodies. Jessica's body was discovered in Friendswood and Kelli's remains were discovered in Brazoria County. Investigators believe that Reece confessed to avoid the death penalty in Oklahoma. While held in Friendswood County jail, he confessed to another murder- that of Laura Smither.

Because he confessed and assisted police in locating the bodies of his victims, as per a deal struck with prosecutors, the death penalty in Texas was dropped. 

Friendswood police told media outlets that Reece believed he had developed a friendship with the investigators and would even draw pictures of them. One such drawing depicted the main three investigators walking in unison, the words "Justice is coming" written above.

"In some strange way, he thought there was a friendship. He wanted to come off as a good guy. Even though in the back of his mind, he probably knew also, that we knew what he did," commented Detective Doug Bacon. 

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