|Illustrations by Joel Kimmel|
To read the first part of Beheading
on Mount Baldy, click here.
As Marcia subsequently explained, when she and Judy first moved in with Jack, they had big plans to do all sorts of things together, from starting a computer business to becoming “land barons.” Unfortunately, said Marcia, things went wrong almost from the start — Jack was taking a lot of medications, including Klonopin, the powerful anti-seizure/anti-panic drug, and “he started turning weird.”
“He lied,” Marcia said. “He would give me money or tools and then want them back.” Another time, Jack shouted so loud that the neighbors could hear him complaining that the dogs were digging holes in the yard.
But the final straw, Marcia told Detective Dean, was the time that she came home to find that Jack had put a ring of powdered ant poison around the dogs’ water bowl. Although Jack explained that this was just to keep the ants away, Marcia went ballistic. “I was fuckin’ pissed!” she said. “I just told Judy, ‘We gotta get out of here because he’s going to kill our dogs.’ ”
Not long after they moved back up to the cabin, said Marcia, Jack unexpectedly showed up at their door, hopping mad, calling her “a nasty girl” and badmouthing Judy.
Naturally, said Marcia, she was upset. “I love Judy. This is my wife. We’ve been together for a long time.”
Later — Marcia couldn’t remember the sequence exactly, as she was “cycling” in bipolar mode — they went for a ride in her and Judy’s white Ford Expedition with the “Girls Rule” decal in the rear window. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, Jack “whipped his dick out and said he wanted to be with me.”
“And I was livid. I was so pissed off. It was like, ‘How dare you!’ ” It brought back all these horrible memories of men who had raped, beat and molested her as a child. When they got back to the cabin, Marcia went inside to use the bathroom, but when she came out, she had a .22 automatic in her hand. Jack, who was facing away from her, was still “talking shit” about Judy.
“So,” said Marcia, “I shot him.”
“One time?” asked Dean.
“One time,” said Marcia. “I’m not a gunsmith or anything like that, but apparently I’m a pretty good shot. It hit him in the back of the head. All of a sudden I see his hand go up, and there was blood just squirting out. So I think I hit an artery or something. And he just went, ‘Oh,’ and then he dropped. And then I just went, ‘Oh my God! What did I do?’ I wanted him fuckin’ dead because of what he did to Judy and what he did to me, but I didn’t literally want him dead. You know what I mean? I just wanted him to stop. I wanted him to shut up.”
Jack fell down in a pool of blood. “I’ve never seen so much blood!” So she ran back into the cabin, got a sleeping bag and covered up his body. Then she got an electric chain saw out from under the cabin and cut off his head. “I was so mad at him. I cut his head off, and then I cut both of his hands off with the chain saw, and then I cut both of his feet off. But when I cut his head off, I didn’t know how heavy a head is. It’s really heavy.”
Marcia stuffed his head in a garbage bag, zipped up his torso in the sleeping bag, and fit his hands and feet (still in their shoes) in two big Rubbermaid-type containers. Then, she told Dean, she put everything in the Expedition and started driving down the mountain. “It felt like I was in a dream.” She was so confused about what was real or not — she had been both drinking and taking Jack’s Klonopins — that at one point she pulled over and looked into the Rubbermaids to see if Jack’s arms and feet were really there. “I could not believe it. I was like, ‘This gotta be a dream. It’s gotta be a dream.’ ”
Continuing down the mountain (Marcia apparently drove to Wrightwood as well), she dropped off his torso in one spot, his hands and feet in another. “And his head, I just took it out of the bag and just watched it roll down the mountain. And I was really mad, and I was screaming at him for making me kill him. I was so fuckin’ mad.”
But she wasn’t just mad at Jack, said Marcia. Despite the “little thing he did with his thing,” she said, she wouldn’t have killed him just for that. But all her life, “Some stupid motherfucker was trying to get into my pants.” Here she leaned down and tugged at the cuff of her jeans as if to show how guys were forever trying to pull them off. Except none of them ever “paid for it.” It was Jack’s bad luck, she said, to be there when she finally “snapped,” and the result was, he ended up taking the blame “for everything that’s happened to me in my whole life.”
Besides confessing to Jack’s murder, Marcia also confessed to two related matters. The $9,000 burglary at Jack’s cabin that supposedly took place in July 2000 never happened after all. It was another one of Marcia’s schemes. One day, when Judy was at work, she hid their possessions and then ransacked the cabin a bit to make it look real. Then, when Sheriff’s deputies came out, she fed them a line about someone crawling in the doggie door.
Although the cabin was insured in Judy’s name, she apparently knew nothing about any burglary. Marcia pretended to be Judy when the insurance investigator came out. And when the check arrived (made out to Judy), Marcia just deposited it in their joint account. But her motive, Marcia insisted, hadn’t been to rip off the insurance company. It was rather to get the deputies to start questioning the neighbors. Then they’d get nervous, thinking they were suspects, and leave her and Judy alone.
As for the $170,000 cabin fire, Marcia disputed the firefighters’ claim that arson was involved. “There was no flammable nothing,” Marcia indignantly told Dean. “All I did was light up a paper towel and throw it in the trash can.”
She didn’t do that one for the money either. The real reason, she insisted, was to get away from Jack’s ghost. “I kept on seeing Jack outside, right where I killed him. He was right outside, and he kept coming in the house.” She thought if she set the cabin on fire, “We wouldn’t be able to go back for a while.”
(Marcia may have claimed she hadn’t set the fire for money, but when Weiss examined her house and the motor home, he found many of the $112,000 worth of items that were supposedly burned up in the fire, such as the antique mirror-and-brush set, the jewelry box, and the videotapes, many of which were conveniently arranged on the shelves in the Serengeti in the same order they were listed on the insurance claim form. “It’s clear,” says Weiss, “that one of them just read them off and the other wrote them down.”)
At this point, Marcia said something that threw everyone for a loop. Near the end of her confession, Dean asked her if, once it got light, she could show them where she’d dumped Jack’s remains.
“I think so,” said Marcia. “I don’t exactly remember, because I’ve gone back there a couple of times to see if it was really real — did I kill him or did he really go away?” The problem was, Marcia could never find any body parts. As a result, she said, she didn’t know if Jack’s murder “was real or not.”
“But he never went to Seattle,” said Dean.
On the contrary, said Marcia. “I did take him to the train station.”
“At least I remember that. But then, all of a sudden he’s with me. You know, I just don’t remember how it all transpired. All I know is that I killed him.”
Despite Marcia’s offer to show them where she’d dumped Jack’s remains, when morning arrived, says Dean, she called a lawyer who told her to please shut up — and she never talked to Dean again. By the time her trial started, nearly two years later, Marcia had totally reversed field. Not only hadn’t she killed Jack, her attorney was now arguing, her entire videotaped confession was nothing but the fevered imaginings of a bipolar manic depressive who, at the time of her arrest, was literally out of her mind. Marcia hadn’t killed Jack. She hadn’t killed anyone. There was only one person she ever tried to kill. And that was herself.
Marcia’s trial began in September 2004 and lasted six weeks. In his closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney Tristan Svare explained why Marcia killed Jack. And it had less to do with Marcia snapping because Jack was talking shit about Judy than it did with Jack’s dawning realization that the women were hustling him. They took over his life, got their names on his trust, accused him of trying to kill their dogs and, after the first couple of months, didn’t even make mortgage payments anymore. Jack was understandably upset, and Marcia was desperate. She knew Jack was about to take her and Judy off his trust and write them out of his will, and, said Svare, she wasn’t about to let that happen. “She lured him to the cabin,” said Svare, “and she killed him.
“It was all done for money. Jack Irwin had it; Marcia Johnson wanted it . . . and that’s why we’re here today.”
After six days of deliberations, the jury found Marcia guilty of, among other things, murder, burglary, grand theft, elder abuse and insurance fraud. At her sentencing a month later, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Gus Skropos told Marcia that she had caused a lot of harm and hurt not just to Jack, but to her own family. “You said that you took Jack to the train station to buy a ticket to Seattle,” said Skropos. “Instead, you supplied Mr. Irwin with a one-way ticket to the underworld.” Then he sentenced Marcia to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Debra Martin had come to the courtroom to watch Marcia being sentenced, but it gave her little satisfaction. “She ruined my life,” she says of Marcia. The only good thing to come out of the whole experience was that the Board of Psychology dropped the sexual-misconduct charge against Martin on the grounds that Marcia was not a credible witness. Martin subsequently passed both parts of her psychology boards. In hopes of eventually getting her psychologist’s license, she also signed up for another year of classes and put herself in psychotherapy.
After the trial, Morey Weiss said the amazing thing about the case was how close Marcia came to getting away with it. If, after she shot Jack, she had just sat on his account for a year (instead of rushing out to buy a Jeep, Corvette, Jaguar and Serengeti motor home), she’d be a free woman today. Judy too.
Judy, to the prosecution’s great dismay, never did go to trial. Six months after her arrest, a judge had thrown out the accessory-to-murder charge against her, along with 34 other charges, for lack of evidence. Following that setback, in the summer of 2004, the prosecutor, Tristan Svare, offered Judy a deal. He would drop all the remaining charges against her if she would plead guilty to a single felony charge of receiving stolen property. In return, Judy had to promise to testify truthfully against Marcia.
It was a good deal for Judy, given that on the witness stand she not only had several critical memory lapses, she didn’t even remember being curious about where Marcia was getting the money to buy her a Jeep Wrangler and, later, a Jaguar too. (Judy said she thought Marcia was earning the money from programming gigs.) Despite Judy’s failings as a prosecution witness, after the trial the judge sentenced her to a mere 180 days in jail, to be served on weekends, and a $150,000 fine. Judy’s attorneys tried to argue that she should be allowed to keep any money she got from Jack’s estate on the grounds that she was his legal heir and played no part in killing him, but the judge demurred, saying he would hold her to her plea agreement. In the meantime she continued to work as a drug-and-alcohol counselor for San Diego State University’s “Driving Under the Influence” program.
Although Jack’s friends were comforted by Marcia’s conviction — “I felt a kind of peace,” said one neighbor, “justice has been done” — Susan Hegemier is still furious at Marcia for claiming that Jack had “whipped his dick out” in her car. There was no way Jack would have exposed himself to anyone, says Hegemier. “He was a nice old man.” Besides, if he had had such a compelling need to whip it out for someone, why didn’t he whip it out in all the years he’d lived in Mount Baldy? Or, for that matter, why didn’t he whip it out in Upland when he and Marcia were living in the same house?
Following her conviction, Marcia was transferred to the women’s prison in Chowchilla
to begin serving her life term. She acquired new attorneys, who immediately began
working on an appeal. And she refused to talk to the press, saying she wanted
to save her stories for a book (Story of the Untold Bipolar).
For Marcia, incarceration was even worse than she’d imagined. During the two years
she was in the county lockup awaiting trial, she wasn’t well-liked, because the
instant there was any problem, she would buzz for the guards. She generally spent
up to 23 hours a day in her cell, reading Christian novels and blaming the bigots
on Mount Baldy for fingering her for Jack’s murder. At other times she wondered
if her current problems weren’t really just God’s punishment for being gay. Once
she tried to kill herself with a razor blade, whereupon the guards put her on
a 24-hour suicide watch in an all-glass room with nothing to wear but a hospital
smock. There were also times, she told a defense psychologist, when she talked
to Satan, saw “little men” on the tier outside and, for self-defense,
kept razor blades in her vagina.
In her more reflective moments, Marcia would sit in her cell and gaze at a photo
of Judy, down on one knee, playing with the dogs. From the moment Sheriff’s
deputies had first seized the Expedition, Marcia’s biggest concern was keeping
Judy out of jail. And, for the most part, she had succeeded. But afterward, she
complained, Judy wouldn’t even talk to her. She understood that Judy’s
attorney had barred any phone calls, but how hard could it be, she wondered, for
Judy to send her a birthday card with a note saying, “I love you”?