Kenny Joe Johnson

DUBUQUE—On the morning of Saturday, Oct. 10, 1987, an elderly fisherman discovered the body of a young white male lying on the sandy beach area near a floodgate in Dubuque’s isolated Maus Park.

The fisherman found the boy rolled in a 5-by-9-foot piece of yellow-orange nylon carpet dumped at the park. The boy was identified as 14-year-old Kenny Joe Johnson.

An autopsy report stated the teen died by manual strangulation and had been sexually assaulted. He also had a small amount of alcohol in his system.

Johnson had behavioral problems, which likely stemmed from a learning disability that was not always handled appropriately.

He originally resided in the Davenport area but had been court-ordered to the Hillcrest Family Services program in Dubuque about one month prior to his death.

Johnson began his short stay at Hillcrest House on Sept. 22, 1987.

He started classes at Central Alternative High School in early October.

On Oct. 8, 1987, he got into a dispute with a teacher. Instead of reporting to the principal’s office at 9:30 a.m., the teen ran away.

It was the third time he had run away in the two weeks that he had been in Dubuque, and it was the last time anyone reported seeing him alive.

In the days and weeks after the slaying, police followed up on hundreds of leads and implored anyone who knew anything about the case to step forward.

Despite searching nearly three decades, investigators still have not been able to establish a clear picture of the teen’s whereabouts in the two days leading up to his death.

Investigators said the way Johnson’s body and evidence of his assault had been haphazardly disguised provided them with insight into the killer’s personality. They speculated the killer was a loner who had poor interpersonal relationship skills and had trouble making friends.

Police theorized that even with antisocial tendencies, the killer had difficulty coping with the murder and probably told someone.


Who: Kenny Joe Johnson

What happened: A fisherman found the body of the 14-year-old lying on the sandy beach at Maus Park in Dubuque. The teen had died of strangulation and had been sexually assaulted.

How you can help: Contact the Cpl. Chris Gorrell of the Dubuque Police Department at 563-587-3806 or


“Gone Cold: Exploring Iowa’s unsolved murders” is an ongoing collaborative effort by Iowa news organizations to revisit some of the most brutal and mystifying homicides in the state’s history. The N’West Iowa REVIEW is presenting some of the unsolved homicides in the hope that they will lead to new tips and potentially help solve cases.