Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling discusses the identification of Peggy Lynn Johnson, whose remains were found in 1999 and identified in 2019. (Nov. 8, 2019)

RACINE, Wis. (AP) — A 63-year-old nurse has been charged in the beating death of a 23-year-old cognitively impaired woman whose battered body was discovered at the edge of a cornfield in southeastern Wisconsin in July 1999, police said Friday.

Linda La Roche was arrested Tuesday in Cape Coral, Florida, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said during a news conference. According to a criminal complaint, La Roche was charged Thursday with first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse in the killing of Peggy Lynn Johnson.

La Roche has waived extradition to Wisconsin.

Johnson met La Roche at a medical center in McHenry, Illinois, where La Roche worked as a registered nurse in the 1990s. Johnson went there seeking help after her mother died, the sheriff said.


Jane Doe, body found in cornfield in Town of Raymond (1999)


Johnson subsequently moved in to La Roche’s home in McHenry and the nurse “barbarically” brutalized her over a long period of time, Schmaling said. Johnson lived with La Roche for the last five years of her life, and was never reported as a missing person, he said.

“All of us here who have investigated the deaths of individuals during the course of our careers have seen many troubling things. However, the utter barbaric brutality inflicted on this young woman is something none of us will never forget,” Schmaling said.

Schmaling did not provide details about Johnson’s cognitive impairment, nor explain if La Roche was still employed as a nurse. The complaint indicates she lived in Florida.

The sheriff said investigators plugged away at the cold case for years, not knowing the identity of the woman who had been killed and unceremoniously dumped in Raymond, Wisconsin, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northeast of McHenry. The victim’s body was exhumed in 2013 with the hope of using advancing technology to identify her. She was reinterred in 2015.

It was only a few weeks ago that investigators developed information that identified Johnson as the victim and led them to La Roche, Schmaling said.

Now that Johnson has been identified, authorities plan to exhume her remains again and rebury her next to her mother in Belvidere, Illinois, Schmaling said.