Mystery surrounds case of twins found dead, decomposed in Chattanooga home

Mystery surrounds case of twins found dead, decomposed in Chattanooga home

April 2nd, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Grass grows through a crack in the sidewalk at 506 Acorn Court where the bodies of twin brothers Andrew and Anthony Johnson were found Sunday.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Three years before they found identical twins dead and decomposed, Chattanooga police officers showed up to the home of Andrew Garry Johnson and Anthony Larry Johnson.

Family members had called, according to a news release. They wanted to check on the twins, who this year would have turned 64. But outside 506 Acorn Court, police say, everything seemed OK in 2011.

Nobody had beaten the door down. The yard smelled fine. The U.S. Postal Service had placed a vacancy notice in the mailbox, which mailmen do whenever too many letters and bills pile up.

Perhaps the Johnson twins had moved away. If they had, family members apparently told police, the twins might have done so in secret.

"Andrew and Anthony lived a hermit lifestyle," Chattanooga Police Department Public Information Officer Tim McFarland wrote in a news release Tuesday afternoon.

But they had not moved away. The Johnsons remained locked inside. And on Saturday, three years after family members asked police to check on the twins, officers responded to another call from family members, this time finding the two men dead.

Police do not suspect foul play, McFarland said, but much about the deaths remains a mystery. He said investigators won't determine a cause of death until they receive the results of a toxicology report. They also don't know when the twins died, or whether they died together or separately.

Asked about a WRCB-TV report indicating that the twins died in early 2011, McFarland said that is "not really a fair assumption."

"Unless the medical examiner's office comes back and gives us a solid time frame," he said, "there's really no way to say."

Members of the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's office did not respond to multiple calls seeking comment Tuesday, but records indicate the Johnsons stopped paying county and city taxes in 2011.

However, regardless of exactly when the men died, McFarland defended the officers' decision not to go inside their home three years ago.

"Department protocol was followed each time officers responded and there were no obvious [pressing] circumstances that would allow officers to force entry to the residence on any of the calls," he said in a statement.

The Johnsons' home remained empty Tuesday afternoon, and nobody responded to a reporter's note requesting a comment. Vegetation chokes the mailbox from its base to its top. Cobwebs cling to the front and the house's white siding.

But the front yard remains trimmed.

That fact confused others on the street when they first learned about the twins' deaths, though some say they have since learned that other neighbors would run their lawn mowers across the Johnsons' yard when the grass grew too high.

Many on the street knew of the twins. But they didn't know them. They described the two men as short and stocky with thinning black hair and thick, curly beards. But few people had ever talked to them.

For years, well before the twins died, they kept their lights off, neighbors said. About once a year, 73-year-old Barbara Owens said, she saw the twins out in the yard. But they never talked to her.

Some neighbors say they feel guilty. How could two men across the street lay dead in their home for years without anybody noticing? Since she found out about the deaths Sunday, Owens keeps thinking about all those times she drove by the house in recent years, all those times she wondered where those two men were.

"I thought maybe they had passed on," she said. "But of course, I didn't know their names."

The Johnsons had owned the house since 1984, according to property records, and for years Owens could remember seeing the twins outside in the fall, cleaning their yard.

"Even when they were raking leaves, they would be side by side," Owens said. "Like they were helping each other, like they needed each other."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.