Indy Unsolved: Mother’s body found burnt beneath I-70 overpass in 1996

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- “She was a mother. She was a daughter.”

Johanna Weaver would never have made anybody’s shortlist for Mother of the Year, 1996.

“She unfortunately fell victim to the addiction of crack cocaine that was very prolific here in the 1990s in the Indianapolis metropolitan area and in order to further that habit she also began engaging in some prostitution-type activities,” said Indiana State Police Detective Sergeant Jeff Coffey.

“My grandmother told me she loved me and my brother and would do anything,” recalled Danisha Radford when family would relate stories about her mother. “She said that I remind her of my mom when it comes to my kids.

“I’m not saying that anybody deserves to die but certain paths that you go down you know what you’re leading to, jail or death.”

That’s the road that ended for Johanna Weaver on July 13, 1995, beneath the North Split of I-70 just off downtown Indianapolis in the latest “Indiana’s Unsolved.”

“We located a decomposing and badly burnt body,” said Coffey, reviewing the notes of the original state police investigators. “She had been in the area for a period of time. She was badly decomposed and appeared to have some stab wounds.

“It would appear that Joanna would frequent the area of College Avenue between the areas of 16th and 20th Streets and she grew up around the area of 30th and Station, so this was right in the heart of her area.”

The grassy no-man’s-land beneath the overpass is accessible from the warehouse district of 13th and Lewis Streets and what is now the Monon Trail, which may have been nothing more than a dirt path back then.

“This particular area in that timeframe for the area had a lot of transient people,” said Coffey. “There was a number of homeless people in the area, folks addicted to narcotics, prostitution, things of that area, so the cast of people that she would associate with was broad and didn’t have definitive roots in the area.

“This is a location for somebody that knew her or was associated with her was familiar with. I believe that they knew that this area was remote to the extent that there was not a lot of people that would see it. There was a lot of traffic, but as you’re motoring down the interstate system, you may not be looking out underneath an overpass.”

In a sense, Weaver’s body was dumped and burned in plain sight, even if her death was hidden away.

“I don’t know much about my mom. I just kind of feel like I blocked that part of my life out,” said Radford who was six years old when her mother died. “It was kind of like a secret. I can remember like vaguely the family trying to like whisper, not talk too loud. I remember the police showing up at the house and that is pretty much it.

“I remember like two things,” Radford recalled when her memory was jogged. “When I got the chicken pox, she took care of me put, the pink lotion and all that good stuff, and then another time when we stayed downtown on Pennsylvania in some apartments, I had a friend and we would go out and ride bikes and stuff, and that’s pretty much it.”

Coffey and Radford are united in hoping when of Weaver’s associates from 20 years ago will decide now is the time to close this mystery.

“We did recover a knife. We also recovered some other possible DNA evidence that has been submitted to our lab,” said Coffey. “During the course of my investigation some of the folks I have talked to were not exactly helpful and forthcoming which makes me concerned that I may be on to something and I just can’t get there.”

“People are scared to get involved,” said Radford who has struck out with her own family in the search for clues. “Once you have to go in front of a judge or a jury to be a witness and then you get the backlash from maybe the person who killed her or their family and then now they have this whole snitching thing going on.

“My mom was close with a few cousins so I think people know more than what they’re saying or what they tell.”

Two decades later, the murder of Johanna Weaver remains a mystery and gaping void in the timeline of the daughter she left behind and the detective who picked up the case.

If you can shed any light on this “Indiana’s Unsolved,” call Crimestoppers at 262-TIPS.