Real Names: Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw
Nicknames: Renee Johnson
Location: Galveston, Texas
Date: August 4, 1971
Details: On January 3, 1972, two boys fishing on Taylor Bayou near Webster, Texas, find a human skull floating in the lake. The skull belonged to a young girl; six weeks later, authorities searching a nearby field find the rest of her remains along with the remains of another girl. Dental records identified the girls as Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw, who had gone missing the previous summer. The cause of their deaths could not be determined. Five months later, 23-year-old gas station attendant Michael Lloyd Self was arrested and charged with the murders. He was convicted of the crimes and was sentenced to life in prison; however, he claims that he is innocent.
Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw were last seen on August 4, 1971, heading towards the Jericho Surf and Sea Shop in Galveston, Texas. An investigation was soon launched, pressure was placed on the officers because Rhonda's grandfather was a prominent city council member. In late May 1972, the Webster city council hired a new police chief, Don Morris, and an assistant chief, Tommy Deal, who came from the traffic division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. A few weeks after being hired, Morris received a tip from city councilman Glenn Price about Michael Lloyd Self, a known sex offender who had been arrested in previous "peeping tom" incidents.
On June 9, 1972, at 5 am, Tommy Deal and officer Herman Morgan visited the gas station where Self worked the night shift. Deal mentioned that he believed Self was thinking about "two girls" referring to Rhonda and Sharon. Self was confused, but believed that he was talking about his estranged wife and new girlfriend. Later that morning, Self voluntarily went to the police station. The officers asked Self if he recognized pictures of Rhonda and Sharon. He said that he recognized them but did not known them. Immediately afterward, Self was arrested for their murders.
The officers interrogated him, claiming that they had evidence connecting him to the murders; Self denied involvement. Another officer, Jerry Mitchell, stopped in during the interrogation to observe; he noticed that Self was relaxed and did not appear to be nervous. Mitchell left the room and Chief Morris then took charge of the interrogation.
According to Self, Morris started asking him about why he killed the victims. Morris said that he wanted a confession and would not leave until he got one. Morris allegedly held Self against a wall and poked him with his nightstick. Morris allegedly then took out bullets from his gun and placed them on the table. Self feared that Morris was going to kill him; Morris allegedly told him that he would shoot him if he didn't sign a confession.
Self eventually agreed to write a confession; Morris allegedly told him what he had to write down. Less than an hour after Jerry Mitchell left, he returned and noticed that Self now seemed very upset and shaken. Mitchell noticed that Morris had Self re-write his confession several times.
Self's confession did not completely match the known facts of the case. In his confession, Self claimed that he dumped the bodies at El Largo, which was twenty miles from Taylor Bayou where the bodies were actually found. The confession stated that Self choked one of the girls, but there was no evidence of that injury on their remains. The confession also stated that Self went to Sharon's house to pick up the girls, but her family contradicts that. The confession also noted that the girls were hollering, waving, and hanging out of Self's car, but no witnesses could be found to confirm this. In fact, witnesses placed the girls in Galveston at around 9 pm even though in Self's confession they were already with him in Webster.
Three days after Self's arrest and confession, he took a polygraph test where he again confessed to the murders. He also claimed that he had knowledge on other murders that had taken place in Texas in 1971 and 1972. In his second confession, Self claimed that he hit the girls with a Coke bottle and dumped them in the bayou; these statements conflicted with his first confession. In the second confession, Self also claimed that he stripped the girls' clothing and threw it onto the side of a highway; however, the girls' clothing was found with them, along with an unidentified pair of keys.
Two weeks after Self's arrest, two sheriff's deputies checked him out of jail on the pretext of buying him dinner. Afterwards, the deputies drove him to places mentioned in the confession and took pictures of him at these places. This was presented in court as a third confession by Self. Self's attorney claimed that this was not a confession and was actually illegal.
While awaiting trial, investigator Dave Coburn met with Self while in jail. Self told him about how Morris and Deal had attacked him and beat a confession out of him. He also mentioned how Morris removed several bullets from a handgun and placed it in front of him; Coburn remembered that he had witnessed Morris doing the same thing to another prisoner a year before. Coburn wanted to testify at the trial, but he was never called in.
On May 15, 1973, Michael Lloyd Self was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Three years later, Don Morris and Tommy Deal were arrested and charged with bank robbery. They were part of a robbery group that had robbed banks since 1972. In 1976, Morris was sentenced to fifty-five years and Deal was sentenced to thirty years. Both were eventually paroled, but Deal was later arrested again for robbery.
Self's attorneys again pushed for a new trial for him. Then, on April 2, 1980, a man walked into the police station in Taylor Lake, Texas, and confessed to the murders of Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw. The man's confession was vague, but he did mention that he used a cord to tie the girls' bodies down.
This fact was never mentioned by Self; however, the police did know about the cord and had purposefully witheld the fact in order to determine the truth of a confession in the case. The man, although suffering for psychosis, did know the girls and actually lived in the same apartment complex as one of them. Despite the confession and criminal activities of Morris and Deal, Self's conviction was upheld.
In 1992, Self was denied parole. On March 30, 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider his request for a new trial. Self, his attorneys, and even investigator Coburn, however, are certain that someone else is responsible for the murders of Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw.
Suspects: Although Michael was initially considered a suspect, and then considered their killer, authorities now believe that someone else was responsible for the murders, and that they may have been victims of a serial killer in the Galveston area.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the May 19, 1993 episode.
Results: Unresolved. Michael died in prison in 2000, without ever being exonerated for the murders. However, police believe now that he was framed by two corrupt police officers who coerced him into confessing to the murders. Now, investigators believe that an unknown serial killer is responsible for the murders, along with the murders of Debbie Ackerman, Maria Johnson, Brooks Bracewell, and Georgia Geer. Edward Bell, the murderer of Larry Dickens, has been named a "person of interest" in these six murders.
- Murders of Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw on Wikipedia
- Some suspect serial killer in 1971 Galveston deaths
- Rhonda Johnson on Find a Grave
- Sharon Shaw on Find-a-Grave