The Murders of Rhonda & Cor’an Johnson (Connecticut)

When a young mother and her 6-month old son were found dead in their car one September night in 1996, no one could fathom the senselessness of ending two young lives with still so much ahead of them.

Who would have the motive to kill a mother and her baby? Despite the suspicion that continues to surround an individual connected to the little boy, police in Stamford, Connecticut are still struggling to build a case against anyone almost 30 years later.

If you have information about the homicides of Rhonda and Cor’an Johnson, please contact the Connecticut Cold Case tip line toll-free at 1-866-623-8058.

About Rhonda and Cor’an

In the fall of 1996, 18-year old Rhonda Chantal Johnson was a recent graduate of Westhill High School in Stamford, Connecticut. She was popular in school, with a lot of friends and a serious boyfriend. Rhonda was also an incredibly dedicated and bright student. She was committed to her studies, even when she became pregnant during her senior year.

A member of the staff at Westhill High School remarked that Rhonda, at 8 months pregnant, had begged to attend a bus tour of colleges along the East Coast with her classmates. Despite her insistence and eagerness to join, the staff member told Kerry Tesoriero of the Daily Advocate that he couldn’t let Rhonda come because it was just too close to her due date, and he wasn’t equipped to deliver a baby on a bus.

Rhonda stayed on top of all her classes all while managing the physical and emotional elements of pregnancy. After her son Cor’an was born in March of 1996, Rhonda returned to school with the same dedication she had before and graduated with her class. She then enrolled at Norwalk Community Technical College where she took a full course load during the day for her mass communications major and she also got a job working nights as a dietary aid at the Stamford Hospital, where her aunt and mother also worked.

I can’t imagine it was easy, being an 18-year old single mother, going to class during the day and working at night, but challenges and all, Rhonda loved being a mother and she was building a great life for herself and her baby boy.

Although Cor’an’s father wasn’t involved in their day-to-day lives, Rhonda had a loving village around her to help with the baby. A sitter took care of Cor’an during the day while Rhonda was at school, and then at night when she worked, her mother, Blanche, watched her grandson. That was the plan on the evening September 12, 1996.

That Thursday afternoon, Rhonda picked up Cor’an from his babysitter on Oaklawn Avenue around 3:30 p.m. Eric Detwiler reports for the Daily Advocate that her next stop was the Stamford Hospital, where she was supposed to start her shift and trade off the vehicle and Cor’an with her mother. They shared the family vehicle that Rhonda was driving that day – a blue Toyota Camry.

Blanche waited and waited for her daughter to pull up to the hospital and hand over the keys with her grandson safely buckled into his carseat, but Rhonda never arrived. Rhonda’s shift was supposed to start at 4 p.m. and so when there was no sign of her by 4:15, an immediate unease settled over Blanche. James O’Keefe reports in the Daily Advocate that Rhonda was a new driver and Blanche worried that she’d been in a car accident.

According to Dawn Miceli’s reporting for The Justice Journal, Blanche called another family member to pick her up, and once she got home, Blanche started calling up Rhonda’s friends and the babysitter. The friends she spoke to said that, yes, they saw Rhonda earlier in the day, and Cor’an’s babysitter confirmed that Rhonda picked him up after her classes at 3:30 right on schedule.

Blanche waited at home, willing the phone to ring, praying that the feeling in her stomach was just an overreaction to a misunderstanding and that Rhonda would turn up safely soon. She was wracked with anxiety as the sky grew dark. Sometime after 7:30 p.m. Blanche decided to go out for a walk to shake the nerves out.

Meanwhile, less than two miles away from Blanche’s home, residents of Grenhart Road in Stamford’s West Side were out for a walk of their own when they made a devastating discovery.

Discovery & Early Investigation

Dan Mangan reports for the Daily Advocate that around 5:45 p.m. the same night, a man on his way to the store noticed a blue Toyota Camry parked between Victory and Diaz Streets on Grenhart Road, not far from Exit 6 off I-95. The person in the driver’s seat, a woman, was slumped and leaning against the window, which was rolled down slightly. The man thought she might be sleeping or possibly intoxicated and he considered waking her, but opted to leave her alone and continued on his way.

At 8 p.m. the same night, a woman walking her dog down Grenhart Road also saw the blue Toyota, but one look at the driver and it was clear this woman was not sleeping. She hurried to find a phone and soon called the police.

When first responders arrived at the scene, they found a deceased woman in the driver’s seat and discovered that in the back, still strapped into his carseat, was a baby – an infant boy, also deceased. Both had suffered multiple gunshot wounds, including close range shots to their heads. Authorities identified the woman as Rhonda Johnson, and the baby was her son, Cor’an, just 6-months old. It was a double homicide of the most heinous of circumstances.

Stamford Police processed the car and were able to collect physical evidence, fingerprints, DNA, hair, and fibers. Though the murder weapon was not recovered at the scene, later analysis of the bullets also allowed investigators to determine the type of gun used to fire the fatal shots, though that information was not publicly disclosed.

Simultaneously, law enforcement tried to piece together the hours of Rhonda and Cor’an’s lives before their vehicle was found on the side of the road. After interviewing family members, investigators learned that Rhonda had no discernable reason to be on Grenhart Road that day. She’d picked up Cor’an from the babysitter on Oaklawn, which is about 3 miles north of Grenhart, and her next stop was supposed to be the Stamford Hospital, which was roughly halfway between Oaklawn and Grenhart, so it’s not like the area they were found was on the way to her ultimate destination.

Knowing that she left the babysitter sometime around 3:30 and didn’t make it to her shift at the hospital by 4 o’clock and that the man who first discovered the car saw Rhonda inside around 5:45, investigators were particularly interested in speaking with anyone who may have seen the blue Toyota Camry during that window or any other time that day. Police had reason to believe that whoever shot Rhonda and Cor’an was inside the vehicle, and so, talking to witnesses who may have seen who was in the car was crucial to the developing case.

From the jump, investigators said they felt that Rhonda knew her killer, but declined to discuss possible suspects any further. Interviews with Rhonda’s family and friends continued, and police were beginning to piece together the circumstances of her life and understand the web of those closest to Rhonda and her son. Soon, the investigation turned its gaze to Cor’an’s father.

Rhonda and Cor’an’s story continues on Dark Downeast. Press play to hear the full episode wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode Source Material

  • Stamford man held on drugs, weapons charges by Patrice K. Johnson, Daily Advocate, 14 Dec 1995
  • Mother, baby found slain, The Day, 14 Sep 1996
  • Cops: Woman, infant son murdered by Dan Mangan, Daily Advocate, 14 Sep 1996
  • Rhonda and Cor’an Johnson Obituaries, Daily Advocate, 15 Sep 1996
  • Police hunt for killer of woman, baby by Eric Detwiler, Daily Advocate, 16 Sep 1996
  • ‘A mindless tragedy’: Family of slain mother, son try to cope with loss by Eric Detwiler, Daily Advocate, 17 Sep 1996
  • Mother, son laid to rest amid 600 mourners by Eric Detwiler, Daily Advocate, 19 Sep 1996
  • Father of slain infant faces drug charges by Eric Detwiler, Daily Advocate, 02 Oct 1996
  • Double-murder reward posted by David J. Lopez, Daily Advocate, 24 Oct 1996
  • Despite reward, murder trail cold by Eric Detwiler, Daily Advocate, 09 Dec 1996
  • City man arrested on drug charges by Edward Shen, Daily Advocate, 21 Mar 1997
  • Request for information in The Daily Advocate, 05 Sep 1997
  • Reward boosted in killings by Kerry Tesoriero, Daily Advocate, 02 May 1998
  • Family’s prayers for justice by Kerry Tesoriero, Daily Advocate, 13 Sep 1998
  • Murdered woman’s ex-boyfriend gets 8 years on drug conviction by Kerry Tesoriero, Daily Advocate, 20 Oct 1998
  • Family still searching for answers in killings by James O’Keefe, Daily Advocate, 03 Apr 2000
  • Search for justice continues in 1996 murders by Eve Sullivan, Daily Advocate, 21 Oct 2001
  • Connecticut_Post_2002-01-25_19: Norwalk crack dealer gets 12 years in drugs, gun case by Michael P. Mayko, Connecticut Post, 25 Jan 2002
  • Man gets 11 years on drug charges by James O’Keefe, Daily Advocate
  • Man jailed on drug conviction to serve additional six years by Eve Sullivan, 17 Oct 2002
  • Rhonda Johnson & Cor’an Johnson, Connecticut Division of Justice, Open Cases
  • Cold Case Chronicles: 1996 murders of mother, son still remain unsolved by KARA O’CONNOR, The Hour, 28 Apr 2012
  • UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Kenneth BRICKHOUSE, Defendant-Appellant. No. 02-1098. United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit. Sept. 15, 2003.
  • STATE v. MESSAM (2008) Appellate Court of Connecticut. STATE of Connecticut v. Andre A. MESSAM.  No. 28414. Decided: July 01, 2008