Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Gym Mat Death Intrigue: Exhumed Body Stuffed With Newspaper

Kendrick Johnson

The body of 17-year-old Kendrick Johnson was discovered inside a rolled-up gym mat at his Lowndes County, GA high school in January.  Investigators concluded that the basketball, track and football star had climbed into the rolled-up wrestling mat to retrieve a sneaker and then became trapped and suffocated. Police said there were no bruises on the body and no foul play. Johnson was buried in January.

Parents Kenneth and Jacquelyn Johnson were not satisfied with the police explanation of their son’s death. After waiting for months for a final autopsy, the family organized rallies and protests outside the sheriff’s office. A Facebook page tribute to Johnson has more than 18,000 likes. Some of the protests even yielded arrests. 

In June, the Johnsons won a court order to have their son’s body exhumed and a second autopsy performed. They brought up the body.

What they found in this second autopsy is shocking. The body, which normally would have included preserved organs, was empty and stuffed with newspaper and department store circulars.

And the family discovered something else. The family hired an independent examiners who found evidence of ”unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma” on the body, according to CNN

Local authorities say they are not reopening the case, however a federal prosecutor has met with the family.

The Johnson hope to push authorities to re-open the case. ”It’s unbearable, just about,” Jacquelyn Johnson told CNN. “The only thing that wakes you up in the morning is to just keep pushing.”


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