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Johanna Leatherbury’s family is pushing for answers 51 years after her murder

Time was critical in the case of Utah native Johanna Leatherbury’s murder back in 1971. Now, 51 years later, her family is desperate for answers

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A family photo of Johanna Leatherbury.

Justice for JoHanna Leatherbury Group

Johanna Leatherbury had just graduated from Olympus High School at 17 years old and was off to go hang out at a popular spot with her friends on a warm August night in 1971. When she said goodbye to her family and left, they didn’t know that would be the last time they would see her alive. The night turned into morning and Johanna never returned home. Her family knew that something was wrong and immediately began to search the area, hoping to spot her or her car.

“When she didn’t show up, we all began to panic,” said Johanna’s younger sister, Roxanne Brough, per KSL.

While the family’s search didn’t yield any answers, Leatherbury’s body was eventually found the next day near the Great Saltair site on the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. The Unified Police Department investigators came to the conclusion that the 17-year-old was sexually assaulted before either a group of people or one person shot and stabbed her, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Her living relatives today are continuing to push for answers to the 51-year-old cold case.

“We really have felt the case was solvable, but now it’s so many years past,” said Leatherbury’s niece, Cindy Leatherbury-Grange, according to Oxygen True Crime. “We’re wondering if these people are dead, what has happened.”

Johanna was last seen on the night of Aug. 20, 1971, near 2100 South and State Street. She was seen at “the Complex” which was a popular high school hangout location, according to Oxygen.

Schoolmates of Leatherbury said they witnessed her getting into a car with at least two males and some other individuals that night.

Johanna’s Chrysler was found early the following day on Westminster Avenue between State and 200 East, a couple of blocks from the Complex, according to the Department of Public Safety. Johanna’s body was discovered by two people near the Great Salt Lake on Aug. 21.

Oxygen True Crime reported that Johanna’s wallet and purse were found on the roof of a motel near the Complex in Salt Lake City not long after her body was discovered.

More than half a century later, the Leatherbury family and friends hope that the cold case will one day be solved as information comes forward. Jack Leatherbury, Johanna’s brother, said his parents died before finding answers, according to Oxygen True Crime. “They went to their grave totally changed, changed people,” Jack Leatherbury said.

Johanna’s case is still considered “active” to the Unified Police Department despite the fact that files from the investigation were damaged in a flood a few years ago. Officials exhumed Leatherbury’s body and the results of this examination have not been given to relatives, according to the family in 2017.

“We weren’t privy to hardly anything,” Johanna’s cousin, Sandy Leatherbury, said. “We appealed for the file, and we were denied.”

The family felt that the police had a limited time frame for the most opportunity to bring justice to the case, but now as years go by, they might never get the answers they need. “Thirty years ago, we might have had a chance,” Leatherbury-Grange said.

The Leatherbury family has said that because they are dissatisfied with the police investigation, they are now joining with the Utah Cold Case Coalition to get justice on the case. Jason Jensen, the organization’s co-founder and private investigator, said he believes the killer was from the Salt Lake City area.

“She deserved more,” Sandy Leatherbury said. “She deserved to have whoever did this to be caught.”