The Murder of Johanna Young
On a cold and foggy evening on December the 23rd, 1993, 14-year Johanna Young left her home in Watton, Norfolk, never to be seen again—at least not alive.
Three days later, Johanna’s body was discovered in a water-filled marl pit. Despite massive investigation and several arrests, nobody has ever been charged with her murder.
Two days before Christmas, on Wednesday, December 23, 1992, Johanna was at home in Watton with her family. Her younger brother Daniel had some issues with a computer game and was complaining. The siblings’ parents, Carol, and Robert were doing their best to calm him down when Johanna asked if it was alright for her to go out around 7:30 PM. Her mother said it was OK, and her father added that she should not come back too late. And so, Johanna left, wearing her purple anorak, and walked down Merton Road towards the High Street.
As their daughter stepped into the dark and cold winter evening, Carol and Robert thought she was heading to her boyfriend, Ryan’s house. He was three years Johanna’s senior, and the two had been together for six months. To her parents, it had seemed that Johanna was very keen on Ryan, even often leaving her homework undone so she could go to meet him as he clocked off from work. However, what Carol and Robert did not know was that just two days earlier, Ryan had informed Johanna that he wanted to end their relationship.
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It is still possible Johanna was heading to Ryan’s house that night. Perhaps she wanted to talk with him. Johanna was seen by a friend on Watton High Street in the town center around 8:30 PM, but after that, we do not know where the 14-year-old went.
When Johanna did not return home later that evening, Carol and Robert assumed she was with Ryan or her friends and thought she would come back soon enough. And so, they went off to bed. It was not until Johanna’s alarm kept ringing the following morning without anybody turning it off that her parents realized she still had not returned. As Robert checked Johanna’s bedroom, she saw her bed unused, and her newspaper bag was still hanging on the door, meaning she had not left for work either. Soon after, Johanna was reported missing.
Three days after her disappearance, Johanna’s shoes were found neatly side by side on the verge of an unmade lane called Gilman’s Drift by a dog walker, who reported the find to Watton Police. The area was searched, and more pieces of clothing were found before finally, they spotted Johanna, floating face down in the water of an old clay pit.
Johanna’s body was full of scratches, and her clothes had been partially removed—yet police said there was “no evidence of a sexual motive. The autopsy revealed she had died from drowning and a fractured skull, but due to cold weather, the time of death could not be given. The most likely scenario was that something had happened, perhaps even an accident that had fractured Johanna’s skull and she had then been dragged into the seven feet deep water—still alive—where she had then drowned. Even though Johanna was found half-naked, there were no signs of rape, and the police did not have any idea of the motive, no leads, and no obvious suspects.
The Gilman’s Drift area was searched again, but nothing was found, not even Johanna’s blue jeans that were missing. Of course, the police took a close look at Ryan—after all, it did seem like Johanna had been wandering in the direction of his home that night. Ryan was questioned twice for over 9 hours, and his shoes were compared to the footprints found in the mud at the crime scene. But nothing matched, and Ryan’s friends also confirmed he had been playing snooker with them around the time Johanna was murdered.
Curiously, ten days into the investigation, Johanna’s missing jeans turned up on a hedge in Gilman’s Drift. Unfortunately, no clues were found as to who had left them there.
In addition, not long after Johanna was found in the pit, a cryptic letter was sent to the Eastern Daily Press. It featured a drawing of a girl, a youth, a motorcycle, and a message saying:
“Griston Watton – 23/12 9 PM“
It is unknown how and if this letter is related to Johanna’s case, but police nevertheless appealed to the public, asking if anyone recognizes the writing.
At this point, the police believed they had figured out what had happened to Johanna. Because there was no evidence of sexual assault or her clothes being ripped off, it is thought that Johanna had consented to have sex with someone that night. Perhaps she had gone to the other person’s home or car, and as she was undressing, something went wrong. She might have fallen, or she might have changed her might, and somebody had gotten angry and pushed her. Nevertheless, something had happened, so Johanna had hit her head and fractured her skull. According to a police pathologist, the injury to Johanna’s head was caused by her falling rather than somebody hitting her. Also, Johanna’s skull was found to be unusually thin and, for that reason, easily breaking.
So, it is possible that after Johanna was knocked unconscious and possibly laid there, blood seeping from her head that whoever was with her thought they had killed the 14-year-old. To conceal their crime, they had then carried her body to the pit—with another person’s help based on the footprints in the mud.
The sad thing is that if this theory is correct, nobody actually wanted Johanna to die—they just thought she did after she hurt her head badly and unknowingly drowned her after a selfish decision trying to save themselves from consequences.
It has been reported that the police actually had a suspect at this point, but there was not enough evidence to press charges, and the boy himself was not talking. This person had allegedly disappeared a few days after Christmas and had scratches on his face. He was eventually arrested but was later released as the case against him was not strong enough.
Today, almost 30 years later, the situation remains the same. Nobody has been charged in connection with Johanna’s death. Her parents have learned how to live with their loss, but Carol and Robert are still disappointed every time an appeal does not bring new information or answers as to what happened to their daughter all those years ago. They keep waiting for closure and justice for Johanna.