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Family Wants Answers In Utah Teen Girl's 1971 Cold Case Murder

After a night out with friends, the body of 17-year-old Johanna Leatherbury was found in a canal off the Great Salt Lake after she'd been raped, stabbed and shot in August 1971. Her surviving relatives still want answers.

By Jax Miller
A police handout of cold case victim Johanna Leatherbury

The family of a young Utah woman who vanished in the 1970s is still holding out for hope for justice.

It’s been 51 years since 17-year-old Johanna Leatherbury was found dead near the then-defunct Great Saltair site on the southern shore of the Great Salt Lake, Utah. Investigators with the Unified Police Department determined the recent Olympus High School graduate was sexually assaulted before someone (or some people) shot her and stabbed her, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Johanna’s murder remains unsolved.

“We really have felt the case was solvable, but now it’s so many years past,” Letherbury’s niece, Cindy Leatherbury-Grange, told Fox Salt Lake City affiliate KSTU. “We’re wondering if these people are dead, what has happened.

“Thirty years ago, we might have had a chance,” she continued.

Johanna was last seen on the night of Aug. 20, 1971, near 2100 South and State Street, part of a high school hangout locally known as “the complex.” The Salt Lake County Clerk’s Office and an assisted living home now stand where the Complex once was, KTSU reports.

“The kids from Skyline and Olympus High School all hung out at this area,” Johanna’s brother, Jack Leatherbury, told ABC affiliate KTVX in 2021. “They played games and do what teenagers do.”

Acquaintances said they witnessed Johanna getting into a car with at least two males and some other individuals that night.

Early the following day, Johanna’s Chrysler was found a couple blocks away from the Complex on Westminster Avenue between State and E. 200, according to the Department of Safety. Later that day, a fisherman found the teenager’s nude body in a canal about half a mile west of the Goggin Drain near The Great Saltair, an abandoned entertainment complex that had been destroyed in a fire on November 1970.

The victim’s wallet and purse were found on the roof of a Salt Lake City motel near the Complex not long after the murder, according to KTVX.

More than half a century later, relatives and loved ones still hope those with information will come forward — especially Jack Leatherbury, who told KSTU their parents passed away before finding answers.

“They went to their grave totally changed, changed people,” he said.

Unified police have said the case is still “active,” though files from the investigation were damaged in flooding years ago. In 2017, officials exhumed Leatherbury’s body, though the results of the examination have not been made known to relatives, according to the family.

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

Citing an alleged lack of satisfaction with investigating officers, Johanna Leatherbury’s family says they are now working with the Utah-based Cold Case Coalition. Jason Jensen, the organization’s co-founder and private investigator, told KTSU he believes the killer was from the Salt Lake City area.

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

Oxygen.com reached out to the Unified Police Department and the Cold Case Coalition but did not receive an immediate response.

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