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Martha Ann Johnson
Background information
Also known as: Martha Ann Bowen
Born: 1955 (age 54–55)
Number of victims: 4
Span of killings: 1977–1982
Country: United States
State(s): Georgia
Date apprehended: July 3, 1989

Martha Ann Johnson (also known as Martha Ann Bowen) (born 1955) is an American serial killer from Georgia convicted of smothering to death three of her children between 1977 and 1982.



Johnson was in her third marriage by the age of 22. Her first marriage produced a girl, born in 1971. Her second marriage produced a son in 1975 and her third marriage, to Earl Bowen, produced a son and daughter, born 1979 and 1980, respectively.

On September 23, 1977, Johnson claimed 23-month-old James William Taylor was unresponsive when she attempted to wake him up from his nap. He was rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was determined to be sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).[1]

On November 30, 1980, Johnson claimed her three-month-old daughter Tabitha Jenelle Bowen was blue when she went to wake her up from a nap. Paramedics were unable to revive Tabitha, and her death was also attributed to SIDS.[1]

In January 1981, 31-month-old Earl Wayne Bowen was found with a package of rat poison. He was treated and release from the hospital, after which his parents claimed he began to have seizures. On February 12, 1981, Earl went into cardiac arrest while being taken to the hospital during a seizure. He was revived and placed on life support; however, doctors pronounced him brain dead, and he was removed from life support three days later.[2]

Johnson claimed her 11-year-old daughter Jenny Ann Wright was complaining of chest pains, for which a doctor prescribed Tylenol and a rib belt. On February 21, 1982, paramedics found Jenny Ann face down on Johnson's bed with foam coming out of her mouth, but were unable to resuscitate her.[3] An autopsy indicated that Jenny Ann had died of asphyxia.[4]

Johnson and Bowen separated permanently, and Johnson remarried.

Arrest, confession and conviction

In December 1989, an article in The Atlanta Constitution questioned the deaths, and the cases were reopened. Investigators determined that each child's death was preceded seven to 10 days by marital problems between Johnson and Bowen.[5]

On July 3, 1989, Johnson was arrested, and she confessed to killing two of her children. After confrontations with Bowen, Johnson would suffocate the children by rolling her 250-pound body on them as they slept.[4] She claimed the motive was to punish her husband.[6] Johnson claimed she was not responsible for the deaths of her two youngest children.

By the beginning of her trial in April 1990, Johnson had retracted her confession.[4] On May 5, 1990, she was convicted of first-degree murder for the smothering deaths of three of her four children and sentenced to death.[7] The sentence was later commuted to life on appeal.[8]

References and footnotes

  1. ^ a b Douglas 2006, p. 157
  2. ^ Douglas 2006, pp. 157-158
  3. ^ Douglas 2006, p. 158
  4. ^ a b c Flowers, R. Barri; Flowers, H. Loraine (2005). Murders in the United States: Crimes, Killers and Victims of the Twentieth Century. McFarland. p. 132. ISBN 9780786420759.  
  5. ^ Douglas 2006, pp. 158-159
  6. ^ Schurman-Kauflin, Deborah (2000). "Profiling". The New Predator: Women Who Kill. Algora. p. 158. ISBN 9781892941589.  
  7. ^ Douglas 2006, pp. 157, 159
  8. ^ Holmes, Ronald M.; Holmes, Stephen T. (2001). "Female Serial Killers". Murder in America. Sage. p. 46. ISBN 9780761920922.  


  • Douglas, John E.; Burgess, Allen G.; Ressler, Robert K. (2006). "Case Study 122.01: Spontaneous Domestic Homicide". Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes. Wiley. ISBN 9780787985011.  

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