in 1954, Mildred Johnson was 31, a mother of four living in Coeur d'Alene with her husband, Harry. She stayed at home while he worked as a pipe worker, regularly uprooting the family as he chased jobs from state to state. She was the type of mom who always reminded her kids to have clean underwear, just in case, says daughter Charlotte Kelley, who was 13 at the time.
Harry, however, drank heavily and often assaulted Mildred. In April of that year, after another beating, Mildred left for Spokane. She returned home briefly around May 11, her son's birthday, and then vanished for good. A few months later, it is believed, Harry was called to Spokane to identify a body found in the river. He said it wasn't Mildred, and her children never heard from her again. In 1987, after a life of chasing work, Harry Johnson died.
Then, in June 2007, a neighbor who had lived next to the Johnson family came forward with a 53-year-old secret. The neighbor told Coeur d'Alene police that one night in 1954 she and her mother heard the Johnson couple fighting. Then silence. Then they saw Harry Johnson carry a rolled rug or blanket from the house to a car. Then, as he placed the roll in the car, what appeared to be a human arm fell into view. The neighbor had kept the secret, she said, because Harry Johnson had threatened her mother not to talk.