MURDERING THE TRUTH

Soon, the Republic helped to prepare a letter for Dunwoody to sign. It is unclear who actually wrote the letter that formally questions whether Johnson's death was an accident.

Investigator McDonald says the letter was prepared by the Republic, for Dunwoody's signature. Dunwoody's husband declined to allow his wife to talk to New Times. Brinkley-Rogers did not return phone calls.

But Robertson says that Dunwoody wrote the letter. The Republic merely typed it for her, he says.

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"We wrote it, we typed it for her, but she, uh, those were her words," Robertson says.

Dunwoody signed the letter on August 16. It was later used to support a Republic lawsuit seeking to unseal Arizona Department of Economic Security records concerning Johnson.

The letter also was an outline of the story the Republic would soon write on Johnson's death. It contained detailed information about the Boys Ranch and allegations of abuse that Dunwoody knew only because the Republic had told her about them.

"She read the newspaper stories," Robertson explains. "She asked what was going on at the Arizona Boys Ranch."

McDonald claims the Republic manipulated Dunwoody, fueling her doubts about her son's death and suggesting to her that Lorenzo may have been killed.

"When they went out there, [they] took a bunch of their newspaper stories, and they are sitting there telling her, 'We think your kid got snuffed by these people.' They then get her to make statements like that," McDonald says. The mother's statement that she suspected murder was then used in the Republic's story, without sufficient explanation, McDonald claims.

"They simply quote her," the former U.S. district attorney says.
While claiming that Dunwoody first raised the possibility of murder, Robertson says that possibility already was on his and Brinkley-Rogers' minds. Given the serious allegations of abuse at the Boys Ranch that already had appeared in the press, and continuing investigations of the facility by the Arizona Department of Economic Security and a California court district, Robertson says, it was reasonable to consider there might have been more to Johnson's death than first met the eye.

"In the midst of all of that, a kid flees from his handlers and drowns," he says. "Who wouldn't question whether or not there was any link between these two events?"

While Brinkley-Rogers was focusing on Dunwoody, Robertson turned his attention to Karen Vander Jagt, the person who may have been closest to Lorenzo Johnson at the time of his death.

Five days before he drowned in the canal, Lorenzo had run away for a second time from a Boys Ranch facility near Flagstaff. Vander Jagt was camping nearby with her daughter and two other friends. At about 11 p.m., she discovered Johnson sitting next to a public rest room at the White Horse Lake campground in the Kaibab National Forest. The boy was dressed in a tee shirt and sweat pants. He appeared to be very cold. It was obvious he had been crying. Vander Jagt asked Lorenzo if he wanted to return to stay with her. He accepted.

For the next two days, Lorenzo stayed at the Vander Jagt camp. He soon told Vander Jagt and others that he had run away from the Boys Ranch and mentioned that, although he "hated" the facility, he would likely return. He also said that he loved his counselor at the Boys Ranch. He never made any mention that he had been physically abused at the facility.

Vander Jagt took an immediate liking to the boy, and sensed that he was in desperate need of a strong family bond. The boy opened up to Vander Jagt, telling her about his long history of running away and about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his stepfather, who married his mother when Lorenzo was 1 year old.

"He needs a mother's love. He needs a mother's attention," Vander Jagt says she told a Boys Ranch counselor when she drove Lorenzo back to the camp on June 24.

Vander Jagt told Lorenzo that she would visit him, and that she and her friends loved him.

A few days later, Vander Jagt learned that Lorenzo was dead. She sent a letter to Dunwoody, telling the bereaved mother about Lorenzo in the days before he died.

The letter is crucial to understanding Lorenzo Johnson's final days. It was written by Vander Jagt before the Arizona Republic contacted her, and before she learned of theories that Boys Ranch employees might be implicated in Lorenzo's death. Vander Jagt's letter to Dunwoody says Lorenzo "basically wanted to be with you more than anything in the world."

It then makes a central point: "He was not mistreated by Ariz. Boys Ranch, he just wanted to get away."

Dunwoody gave the Arizona Republic a copy of Vander Jagt's letter. When the newspaper printed the story on Johnson's death, however, there was no mention of crucial information: Johnson had indicated to Vander Jagt that he was not mistreated at the Boys Ranch.

The reporters did, however, use Vander Jagt's letter in their story. They picked four disconnected phrases--phrases scattered throughout the letter--and condensed them into one long quote that was used to conclude the story with dramatic, heart-wrenching flair.

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