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'Somebody knows what took place' | Young couple's brutal murder case remains open with unmatched DNA from crime scene still a mystery

That method of killing simply doesn't happen in Toledo. 'That specific of an MO, we have not had any cases like that,' said Capt. Matt Luettke.

HOLLAND, Ohio — If you know any information about this case, please call CrimeStoppers at 419-255-1111 or the detective's bureau at 419-213-4917. Or reach out to Brian Dugger at bdugger@wtol.com.

When Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were killed inside a Holland home on Jan. 30, 2011, it shocked the community.

It was a brutal crime - a young couple killed by suffocation - bags placed over their heads, held in place by duct tape wrapped around their necks.

That method of killing simply doesn't happen in Toledo.

"That specific of an MO, we have not had any cases like that," Capt. Matt Luettke of the Lucas County Sheriff's Department said.

Multiple people involved in the case said that the viciousness of the crime caused them to look at the cartel, MS-13, and Mexican street gangs.

The case was also unique in that there was almost no physical evidence at the scene.

"It was remarkable how clean it was. Usually, you have blood, fingerprints," John Thebes, who represented Sam Williams, said.

Unfortunately for his client, the lone piece of solid evidence was a cigarette found inside the home that had the DNA of Williams on it. It led to his conviction, and despite his claims of innocence, he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

But the case remains open because of several sets of DNA found on the duct tape, inside Johnny's sweatpants, and on the cell phone pad and battery. There were at least four sets of unknown female DNA and at least one unknown male.

OHIO BCI LAB & AUTOPSY REPORTS IN CLARK-STRAUB MURDERS

There could be other explanations for that DNA being on the tape, including it being left during the manufacturing process. The DNA was compared against samples from dozens of people interviewed in the case. But the other DNA is harder to explain.

"Somebody knows what took place," Luettke said. "There were more people involved than just one, so somebody knows the answer to the questions you’re asking, questions we’ve been asking since 2011."

11 Investigates has spent hundreds of hours looking into the case, reviewing thousands of pages of documents and hours of police interviews. Many of the key players in the case were interviewed, although many refused to go on camera or even on the record. 

More than 10 years later, there is still fear hanging over the case, with the knowledge that one person did not commit this crime. There are likely multiple killers still walking around free.

THE CRIME SCENE

Credit: WTOL 11

At 10:41 p.m., Tiffany Williams called Johnny Clarke to firm up plans for Johnny and Lisa to come over and pick her and Zack Burkett. They were then going to head back to the Holland home to play pool.

Clarke did not say hello when Williams called. Instead, she said that he angrily said three times: "Bro, what are you doing?" And then he said, "Who the hell are you?"

Williams said that she believed that Clarke knew the first person he addressed.

WATCH | TIFFANY WILLIAMS INTERROGATION

A BCI report said that there was interior damage to the garage door leading into the home, as though Clarke or Clarke and Straub tried to push the  door closed as the attackers rammed against it.

Williams told police that Johnny told her, "I'll call you back, Tiff," before he ended the call. A Clarke family member questioned why he would say that if he was fighting off intruders.

A second door that sustained damage was Lisa's upstairs bedroom. It appeared as if she tried to lock herself in the room but the door was forced open. Her cell phone was in another location in the house.

But much of the house remained remarkably undisturbed. It was clear that whoever broke in had a specific idea of what they were seeking. The master bedroom had the king-sized mattress pulled from the frame and a dresser overturned. A wall space was opened. Items were pulled from bedroom drawers.

Credit: Ohio BCI
The master bedroom at the house on Longacre Lane where Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were killed had the king-sized mattress pulled from the frame and a dresser overturned. A wall space was opened. Items were pulled from bedroom drawers.
Credit: Ohio BCI

Multiple people told police in interviews that the word on the street was that there was a safe with a large amount of money in the home. Two different people told 11 Investigates of a party weeks before the murder in which money was discussed.

The killers also likely knew that the owners of the home, Lisa's mother and father, were not home. They were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary on a cruise. There was no money in the home, according to the Straubs, only $40 they left behind for the couple to order pizza.

A jailhouse snitch, Eric Yingling, testified that Williams told him that the couple was "bagged" in an attempt to get them to tell them where the money was. While doing this, Lisa died, and then Johnny was killed.

The couple was found in the kitchen, though the positioning of their clothing suggested that the bodies had been moved to that location. A torn picture of Johnny and Lisa was later found in the sunroom. Johnny's wallet was placed on his stomach.

Credit: Ohio BCI

SEARCH FOR SUSPECTS

A review of Johnny Clarke's phone records on the day of his murder shows that he received 51 calls. Many of them were calls to close friends that did not raise the interest of investigators. There were several calls to and from Zack Burkett, who was supposed to come over to the Straub home later that night with Tiffany Williams.

In court testimony, it was discovered that Burkett was at a nearby iHop, eating lunch with Alex Cousino, and that Clarke repeatedly called trying to figure out where he could get "pills" for later that night.

Cousino was interesting to detectives because of a falling out she had with Clarke over a dog and a car.

WATCH | ALEX COUSINO INTERROGATION, PART 1

In October, Johnny and Lisa agreed to buy a puppy from Cousino for $100, but only paid her $50. And then around Thanksgiving, Cousino said she was talked into buying Johnny's Dodge Stratus for $1,500.

"I didn't want to buy the car. He would not stop," Cousino told detectives in a May, 2011, interview.

She paid him $750 and promised him $750 more.

"I said, here's money, take it. Shut up please."

She claimed the tire fell off in the beginning of December.

"We got into an argument because he wanted the rest of the money."

WATCH | ALEX COUSINO INTERROGATION, PART 2

Clarke's family said that Cousino threatened Johnny. And phone records show there were no additional calls between Johnny and Cousino after mid-December.

As their phone interactions were decreasing, phone records show that Cousino and Burkett began talking many times a day, something detectives asked Cousino about in her interview. She told them that he was her best friend. It was a strange relationship since Burkett was 17 at the time and Cousino was 21. Phone logs show 422 calls between the pair in February alone, starting days after the murders.

In November, Anthony Watson told police that Cousino also began calling him repeatedly, often asking about what he knew about the investigation.

More concerning was a jealous text message that Cousino sent to a woman days after the murder. She revealed the message at the trial of Sam Williams.

"I do this ... fam. Watch the news.... (They) get duct taped and tied up and left for dead," it read.

11 Investigates could not reach Cousino for comment. Detectives did not respond to a question of whether any cases against other suspects were presented to the prosecutor or to the grand jury. Cousino denied being involved, claiming she was driving around with her boyfriend and smoking weed at the time of the killing. Her DNA was taken and did not match the unknown DNA at the scene.

Credit: Lucas County Sheriff's Office
Anthony Watson

Another friend of Johnny's who received close attention was Watson. Johnny was talking to a family friend at 10:41 - just before the call from Williams - and told him, according to a Clarke family member, that he was waiting for Watson to stop by.

In an initial March interview, Anthony Watson told police that the men were planning to meet up, but when it got too late into the night, he told Johnny that he had to get up early for school in the morning and he would not be able to meet.

But in November, Watson was brought from the county jail, after being arrested on a felony burglary charge, to meet again with Kozak.

He wanted to tell of a conversation that he had weeks before with a woman. He said the woman placed herself at the scene of the crime. He also named Sam Williams.

WATCH | ANTHONY WATSON INTERROGATION

"Johnny sees Sam. . ... Saw, pushed them back inside, and when it all went bad," he told Kozak.

He also claimed the woman told him there was a man named "Dro" and a second woman. He said they were looking for a safe that was rumored to be in the home.

At the time of Watson's second interview, Williams and Cameo Pettaway - whose DNA was also on the cigarette - were already in jail and many of the details he told were being speculated about in the media. However, at the end of the interview, Kozak told Watson's attorney that he would talk to the prosecutor. Watson expressed fear for his family's safety after naming multiple people.

He was never called to testify in the trials of Williams or Pettaway. There is no paperwork on it being because of his cooperation with detectives, but Watson's felony count was lowered to a minor misdemeanor, which he pleaded guilty to and received probation.

On Sept. 19, 2018, an unknown person gunned down Watson outside his Macomber apartment. The murder remains unsolved.

Credit: WTOL 11

THE MYSTERIOUS DNA

Detectives interviewed dozens of people during the investigation. There was no shortage of associates who had drug and violence convictions that raised red flags.

But court testimony shows that DNA from nearly 40 people was compared to the DNA in the house. None of them was a hit, other than the DNA of Williams and Pettaway. Their DNA was only found on the cigarette. Other cigarettes had identifiable DNA, but it was explained away as belonging to guests of Johnny and Lisa.

Captain Luettke said that investigators recently discussed the case with BCI cold case analysts. However, the Ohio Attorney General's Office told 11 Investigates that no additional evidence has been tested in the case since 2013.

DNA testing has come a long ways in the past eight years. The state has also opened a cold case unit, but the unit will only get involved if the prosecutor or investigative agency asks for help. The state confirmed that that has not happened in this case.

The Toledo Police Department successfully used familial DNA to solve the "Baby Doe" mystery.

Two babies were found wrapped up in blankets under the dashboard of two separate cars. Baby Doe #1 which was a boy was discovered on Vaness Drive in May 2017. The case remained unsolved and the baby's identity was unknown.

However, in November, 2019, TPD and the Cold Case Investigative Unit at the Lucas County Prosecutors Office submitted DNA samples to AdvanceDNA, which is a genetic genealogy firm. The firm used ancestry databases to confirm the infant was genetically related to a person who lived on Vaness Drive and was a blood relative to Jacob Cisneros, Jenna's husband. The database also revealed that Jenna Cisneros was likely the mother of the child.

The couple was arrested after DNA evidence confirmed Jenna and Jacob Cisneros were the biological parents of Baby Doe.

BCI would not do that testing. It would need to be done by a private lab.

"I'm not saying it couldn’t be used in the future, but it’s just not something that we have embraced locally," Luettke said. "We would have to contract with a company that does that."

THE SEARCH CONTINUES

Sam Williams and Cameo Pettaway were the only two people charged in the killing. Williams was convicted and narrowly avoided a death sentence. He adamantly maintains his innocence. Pettaway's case was dismissed because of lack of evidence.

Credit: Lucas County jail
Sam Williams
Credit: Lucas Co. jail
Cameo D. Pettaway

But no one believes, even if they were involved, that they did not have additional help. No one has been able to show that the men knew Johnny or Lisa. Many of Johnny's friends did not even know that he was staying in Lisa's home or the address. And very few people knew that the parents would be out of the home.

There is a tremendous amount of fear surrounding this case 10 years later, but solving it may be as simple as one person with information putting that fear aside to get the final answers.

"It's going to be somebody who has information that solves it for us," Luettke said. "I’m not saying that DNA could not solve the crime. But what’s going to solve this case is someone is going to come forward and say this is what happened."

If you know any information about this case, please call CrimeStoppers at 419-255-1111 or the detective's bureau at 419-213-4917. Or reach out to Brian Dugger at bdugger@wtol.com.

Credit: WTOL 11
Johnny Clarke and Lisa Straub were murdered in 2011 in Lisa's family's house in Holland.