Nurse charged in 1999 cold case beating death of cognitively impaired McHenry woman found in Wisconsin field

RACINE, Wis. (WLS) -- A 63-year-old nurse has been charged in the beating death of a 23-year-old cognitively impaired woman whose battered body was discovered at the edge of a cornfield in southeastern Wisconsin in July 1999, police said Friday.

Linda La Roche was arrested Tuesday in Cape Coral, Florida, Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said during a news conference. According to a criminal complaint, La Roche was charged Thursday with first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse in the killing of Peggy Lynn Johnson.

Johnson was found murdered in a Wisconsin cornfield more than two decades ago, and had been classified during that time as a Jane Doe.

"We have dedicated thousands of investigative hours to bring this heartbreaking murder to its resolution," said Schmaling. "That day has arrived today."

Johnson met La Roche at a medical center in McHenry, Illinois, where La Roche worked as a registered nurse in the 1990s. Johnson went there seeking help after her mother died, the sheriff said. Her father and brother were also dead. Johnson was around 18 years old, cognitively disabled and homeless when she met La Roche.

La Roche took Peggy in, then forced her to work as a housekeeper and nanny for her family. She also made her sleep in the home's crawl space.

"She suffered long-term and horrific abuse at the hand of Linda La Roche," said Schmaling.

Johnson lived with La Roche for the last five years of her life, and was never reported as a missing person, he said.

A break in the case came in September, when someone called police and claimed that La Roche, who now lives in Florida, was telling people she killed a woman when she lived in Illinois.

"The utter barbaric brutality inflicted on this young woman is something that none of us will ever forget," Schmaling said.

La Roche is charged with first degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse. She has waived extradition to Wisconsin.

According to the criminal complaint, La Roche's children admitted to police they saw her abuse Johnson, and the suspect's former husband said he came home one day to find her dead on the floor.

Johnson's body was dumped in Raymond, Wisconsin, about 40 miles northeast of McHenry. Her body was exhumed in 2013 with the hope of using advancing technology to identify her. She was reinterred in 2015.

Authorities said she will be exhumed once more and re-buried next to her mother in Belvidere, Illinois.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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