Investigators: Homicides in Newton and Jasper counties linked

Jeff Lehr, The Joplin Globe, Mo.
·2 min read

Feb. 22—Investigators say the murders of a 25-year-old woman — discovered dead Saturday in a ditch southwest of Joplin — and a man and woman found slain Sunday at a residence in Avilla are related.

The Newton County Sheriff's Department today identified the victim found in a ditch near the intersection of State Line Road and Angus Drive as Brylee O'Banion, a Joplin-area resident and girlfriend of Kevin C. Johnson, 24, of Reeds, who was taken into custody early today in Jasper County as a suspect in the double homicide in Avilla.

The identities of the man and woman killed in Avilla have not been released as yet, pending notification of family members. No charges have been filed on Johnson in their deaths as yet and investigators have released few details as to how the two cases are connected.

Newton County Sheriff Chris Jennings confirmed that Johnson and O'Banion were a couple but said Johnson was "not necessarily a suspect in our case."

Deputies responded at 4:10 p.m. Saturday to a report of a body at the location where O'Banion was found. An autopsy has been scheduled to determine the cause of her death. But investigators have acknowledged that there is reason to believe she was murdered.

The sheriff said investigators there began looking Saturday night for the man and woman found slain in Avilla.

"They were two people we wanted to talk to that we thought we knew had been with our victim," Jennings said.

He described them as persons of interest at the time in the Newton County case. He added that it was too early then and remains too early at this time to say that the couple are suspects in slaying of O'Banion.

Jasper County deputies discovered their bodies at 255 Greenfield St. in Avilla while responding to a report at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. Autopsies are being scheduled.

Johnson was arrested at 4:30 a.m. today in connection with their deaths, according to a news release from the Jasper County Sheriff's Department. He is being held at the Jasper County Jail pending the filing of charges. The news release said no other suspects are being sought in the double homicide in Avilla.

Jeff Lehr is a reporter for The Joplin Globe.