Investigators knew from evidence that Johnson had disappeared Oct. 15 or 16, 1989, somewhere along the relatively isolated 300-mile route of U.S. 97 between Bend, Ore., and Redding. They also learned that on Oct. 16, Stan Hershey allegedly rented a boat at Shasta Lake and on the same day had parked Johnson's motor home in Redding.
Jan Hershey testified in the preliminary hearing that she had fixed dinner for Johnson and her husband Oct. 15 and that, later that night, she saw her husband leave Johnson's motor home. She said she "noticed that there was an odor that I described as a wet blanket, a wet dog's blanket." She said her husband explained that Johnson was lending them his motor home, his Suzuki four-wheel-drive vehicle, and access to his savings account to help them on a spiritual mission.
"I believe I'm guilty of what would be called 'willful blindness,' " she testified.
In a court stipulation a year ago, Shasta County officials dropped allegations of special circumstances--murder for financial gain and lying in wait--that could have led to the death penalty is Stan Hershey is convicted, but they are seeking a sentence of life in prison. Jury selection began May 12, followed by the prosecution witnesses last week.
Johnson, a bachelor, worked as an accountant at a subsidiary of Glendale Federal Bank, where co-workers said he was a fastidious, punctual and diligent employee who had long planned to travel about the country. Immediately after retiring in April, 1989, Johnson sold his Glendale home of 27 years and a dilapidated Volkswagen car and bought the 40-foot motor home and Suzuki. Co-workers gave him the puppy as a retirement gift.
After his divorce from his first wife, Stan Hershey, a former teacher at San Quentin State Prison, worked briefly in 1987 at Wilshire West, a school for troubled and learning disabled teen-agers. There he met his future wife, a veteran teacher and counselor who holds master's degrees in special education and educational psychology.
Friends and co-workers described her as "the consummate pro." Mark Mitock, owner-director at Wilshire West, in a 1990 interview said, "She had the interest of the kids at heart. She worked hard, was very caring and worked well with both parents and people in the community."
Stan Hershey, who also holds a master's in education, later spent a year with the Los Angeles Unified School District as a teacher of emotionally disturbed students. The couple moved to New Orleans in 1988, where they married.
Times correspondent Tommy Li contributed to this story.