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Ultimate Betrayal Unravels a Woman's Tangled Life

Murder: Shonda Johnson always managed to find a man to do her bidding. That talent landed her on death row.

May 28, 2000|JAY REEVES | ASSOCIATED PRESS

JASPER, Ala. — Shonda Johnson had a way with the men no one could explain.

Her blond hair came from a bottle, and her teeth were so crooked she wouldn't smile for photos. A high school dropout who rarely worked, she dreamed up a glitzy past for herself: head cheerleader, homecoming queen, high-paid paramedic.

Despite the plain appearance and the lies, there was something about Johnson. She was a small-town siren who had no problem attracting men in Walker County, a tough coal-mining area just north of Birmingham.

When Johnson quit school at age 18 and needed someone to support her, she married within a few months. When she needed a father for an unborn child conceived with another man, she found one. Twice.

And police say when she needed a man to commit murder, she found him too. Johnson, 31, is awaiting execution in Alabama's electric chair for a bizarre crime of passion. Married to three men at the same time, she was convicted of getting one to murder another as the third died of AIDS.

The tale is one of tangled relationships and deadly intentions, all revolving around a petite mother of four described by her family as naive and childlike.

"In certain ways Shonda had her own little world. But that doesn't make her a bad person," said her sister, Christi Johnson.

Police say not only was Johnson bad, she made those around her bad--particularly Tim Richards, her fifth husband, who pleaded guilty to killing husband No. 3, Randy McCullar, in a show of love.

McCullar was fatally shot in the head with a deer rifle as he changed a tire outside a rural church on Nov. 30, 1997. The machinist and aspiring pilot was killed after filing a bigamy charge against Johnson, who stood to lose custody of her children if convicted.

"I don't think Tim would have ever spent a day in jail if he hadn't met Shonda," said Walker County sheriff's detective Joey Vick.

Johnson's attorney, Steve Jones, refused to let her speak with the Associated Press, saying the case is on appeal.

Johnson had already wed and divorced two husbands legally before she went on her marrying spree. The first husband, Jeff Nelson, twice filed police reports during their six-year marriage claiming Johnson tried to kill him, but no charges were filed. The second husband, Jimmy Tidwell, divorced her after only five months.

Johnson and McCullar married on June 24, 1995, during a small ceremony at a white church within a couple of hundred yards of his parents' home. The two met at the BC Lounge, a country bar that both frequented. Johnson would wear short skirts or jeans; McCullar liked his cowboy boots and western shirts.

"They were just as happy as they could be, couldn't keep their hands off each other," said the Rev. Jerry Haley, who performed the ceremony.

The bliss didn't last long. McCullar quickly grew tired of working every day while his bride played at the lake with her friends, his parents say.

"She'd put on her bikini, throw a towel around her and go to the beach. He was working and she was out partying," said his mother, Betty McCullar. "Randy was a Christian, and he just couldn't take a life like that."

The McCullars weren't all that surprised when the couple separated. But they were stunned by a telephone call they received only three months after the two had wed: A friend of McCullar's had seen Johnson marrying another man, Bill McIntyre, in a courthouse ceremony. McCullar and Johnson were still legally married.

Johnson and McIntyre met while working at a sleeping-bag plant, one of the few places she ever worked. Johnson, who already had a son by her first husband, was carrying McCullar's child when she put on an ivory-colored dress to marry McIntyre.

"He told us he thought that was the girl God meant for him," said McIntyre's mother, Freida McIntyre. "Bill talked her out of having an abortion. He carried her to her doctor appointments and was in the delivery room."

McIntyre was completing a home-study course to become a preacher in addition to supporting Johnson by working at the factory, where she was employed only two weeks, but his health started failing within a year. Despite telling in-laws she was a paramedic making $52,000 annually, Johnson began selling McIntyre's compact discs for money to go to bars.

On Aug. 2, 1996, McIntyre went to the hospital with the onset of the disease that would later kill him, AIDS. That was the last day he and Johnson lived together as man and wife. McIntyre went back to his parents' home, and Johnson went on to the next man.

Ronnie Webb moved in with Johnson, and she became pregnant about three months after she separated from McIntyre. By then, McCullar had gotten wind of Johnson's new men and filed the bigamy charge.

Johnson was looking for a way to stay out of prison and keep her kids when she went to the BC Lounge in the spring of 1997 and met Tim Richards, a round-faced delivery truck driver described by both police and his adoptive parents as simple and trusting. Richards' first marriage had failed, and he was lonely.

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