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Records offer chilling details about Knox victim's encounter with possible 'Redhead' killer

Jerry L. Johns was convicted in the March 1985 attack on a stripper he met at an old club call the Katch One.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — The records date back more than 30 years but still have the power to make a reader shiver.

Convicted in a March 1985 attack on a Knox County dancer and prostitute, trucker Jerry L. Johns is portrayed as a cold, would-be killer. He strangled the woman and left her to die in a West Knox County culvert near Watt Road.

The redheaded dancer known as "Tasha" survived, however, and would go on to testify in a case that helped send Johns to prison in 1987. He ended up dying there in December 2015.

Today, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says he also killed a woman named Tina M. Farmer, whose body was found Jan. 1, 1985 -- just a couple months before the Knox County attack -- in a case widely referred to as one of the Redhead Murders of the 1980s in the Southeast. Farmer's bound and strangled body was found along Interstate 75 in Campbell County.

Authorities suspect Johns killed her days before she was found.

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Details about Johns' attack on the dancer are contained in a court opinion prepared after his conviction in the Knox County case. He was found guilty of crimes that included attempted first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping.

He wasn't charged at the time in the Campbell County case, although investigators suspected he was involved.

From the club to the motel

Tasha -- WBIR is not publishing her real name -- danced nude in 1985 at the Katch One off Interstate 40. It was a lucrative profession, sometimes bringing her a thousand dollars a week.

Johns, then age 36, ran his own small trucking operation, called Rebel Trucking Company.

He and his brother Wayne Johns went to the Katch the night of March 5, 1985. Johns had his own Katch membership card.

Tasha agreed to go with him to a motel after work for sex for $200. Johns tore two $100 bills in half and gave her two halves, according to records. She would get the other two halves later at the motel, he said.

She helped arrange the services of another woman to have sex with Wayne Johns, records state.

Everyone drove their own cars to the Holiday Inn on Dale Avenue, a business now gone.

Tasha hid the two halves of her $100 bills in her Datsun 280Z.

Johns got adjoining rooms for him and his brother, according to records. He had a gun, and told the dancer he was an undercover Texas Ranger, which was a lie. He drove a pickup with Texas plates.

After they had sex, she took a bath and prepared to leave. Johns had other ideas.

When they walked to her Datsun, he forced her to move over so that he could drive. He'd never given her the other halves to the $100.

Johns drove back to the Katch.

"While parked in the club's parking lot, (Johns) ripped (Tasha's) T-shirt into strips, which he used to tie her hands and feet. He put a gag around her mouth and threatened to kill her if she tried to leave or screamed," the appellate opinion states.

He headed west on I-40, finding some woods where he pulled the car over. He forced her to go with him into the trees, and taunted her with his gun.

Rather than shoot Tasha, however, he "wrapped a strip of her T-shirt tightly around her neck and strangled her until she lost consciousness."

Survival, a chase and a capture

She survived, however.

She would later tell authorities she came to in a culvert, crawled out of it and made it to the interstate where she flagged down a trucker.

"She told him and others who stopped to help that someone had tried to kill her," court records state. "She was fearful of her benefactors and begged them not to kill her."

Tasha told troopers who responded to the scene what had happened. She said Johns had driven off in her Datsun, and she gave the room numbers at the Holiday Inn on Dale Avenue.

The victim was treated at Parkwest Hospital off Cedar Bluff Road.

Knox County authorities headed for the Holiday Inn.

A trooper spotted Johns' pickup in the parking lot. A deputy joined him. The men saw the Datsun approach the lot but then suddenly speed off.

A chase ensued on nearby I-40.

After getting off at the business loop exit, the 280Z crossed the median and slid across another exit lane before coming to a rest. Inside the sports car, police found Johns' loaded gun. 

During questioning, authorities found that Johns had a Holiday Inn motel room key, $752 in cash and the Katch One membership card. They saw him wad up and throw away several $100 bill halves.

The appeals court found the evidence was more than enough to convict Johns of the crimes.


Last week the TBI identified Johns as the man who likely murdered Farmer in Campbell County. Farmer, missing from Indiana, for many years was a Jane Doe until a break in 2018 led to her identification.

In another recent development, semen found on a blanket wrapped around Farmer's body proved through testing to belong to Jerry Johns, according to the TBI.

Farmer and Tasha appeared similar, and the circumstances in both cases, the TBI said, are "strikingly similar."

Last week, a Campbell County grand jury determined after a review that if Johns were alive today, he'd face indictment for first-degree murder in Farmer's killing.

Could he also be a posthumous suspect in other so-called Redhead Murders?

Police have always said it made sense that a truck driver may have been the person responsible for the Redhead Murders because victims were in scattered locations and often were found near a roadway.

Last week, the TBI said they cannot say the evidence all points to Johns. But they say they'll continue to investigate.


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