A former nurse who murdered her family’s live-in maid and nanny back in the 1990s has been sentenced to life in prison.
In 1994, 18-year-old Peggy Lynn Johnson-Schroeder was left completely alone in the world, specifically in the small town of McHenry, Illinois, some 30 minutes south of the Wisconsin border. After the death of her mother—the last of a long series of deaths in her family—the cognitively-impaired teen sought refuge and help at a medical clinic.
That’s where she met a nurse named Linda Sue LaRoche, now 66, who promised to take her in, make her part of her own family, and help her finish high school in exchange for housekeeping and child care.
The bargain would soon prove to cost more than anything is worth.
Far from simply being taken advantage of after losing her entire family and exploited over her medical condition, Schroeder’s life quickly became a never-ending cycle of servitude, abuse, and torture.
Testimony given to police in Racine, Wisconsin by LaRoche’s five children and ex-husband document some of those atrocities.
Johnson-Schroeder was repeatedly slapped in the face and head by her employer; punched and given a black eye on at least one occasion; attacked with a pitchfork; and screamed at “like an animal.” The woman who helped raise the defendant’s children was also forced to sleep in a crawl space underneath the home–and often banished to that tiny space when she did something to upset the lady of the house.
In July 1999, the young woman’s body finally gave out. After years of accumulated and untreated injuries sustained at the LaRoche residence in McHenry, Johnson-Schroeder died “by sepsis pneumonia as a result of infection from injuries sustained from [the] chronic abuse,” according to a criminal complaint.
In testimony provided to law enforcement years later, LaRoche’s ex-husband said he came home to find Johnson-Schroeder dead on the floor. The defendant said their nanny had overdosed and instructed him at the time to take their five children to get ice cream. The husband did as he was told.
LaRoche then took the 30-minute trip across state lines and dumped Johnson-Schroeder’s body in a cornfield in Racine, Wisconsin.
On the morning of July 21, 1999, a man was walking with his dog and daughter when he saw drag marks through the stalks of corn.
He found Johnson-Schroeder’s body—rail-thin and soaking wet—under the power lines. She was dressed in black sweatpants and a grey denim shirt embroidered with red and black flowers. Her clothes were wet because there had been a storm the night before.
“She suffered from significant injuries and had been brutalized by many means over a long period of time,” Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said at a press conference in November 2019. “All of us here that have investigated deaths of individuals over the course of our careers have seen many trouble things, however, the utter barbaric brutality inflicted on this young woman is something none of us will ever forget.”
Her body also appeared to be malnourished and sexually abused.
For over 20 years, Johnson-Schroder remained unidentified. While a Jane Doe, she was ultimately shown more kindness in death by the people of Racine than the woman who used and abused her for the last five years of her life. The town of 3,500 held a funeral for the unknown victim. The money for her casket was donated by the community, according to the Racine Journal Times,
In September 2019, an anonymous tipster in Florida said they heard LaRoche discuss a murder she had committed in Illinois 20 years prior. Police would then conduct the above-referenced interviews with the defendant’s ex-husband and children. DNA from the Jane Doe body–a previous dead end–was retested. The woman’s identity was finally known.
LaRoche was arrested in November 2019.
During her murder trial, prosecutors cast LaRoche as a “scorned” and “jealous” woman, making the case that Johnson-Schroeder was beloved by the family but hated by the defendant.
In March of this year, a jury convicted LaRoche of murder in the first degree and hiding a corpse. She reportedly remained stone-faced as the verdict was read.
On Monday, a judge in Racine County sentenced LaRoche to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder conviction, according to the Lake & McHenry County Scanner. She was also given an additional five-year sentence for hiding Johnson-Schroeder’s body.
[images: La Roche and composite via Racine County Sheriff’s Office; Schroeder via WDJT/screengrab]
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