Note: Most of the newspaper articles from the time of Tammy Johnson’s death spell her name as Tamme. This is the spelling I will be using in this article.
In the years of doing research, those living on the fringe of society are ones whose murders often go unsolved and forgotten. Among those people whose lifestyles are often condemned by society are prostitutes and whether one agrees with their lifestyle, these women are still someone’s daughter, sister, mother, or friend.
In the mid-1980s, two young ladies arrived in Wilkes-Barre from their hometowns in neighboring states. Constance “Connie” Griggs arrived in Wilkes-Barre from Niagara Falls, New York, while Tammy “Tamme” Johnson came from Phillipsburg, New Jersey. Neither – as far as can be determined – knew each other, though both were known prostitutes and both had their lives snuffed out by person(s) unknown.
In 1975, Griggs had the world before her. A recent graduate of Niagara Falls High School, she began working as a nurse’s aide at St. Mary’s Hospital and in 1978 was attending Niagara Hairstyling, a regional cosmetology school. With a promising life ahead of her it is unknown when or why she fell into a life of prostitution, something her family was unaware of until police broke it to them after her death.
Griggs was well-known in the Wilkes-Barre region, having lived in the region for at least two years before her death. By early 1983, she was well-known for applying her charms along North and North Main Streets and at the former Butler House in Wilkes-Barre. On May 1, 1983, Griggs was one of seven women arrested in a police round-up of prostitutes. After her booking, Griggs left the area and headed towards New York.
Exactly where she spent May and June 1983 is not clear. It is known she was briefly in Buffalo at her boyfriend’s house and on July 4, she was back in Niagara Falls region to visit her family and her 4-year-old son. The visit had come as a surprise to her family who had not heard from her in a while. After a short visit, she left and by July 7, she was back in Wilkes-Barre. On that day, Griggs made a phone call to her mother, stating she wanted to come home. Griggs never made it.
In the early morning hours of July 8, Griggs had been spotted at the Backstreet Bar, which was located on Scott Street in Wilkes-Barre. Around 2:30 that morning, she left the bar and was last seen walking towards North Main Street.
Her remains were discovered July 9, 1983 along a dirt access road, off Route 115, just east of the intersection with Interstate 81 in Plains Township, Luzerne County, on property owned by the Pennsylvania Gas and Water Company. On that afternoon a mine official on his way to meet up with a mine watchman made the horrific discovery. He initially believed the remains to have been a discarded dummy. A closer inspection revealed the supposed dummy was a partially clad body of a murdered woman. He called police to the crime scene located 75 feet beyond the gate blocking the access road.
Authorities estimated she had been dead for at least 24 hours and her death was due to shock from loss of blood. Two puncture wounds were discovered on her back, which had penetrated her heart. A search of the area failed to produce the murder weapon, but small footprints were discovered in the clay near the site.
Investigators were unable to determine if she had been killed at this location or elsewhere. Newspaper reports of the time differ – some state it was believed she was killed somewhere else and then discarded at the scene; other articles state it was believed she had been killed at the spot she was discovered; yet other articles report she was killed at the gate and her body dragged to the location she was discovered. What was mentioned in some of the initial reports was a trail of blood leading to, or possibly from, her body.
Authorities questioned Griggs’ current boyfriend, but he was let go and police stated he was not considered a suspect in the murder as he was in Buffalo at the time of her death.
There is one sad piece of information in the initial newspaper articles which has been overlooked in some of the more modern reports. Constance was six months pregnant when she was murdered. Her killer did not just take one life, but the lives of Constance and her unborn child.
Her case went cold, but would again make the newspapers four years later, when the body of another prostitute was discovered less than a mile from where Griggs’ body had been discovered. Originally from Phillipsburg, New Jersey, Tamme was one of the aliases for Tammy Johnson, who also went by Tamara and Tamarah. Since arriving in Wilkes-Barre, she had been charged numerous times for prostitution and once for theft.
Exactly when the 26-year-old vanished is not known as she had never been reported missing. What is known is 1) she was last positively seen alive in September 1986 and 2) her skeletal remains were discovered by workers clearing brush along Route 315, near the intersection with Fox Hill Road, on July 4, 1987.
Authorities discovered the skeletal remains still in a red dress with a black belt, but with no identification on or near the remains. Coroner Dr. George Hudak announced the cause of death was not natural and labeled it as suspicious in nature. He also determined she had been deceased at least six months. Due to the condition of the remains, the exact cause of Tamme’s death was never determined. It would also be revealed that a purse – believed to have been hers – had been recovered nearby a couple months before her remains were discovered.
Tamme was tentatively identified after the remains of two tattoos she was known to have. The first was “#1 Lady” and the second was an Egyptian symbol for the goddess of love. With this possible identification, a comparison of the remains was done with x-rays taken of Tamme’s head while being treated at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital after she had been kidnapped by three men on January 1, 1985. The men burst into their home and shot Willie Kittrell, the man Tamme was living with at the time. During the trial of the three kidnappers, it was reported that Tamme’s life had been threatened by a relative of one of the three men.
Note: As far as I can determine in reading the newspaper articles, neither Kittrell, who had a very turbulent relationship with Tamme, nor any of the men involved in the 1985 kidnapping were questioned in regard to her death.
The question remains: Who killed the two ladies? Authorities believed they were connected due to both victims being prostitutes and the location where they had been discovered.
In 1991, authorities attempted to link the two deaths to Donald Leroy Evans, a serial killer who claimed to have killed more than seventy people in 22 states. Evans claimed a high number of victims, but most of his descriptions of the murders scenes were very inaccurate. Evans was stabbed to death in prison, so any possibility to connect him with other unsolved cases vanished.
The years have passed and their murders have gone cold and forgotten by most. The deaths of the two young ladies vanished from the headlines, although their cases would appear over the years in articles about Luzerne County’s unsolved murders. Constance and her unborn child rest in the Riverdale Cemetery in Lewiston, New York while Tamme rests in the family plot in Saint Philip and Saint James Cemetery, near her hometown of Phillipsburg, New Jersey. While the years have caused their cases to disappear from public memory, it is still possible to answer who killed the young ladies and why.
One thought on “Unsolved: The Murders of Constance Griggs and Tamme Johnson”
Constance Griggs was my baby sister. Even though it has almost been forty years since she was killed, we still miss her very much. I would like to know if any new details come up about this.