New lead appears in Denise Johnson cold case 26 years after her murder

Published 9:09 am Saturday, July 22, 2023

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Twenty-six years ago, Denise Floydlen Johnson was found murdered inside her residence in the 2000 block of Norfolk Street in Kill Devil Hills by first responders. The house was ablaze when the KDH fire department arrived. Johnson had succumbed to smoke from the fire, and stab wounds were found on her lifeless body. The case has remained cold since July 13, 1997.

The KDH police department has worked in conjunction with the State Bureau of Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the District Attorney’s Office and the Dare County Sherriff’s Office to solve Johnson’s case over the years. New DNA testing was underway last year, and there is one person in particular that is still hot on the heels of Johnson’s murderer.

Delia D’Ambra moved to the Outer Banks with her family when she was a young child. She is both an investigative journalist and podcast host who has made it her mission to solve a cold case that took place when she was just four years old. D’Ambra brought Johnson’s case back into the spotlight in her podcast known as CounterClock, which aired in January of 2020. The podcast has attracted global attention since its inception and although other cold cases have been worked on, D’Ambra hasn’t given up on helping to find the person that murdered 33-year-old Denise Johnson.

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In an interview on the 26th anniversary of Johnson’s murder, D’Ambra told The Coastland Times that the KDH police department is currently aware of a “substantial lead” pertaining to this case. “A law enforcement agency in Oregon has a person that they have convicted … for a brutal homicide in their jurisdiction that happened in 1997, just a few months before Denise was murdered,” the podcast host shared.

This individual, according to D’Ambra, is an Outer Banks native who immediately returned to the area after committing the murder in Oregon in May of 1997. “They would have been living in the general area of Kill Devil Hills at that time,” she stated. Delia noted that she has been personally working with this agency in Oregon for several months, and has been in contact with homicide investigators who put the offender away years after the May murder. “It was a decade later that they solved that case and connected it to the Outer Banks native.” The investigative journalist shared that the agency has been in contact with KDH authorities.

KDH Police Captain John Towler confirmed that he has been in touch with the investigator in Oregon. “We’ve been cooperating on sharing information about this particular lead,” he said. Towler added, “I don’t have any comment about the value of the lead or the probability that it will result in a solution to Denise’s case.”

Crime Line has offered a reward of $2,500 for information that leads to the identification and arrest of the person responsible. In addition, friends of Denise Johnson established a reward fund of $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest.

D’Ambra’s podcast is available at

Anyone with information is asked to call the Kill Devil Hills Police Department at 252-449-5337. Anonymous tips may also be submitted through Crime Line by using the online form at the anonymous tip line at 252-473-3111 or 800-745-2746.