Unsolved Mysteries: Janine Johler

Published: May. 21, 2017 at 8:26 PM MDT
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Janine Johler had a rough life. A disability, a drug addiction, and an on-again-off-again boyfriend who allegedly beat her.

But through it all this woman from Aurora kept an infectious smile, a closeness to family, and a big heart.

That's why her brutal death has left so many wondering...why?

Megan Alstatt heads the investigation for the Garfield County Sheriff's Office. "When we got on scene there were several trash bags on scene and upon investigation those trash bags contained the remains of a woman," Alstatt recalled.

Alstatt and her team arrived at an apple orchard outside Glenwood Springs on June 12, 2009 after a ranch hand gathering trash found a woman's severed head amid the rubbish. "For this area definitely not something we see very often and most definitely one of the most difficult and complicated crime scenes I've ever seen," Alstatt said.

Once it was identified as Janine, investigators notified her family.

"I knew in my heart," said Sue Kleppen, Johler's mother, in a television interview earlier this year. "It takes a certain kind of person to do that to another human being."

Now it was the job of Garfield County Sheriff's investigators to try and figure out what happened to Janine. The effort was taken up, both in Garfield County and Aurora, to try and figure out the last steps she took before she went missing.

But as investigators dug into her story, the case became more complex.

Janine was disabled from an accident when she was 15. The accident caused her to walk with a cane, forcing her to stay pretty close to her home.

She had been missing out of Aurora in the early part of May 2009. She was found more than three hours away in Glenwood Springs a few weeks later.

Given her disability, it was puzzling she ended up so far from home. But then investigators learned something else.

"She did partake in prostitution down in Aurora," Alstatt said. "She had a lot of contact with a lot of different people, and it makes that very difficult for us trying to narrow down a suspect pool."

One person her mom suspected was her on-again off-again boyfriend. Janine's mother says he had a history of domestic violence, and Janine reportedly had a restraining order against him.

"He was the only one in her whole life who might have had a motive," Kleppen said.

But the ex-boyfriend was in jail at the time, ruling him out.

As weeks turned into months, the seasons came and went, and years have gone by, the case grew cold. "It's pretty few and far between from getting calls in from people," Alstatt said.

"I took this job to help people to figure out these things, and it's very difficult when I can't figure it out."

Eight years after that grisly discovery in a peaceful rural orchard, Janine Johler is never very far from the mind of those looking for who killed her.

"I think it’s important that people focus on the fact that this is a person who has family that still cares about her very much and loves her," Alstatt said. "And they deserve to know what happened to their daughter."

Jeanine's remains are still with authorities. Her mother hopes one day she'll get them back, and be able to give her daughter a final resting place.

"I'd like to have a headstone and a place to go pay our respects," Kleppen said. "Let her know she's still remembered and loved."

If you have any information on the case, you're asked to call Garfield County Sheriff's Office investigator Megan Alstatt at (970) 665-0222 or Garfield County Crime Stoppers at (970) 945-0101.

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