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Murder suspect arrested in Newberry Springs cold case

Letter, witnesses break case for detectives 20 years after man's death

More than two decades after John Eller was strangled to death and left on a dirt-road intersection in Newberry Springs, a letter sent to county detectives led to the recent arrest of a man they believe is responsible.

The body of 36-year-old Eller was found on Dec. 27, 1987 at the intersection of Gasco Way and Eagle Way in a remote desert area of Newberry Springs, according to a report from the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner Department.

Detectives arrested Lucerne Valley resident Paul Johnson on Thursday and charged him with murder.

During their 1987 investigation, homicide detectives found that the body had been dumped at the intersection and traced evidence back to Johnson’s house at the time on the 30800 block of Fremont Street. Detectives determined that the death had occurred there, according to the report.

Johnson, now 70, Eller and others were often at the home “hanging out and drinking beer with the guys,” according to the report. In initial statements, witnesses said Eller and Johnson had an altercation the night of Eller’s slaying and that Eller, a Newberry Springs resident, had last been seen at Johnson’s home.

Eller’s death was declared a cold case in 1989 after a yearlong investigation in which detectives hit snags in producing willing witnesses.

“Some witnesses cooperated but others did not because they feared retaliation or because they were related to the suspect,” according to the report.

In late 2008, a break in the case came when cold case homicide detectives Greg Myler and Rob Alexander received a letter containing additional information about the murder. An interview with the letter’s sender led to 10 other interviews of past and new witnesses, according to the report.

The 21-year span between Eller’s death and the arrest is unusually long when compared to other county cold cases, according to Deputy District Attorney John Thomas.

“Our cold cases are usually solved within the five- to 10-year range,” he said. “This case hit a brick wall because of the lack of willing witnesses.”

During the latest investigation, detectives found witnesses to be more helpful, according to Thomas, who said the new leads provided by witnesses helped implicate Johnson in Eller’s death.

“People became much more willing to cooperate a long time later and that’s why detectives were able to make the arrest,” he said.

To report information relating to this case, contact Detective Greg Myler at the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner Department     Department at 909-387-3589. People wishing to remain anonymous can call WE-TIP at 800-78-CRIME or visit the WE-TIP Web site at www.wetip.com.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4126 or
cnguyen@desertdispatch.com


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