Former trucker sought in family killings

The Associated Press
Thursday May 17, 2001

STOCKTON — With his mother’s ex-boyfriend opening fire behind him, a 10-year-old boy “ran like hell” as the gunman fatally shot the boy’s grandmother and killed his little sister and two cousins. 

The boy’s mother was seeking a restraining order Tuesday afternoon when Roger Leroy Johnson showed up at the rural house with a semiautomatic handgun and a knife, investigators said. 

Corey Burks told officers he saw a big gun when his grandmother, Pearl Burks, 48, opened the door to let Johnson in. When the shooting began, Corey “ran like hell” to a neighbor’s house for help, said Joe Herrera, a deputy San Joaquin County sheriff. 

Johnson, 48, shot Pearl Burks and slashed her neck with a knife, then turned his attention to the other children, investigators said. One child was found dead in the house and two others were found in the back yard, where tricycles, a swingset and a slide clutter the lawn. 

Corey Burks’ sister, Mikhala, 5, was killed, along with a cousin, Bobby Burks, 4. Another cousin, Ashley Burks, 6, was stabbed to death in the backyard. Investigators did not immediately have the causes of death of the two younger children. 

“Pretty gruesome” is the way Herrera described it. He said it was the worst killing in the county since the 1970s, when seven members of a family were killed. 

Johnson, a former trucker who is missing four fingers, was still on the run Wednesday, last seen driving from the neighborhood in a Chevy pickup truck. 

Rhonda Burks recently had received a threatening letter from ex-boyfriend Johnson, according to Jimmy Cook, whose grandson, Joey Cook, is dating Burks. 

“He told her ’until death do us part,”’ Jimmy Cook said Wednesday as he stopped by the house to view the scene. 

Jimmy Cook said that Rhonda Burks discussed the letter Sunday at a Mother’s Day barbecue. That same day, someone torched his grandson’s car in Burks’ driveway. 

Rhonda Burks and Joey Cook at first told investigators they believed a juvenile had burned the car, but later they said they thought it was Johnson. 

“He basically didn’t want to end the relationship,” Herrera said. “He wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” 

The charred car was sitting in Burks’ driveway Wednesday, but no one was home. Two dogs barked in the backyard and a man patrolling the neighborhood in his pickup truck told reporters to keep away. 

At Pearl Burks’ house on the outskirts of this city 85 miles east of San Francisco, the neighborhood also was quiet – save for a rumbling train, crowing roosters and construction workers pouring concrete in a nearby lot. 

Inside the house, children’s toys were scattered and videos, including “Pinocchio,” were stacked neatly on a shelf. Children’s fishing rods were visible in a window and three little pairs of shoes were outside the front door. 

What Corey Burks saw was not completely clear. His voice is difficult to discern on a 911 tape as his neighbor, Linda Baldwin, relays information from the boy to operators. 

Baldwin said she heard a burst of gunfire, a “boom, boom, boom real quick,” but thought nothing of it until the boy showed up at her house. 

“We live out in the country, so I paid no attention,” Baldwin told a 911 operator. “I didn’t hear any screaming or nothing.” 

Rhonda Burks called home from court to check on her children, Herrera said. When no one answered the phone, she didn’t follow through with her request for a restraining order and headed home to check on her children. 

By the time she got there, police tape was blocking the road. 

Rhonda Burks was in seclusion Wednesday and did not speak with reporters.