A man pulls out of a tiny church parking lot sandwiched between homes on a residential street in Bay Shore. It’s a warm Wednesday evening in late March 2010 and he has a woman with him. He doesn’t want to be seen with her. He has a girlfriend. They live together. He is driving her car.
They join the rush hour traffic of Sunrise highway and head east to Patchogue. It’s where the man’s mother used to live. She’s in jail now and the house should be empty. But as he turns the corner, he sees his brother outside talking with a friend. He panics and speeds up, hoping his brother doesn’t see him pass by.
The woman in his car isn’t his girlfriend. She also isn’t breathing.
She’s 26-year-old Jennifer Papain of North Patchogue and just an hour earlier she agreed to meet 22-year-old Chad Johnson of Medford for sex before he sped down Narragansett Avenue with her body on the backseat floor, according to more than three weeks of testimony and related court documentation being presented at Johnson’s ongoing murder trial at Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverhead.
Two months later detectives would find Papain buried in a shallow grave, just steps into the woods off the Long Island Expressway, her toes sticking out from under a pile of dirt and leaves.
There are still faded pink marks on the trees leading to the gravesite, spray painted by homicide detectives the night cadaver dogs led them to her body—just a bend in the road out of view of Johnson’s home. The crude, 2-foot-deep hole is still there, filled with weeds and mushrooms.
Papain’s story is similar to those of Megan Waterman, Maureen Brainard-Barnes, Amber Lynn Costello and Melissa Barthelemy—the four missing young women whose bodies were found in the roadside brush near Gilgo Beach seven months later. Like these women, Papain had advertised sexual services on the Internet, disappeared while meeting a client, was discovered strangled to death only steps away from a busy highway and faded orange markings in the road still point to where her body was recovered. But in Papain’s case police believe they have her killer.
After giving a written confession, in which he details the above events and how he allegedly killed Papain, Johnson has pleaded not guilty to her murder, now alleging the admission was coerced. As the prosecution continues to present its case as of press time, more and more details—as well as questions—about exactly what happened that day, and throughout the two months Papain was missing, are slowly emerging.