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Jennifer Papain Vanishes After Craigslist Meeting, Chad Johnson on Trial for Her Murder

Police photo of Jennifer Papain sent to the media after she was reported missing in March 2010.

A Casual Encounter

Wearing black nail polish and a long, dangling silver belly ring, Papain poses wearing only a thong, her shoulder-length brown hair and chin just making it into the pictures. Two years after she disappeared, her sex ad is still up on one erotic networking website, with her unmade bed and computer monitor visible in the background.


“Hey guys, its Katie,” it reads. “I’m looking for help with bills ASAP I’m new to this so please contact me ASAP if ur serious…I will do whatever in return as long as it’s safe.”

She describes herself as a 26-year-old Hispanic female from Miller Place, athletic and looking for casual sex. She gives her cell phone number and says to call her or chat with her on AOL Instant Messenger. Her screen name is sexykatie23. At the time, detectives say Papain was unemployed and addicted to prescription drugs.

It was a similar ad on Craigslist, also posted by “Katie,” that Johnson came across on March 24, according to Suffolk County police Det. Michael Soto and Det. Sean McQuaid, who worked the case and have been testifying on behalf of the prosecution. Using a computer in the library of Briarcliffe College in Patchogue, where he was a student, Johnson told them he was looking for a prostitute to meet him before his girlfriend got out of work.

After using his girlfriend’s cell phone to get prices from multiple women, he agreed to meet Papain at the Bay Shore Inn, a 17-mile drive straight down Sunrise Highway, they testified.

Meanwhile, Papain had just left her Patchogue home in her father James’ red Chevy with Jorge Luis Gonzalez, a male friend. First, they had dropped her father off at work. James Papain testified that his daughter had been talking to a client on the phone during the drive and he wasn’t happy about it but “it was what it was.”

Gonzalez told police at the time of Papain’s disappearance that she got out of the car at the motel, acted strangely and said she would be right back. When she didn’t come back, he went to get Chinese food and waited a little longer, but eventually drove back to her house and told her father he couldn’t find her.

“She left the car and went into the parking lot and text messaged the friend she was with, ‘Oh, I’ll be back in five minutes,’ and never came back,” James Papain told CBS News just days later, asking for the public’s help in finding his daughter.

“I think she was abducted. It’s obvious that somebody has her.”

Missing persons posters offering a $1,000 reward for information immediately went up in the area, describing Papain as 5-foot-3, 110 pounds, with green eyes and brown hair. They promised, “No Questions Asked.”

Gonzalez was soon determined by police to be a pimp and they had discovered Papain’s online escort ads on Craigslist. That September, Craigslist shut down its adult services sections in U.S. cities after coming under fire by many advocacy groups, accusing the site of enabling women to be victimized and making it easy for pimps and sex-traffickers to conduct business. The section was briefly replaced with a bar that said “Censored.”

“There was a possible sex trafficking angle in the beginning,” Soto testified, but after searching Gonzalez’s computer, he told jurors nothing was pointing in that direction.

After interviewing Gonzalez and subpoenaing Papain’s cell phone records, the detectives determined Chad Johnson was her last client.

“He was the last person to see Jennifer Papain alive,” testified McQuaid.

The first time he was questioned, Johnson said he didn’t know Papain’s name and said they didn’t talk much, but described her to police as “white girl, thin, short,” according to Soto. In later conversations, Johnson would refer to Papain as “the dead girl.”

McQuaid told jurors Johnson was extremely cooperative during police questioning, admitting to hiring Papain and leading them through the back roads he said he took with her from the Bay Shore Inn to the parking lot of the Calvary Tabernacle Church of God directly next door to his friend’s house, where he told them he paid Papain $80 for oral sex, then dropped her off on a street corner and drove by himself to his mother’s old house in East Patchogue.

But when detectives subpoenaed Johnson and Papain’s cell phone records, the documents told a different story. AT&T radio frequency engineer Robert Kohlman testified that both phones were pinging off a cell tower in the same area of Patchogue on March 24—hours after Johnson allegedly told police he had dropped Papain off on a street corner in Bay Shore 20 miles away. Johnson had also changed his version of events, according to Soto.

“A few days prior he told detectives he drove her back to the motel,” Soto testified. “Their phones were in close proximity after he dropped her off.”

Johnson also told police two different stories about where he went immediately after leaving Papain, Soto told jurors.

“It was obvious he was being less than honest with us,” he said.

Det. John Oliva testified that he and other detectives searched the black Chrysler Johnson told them he was driving when he had met with Papain. Police located Johnson’s girlfriend’s car and brought in a cadaver dog—Blue, the same police dog that located the women’s bodies near Gilgo beach last December. According to Oliva, once the dog came to the trunk of the car, it started getting agitated, putting its paws on the trunk and scratching.

The dog specifically picked out a car jack in the trunk, which Oliva said he remembered because “the dog hit on it so strong.”

Detectives went back to Johnson’s house, this time to arrest him.

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