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John Hollenhorst ReportingYesterday legal experts commenting on the Lori Hacking case said they couldn't recall a conviction in a Utah murder case when the victim's body was never found. It turns out there have been at least two such cases, including a very interesting one in Brigham City that has lessons for today.
Bert Johnston knows his son is never coming home, but he's been building a shrine to Mike for 23 years because he's never had a chance to bury him.
Bert Johnston, Victim's Father: “I come out here every day and think about it.”
Mike Johnston was stabbed to death at the Starlite Motel in Brigham City in 1981. He made the mistake of going there with a woman.
Detective Scott Cosgrove, Box Elder County: “She had met this victim earlier that night at a bar and taken him home to the motel.”
Back then, Detective Scott Cosgrove was a reporter who covered the murder and subsequent trial. The woman's ex-husband, Rudy Rebertrano, was waiting at the motel with a knife.
The crucial witness was the ex-wife. She ran to a ditch across from the motel, and was later able to describe to the jury exactly what she saw. On the witness stand she said she ran from the motel in fear as she heard Johnston being stabbed. Later, from the ditch, she watched her ex-husband.
Detective Scott Cosgrove: "The suspect took out a body wrapped in a bed sheet and placed it in the trunk."
Rebertrano was arrested about an hour later. In spite of intensive seaches, the body was never found. Many believe Johnston is buried under the concrete floor of a grocery store, or the steel plant where Rebertrano was doing construction work.
Rebertrano's defense was essentially, no body, no murder. But the jury had eyewitness testimony, a motive, and blood in the trunk. It seems to parallel apparent evidence that's leaked out in the Lori and Mark Hacking case.
Detective Scott Cosgrove: "And I can't speculate on what the Salt Lake police have as far as evidence. But if it's overwhelming, I think they have a good shot at conviction, if Mark's involved."
Rebertrano has never told where he put Mike Johnston's body.
Bert Johnston: "But I don't believe those kind of people have a conscience. And I don't think he cares."
Rebertrano served four years for second-degree murder and then was imprisoned again several times for parole violations.
Another Utah murderer, Doug Lovell, is currently on death row for killing a woman who testified against him in an earlier rape trial. Her body was also never found.