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RIVERDALE | Arrest made in mother of two's murder

4:01 PM, Jan 30, 2012   |    comments
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  • Nehemiah Johnson, 27, of Jonesboro is charged with murder
  • Rochelle Thomas, 30, of Riverdale
    
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  • RIVERDALE, Ga. -- Jonesboro police have arrested Nehemiah Johnson, Jr. and charged him with the murder of a Riverdale mother of two. The body of Rochelle Thomas, 30, was found in a wooded area behind a Jonesboro apartment complex Wednesday.

    Jonesboro Police Chief Franklin Allen described Johnson as a customer of Thomas'. He said she ran a massage business out of her home but was using it as a sex-for-hire business. Chief Allen said a motive is still under investigation. "It could have possibly involved money, not having money and receiving services," he said. "But we're still unclear on the motive."

    Thomas was killed in an apartment at the Harmony Crossroads Apartments on Tara Boulevard sometime Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, said the Chief. Her body was found behind the apartments Wednesday evening. Chief Allen said the cause of death was strangulation.

    Johnson has been charged with murder and aggravated assault. He was already in the Clayton County Jail after being arrested on unrelated charges of kidnapping, burglary and battery by Clayton County Police.

    Chief Allen said investigators are looking at two other persons of interest in the case, including Johnson's mother. They were not involved in the murder but the Chief said they may have tried to cover up evidence of the murder.

    After learning of the arrest, Thomas' mother said it was a big relief. "Everything's much better now, so much better," she said. "I'm thankful they (police) have been very thorough and they moved so fast.

    Photo Gallery: Victim and her children

    Tonya McDuell said her sister was like clockwork for her two children. She drove them to the school bus stop in the morning and was waiting for them when they returned from school, usually cooking dinner.

    But she wasn't there Tuesday afternoon when 10-year-old Shamar and 15-year-old Alex entered the house.

    "The boys knew something was wrong when they got home from school," McDuell said. "When [Alex] came in, he didn't smell anything cooking on the stove."

    Something was clearly wrong. McDuell said her sister was supposed to go to the gym to work out after she dropped her sons off at the bus stop. But that was the last she was seen.

    "[Alex] tried to call her, got no answer, they both knew something was wrong then," McDuell said.

    By Wednesday, when Thomas had yet to return to her Riverdale condo, her mother called Riverdale police and reported her missing. That night, in a wooded area behind an apartment complex on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, the body of a woman was found partially clothed, according to Jonesboro police.

    It took less than 24 hours to tie the missing person's case and the discovery of the body together.

    RELATED | Woman's body found behind apartment complex

    "We're not sure if the homicide took place there in the woods where the body was recovered or whether it took place at a separate location," said Jonesboro Police Chief Franklin Allen.

    Now, Shamar and Alex face what they feared most and wonder why someone would kill their mother.

    "She was a good mother, an excellent mother, a good sister, a good daughter, and we just don't understand it," McDuell said. "It just doesn't make sense."

    Making sense of it now rests with the Riverdale and Jonesboro police departments, who are trying to figure out where Rochelle Thomas was killed and who killed her.

    Chief Allen said they have some people they want to question. "And that ranges from people who saw her last and witnesses in the apartment complex where the body was recovered," he said.

    Chief Allen said he believes Rochelle's killer is someone she knew. He said Thomas' 2003 BMW 325i was found in Clayton County late Thursday afternoon, but he wouldn't say exactly where. He also said Thomas' cell phone was used in Atlanta after she was killed. Because of all the different locations in this case, they have asked the GBI to help investigate.

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