Homicide suspect appears at status conference

By Jason Arndt

Staff Writer

After months of delays mainly due to her inability to find a defense attorney, Linda LaRoche’s homicide case moved forward Monday in Racine County Circuit Court.

Linda Laroche

LaRoche, 64, of Cape Coral, Florida, who failed to have representation on multiple occasions, previously pleaded not guilty to charges she killed Peggy Lynn Johnson-Schroeder and left her body in a Raymond cornfield more than 20 years ago at a June 25 arraignment.

As for Monday’s appearance court officials delivered a disk containing evidence to defense attorney Laura Ann Walker to review with LaRoche, according to online court records.

“Defense was just given disk today and is told it’s voluminous,” the court record stated. “Paper discovery takes up to two binders.”

Walker, court records show, plans to review the items with LaRoche before she appears at status conference scheduled for Aug. 17.

LaRoche, according to court records, entered a not guilty plea at a June 25 arraignment and preliminary hearing, where Circuit Court judge Faye Flancher found probable cause and bound her for trial.

LaRoche, who is charged with first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse, has been held in jail on $500,000 cash bond since authorities arrested her last November.

However, LaRoche, a former nurse, appeared in court without representation on five occasions, one of which resulted in admonishment by Court Commissioner Alice A. Rudebush.

Additionally, court records indicate a March 19 hearing was canceled because of COVID-19, but has since been held via videoconferencing up until Monday’s status conference.

Since then, up until she found an attorney on May 21, she repeatedly told officials she needed to sell her Florida home to pay for an attorney to represent her.


Cornfield discovery

According to investigators, the body Johnson-Schroeder, then known only as Jane Doe, was found beaten and burned by a man walking his dog on July 21, 1999, along 92nd Street in Raymond.

The complaint alleges her body had been dragged from a vehicle and put in the cornfield, most likely no more than 12 hours prior to discovery.

An autopsy conducted by the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner revealed Johnson-Schroeder died of “homicide by sepsis pneumonia as the result of infection from injuries sustained from chronic abuse.”

Johnson-Schroeder, however, was never reported missing and remained Jane Doe for more than 20 years until a tipster from Florida came forward with new information last September.

LaRoche, according to the Florida tipster, allegedly told others in the community she killed a woman in Illinois 20 years earlier. The tip allowed authorities to focus their investigation on the former registered nurse.

According to the criminal complaint, Johnson-Schroeder, a cognitively impaired woman, sought help at a local hospital after her mother died.

LaRoche, a registered nurse at the hospital, then invited Johnson-Schroeder to live with her and her family in McHenry, Illinois, the complaint states.

She allegedly told her then-husband and children Johnson-Schroeder, then 18, was homeless and would act as a nanny in exchange for living with them.

The children, according to the complaint, recalled LaRoche’s abusive behavior toward Johnson-Schroeder.

Last November, LaRoche’s former husband confirmed the abuse, calling his former wife a “force to be reckoned with,” according to the complaint.

The former husband remembered Johnson-Schroeder lying lifeless on the floor. LaRoche allegedly told him Johnson-Schroeder had overdosed and she was going to take her from the home.

“Peggy lived with LaRoche in McHenry for the last five years of her life,” Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said at a November news conference. “There she suffered long-term, horrific abuse at the hands of Linda LaRoche.”

Last December, officials and area businesses helped give Johnson-Schroeder a proper headstone, which bears her given name.

Officials then transferred her body to a cemetery in Belvidere, Illinois, on March 4 – her birthday – and placed it next to her mother’s grave.