Phillip Johnson was shot dead in 2004, one of two unsolved homicides in the City of Keizer. (File Photo)

By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

An unsolved 2004 homicide still has the attention of Keizer Police, who traveled out of state last week trying to figure out who shot a 33-year-old man dead.

It’s been seven years to the day since Phillip Lynn Johnson was gunned down at a Keizer apartment complex. It’s one of two unsolved killings in the city; Christine Speten’s killer is still at large. Speten was beaten to death in her west Keizer apartment in February.

Keizer Police weren’t given a whole lot to work with on July 1, 2004, when a shooting was reported at about 11 p.m. at Cascadian Village Apartments on Claxter Road. Johnson, 33, was pronounced dead on the scene. He left behind a son, a 19-year-old also named Phillip, and a daughter who was not yet born when her father was slain.

Keizer detectives have contacted “at least 100 people” and probably more, said Det. Dmitry White. He and Lt. John Troncoso traveled to Arizona last week, investigating a connection between people in Casa Grande, Ariz. and Johnson. White said “significant developments” led the pair to travel there.

After having spent almost 10 years in prison for armed robbery, relatives say Johnson had plans to join his brother in the Seattle area for a new job, and was close to successfully completing a parole program.

The road hadn’t always been smooth: A diamond ring Johnson’s mother gave him became the subject of dispute after it turned up missing following a pickup basketball game, escalating to “really, a lot of ugliness,”

mother Jean Ausborn told the Keizertimes in 2008.

White didn’t get into specifics but thinks Johnson and his killer knew each other.

“It wasn’t random; I can tell you that,” White said.

Over the years, family members say Ausborn has been the rock of the family. She said she “promised I was not going to let this consume this family.” But this time of year brings back memories.

“You kind of relive the whole thing, you know?” Ausborn said. “When I look at his little daughter and son growing up and you see Phillip in them, their mannerisms, the way they look, it just brings back all of those hurt memories.

“But you move on. That’s all you can do.”

Moving on is not the same as letting go. The family is convinced Keizer Police are making progress on the case.

“This case is so big, there’s so much to it because of the amount of people involved,” Ausborn said. “But as you go along and you can start weeding out some of these people and focusing on people they feel are seriously involved. And that’s what makes us feel we’re moving in the right direction.”

White said there’s “some people who think they know and people who know,” perhaps a dozen who actually know how Johnson died, White said. “Unfortunately, on this case, we’ve had a lot of people who do know that haven’t been willing, for whatever reason, to talk about it.

“It’s sad for the community, I think, because it makes it that much more difficult for the person who took his life to be brought to justice,” White added.