Bonnie Harkey and Karen Johnson Murders – “Queen of the County” from NBC Dateline’s Season 23 episode 43 explores two tragic murders committed in March 2012; 85-year-old Bonnie Harkey and Karen Johnson (aged 50). It offers a thorough account of this complex case through interviews with family members and detectives involved with its investigation and through family members’ depictions of how these events unfolded and identified the individual responsible. We will look closely at all available information regarding this eventful case in this article, including their deaths and who carried out these horrific acts against innocent victims in detail.
Bonnie Harkey and Karen Johnson Murder Plot
Bonnie Katherine Sawyer Harkey was born July 23 in San Saba, Texas, to Joe Sawyer and Kitty Tubbs. Bonnie held a deep devotion to First Baptist Church of San Saba and actively attended its services, in addition to being actively involved with various organizations like San Saba Garden Club for three decades and San Saba County Extension Education for 47 years.
Bonnie demonstrated her dedication to her community by serving twice as president of the Garden Club. Additionally, Bonnie was active with the Fellowship of Christian Women and Wallace Creek Extension Club. Known for her caring nature and respected by all who knew her, Bonnie was loved and appreciated by all those she encountered during her lifetime. However, during Bonnie’s lifetime, her farmer father encountered financial struggles during Great Depression that significantly impacted their daughter. This episode explores this further by showing us Bonnie’s struggles as she endured them herself.
Wilma Cook, Bonnie’s sister, observed that Bonnie longingly desired an affluent upbringing; although Bonnie never voiced this wish directly, Wilma could sense her longing. Bonnie eventually married but faced abandonment by her spouse, leaving her alone and raising Connie as a single parent. During these events in Waco, Texas, Bonnie worked as a telephone operator while striving to provide for her 14-year-old daughter.
Bonnie met Riley Harkey during this period. His family held significant influence in San Saba and were early pioneers in the Texas pecan business – they established Home Place Orchard in 1926 with Olga Bryan Harkey planting 1,200 trees there before Riley expanded it and established Harkeyville Orchard later.
As the orchards became established, they provided a source of income for the Harkey family. Riley quickly found himself within the San Saba County Pecan Growers Association for his expertise in nut cultivation and willingness to assist other farmers. Bonnie initially gravitated toward Riley due to his strong work ethic and standing; Riley appreciated Bonnie’s nurturing personality while admiring her physical features such as hazel eyes and red highlights in her hair – as a former married man himself, he found inspiration in Bonnie as someone to guide him out of a bad marriage himself!
Bonnie and Riley officially tied the knot on April 13, 1963, after an informal courtship, and Bonnie moved in with Riley and Connie in their Harkey family home. Her newfound financial security allowed Bonnie to become active in various clubs form new friendships, host events for organizations such as garden clubs or churches, and host events at her spacious home for garden club or church activities. However, Riley may have experienced occasional difficulties providing for Bonnie and his children’s well-being.
After Riley passed from bone cancer in July 1997, Bonnie gracefully assumed the role of matriarch. With a reliable annual income from orchard sales of around $100,000 generating annually from orchard sales, Bonnie lived comfortably – until March 25th, 2012, when an alarming 911 call notified authorities. Bonnie was recently diagnosed with dementia and an aortic aneurysm and relied heavily on Karen Johnson as her care provider for assistance. However, tragedy struck when an emergency call alerted officials.
Tragically, Karen was found lifeless at Bonnie’s Harkeyville residence by Bonnie’s 11-year-old son, who immediately dialed emergency services. Meanwhile, authorities launched an extensive search using both DPS aircraft equipped with thermal imaging cameras and volunteers on all-terrain vehicles to locate Bonnie. On March 2, her body was discovered approximately 178 miles away in Leon County, Florida, after having suffered an impact injury to the head, followed by drowning. This shocking turn of events left the community reeling and mourning the deaths of both Bonnie and Karen.
“Queen of the County” on NBC Dateline provides an intimate and thorough portrait of Bonnie Harkey and Karen Johnson’s lives. It provides insights into its complexity through interviews with family members and detectives involved. Additionally, this episode offers valuable perspectives into three-generational dynamics within Bonnie’s family unit.
Heart-wrenching loss tale chronicles Bonnie’s journey from modest beginnings to her marriage into Riley Harkey’s powerful family and the subsequent tragedy that befell her. The episode explores Bonnie’s personal circumstances and their effect on Riley Harkey, delving deep into the investigation of murders and the pursuit of justice for all victims.
By breaking down this complex case in an accessible and understandable fashion, this episode provides viewers with a better grasp of the events of March 2012. It serves as a testimony to both the detectives’ hard work and the Harkey family’s pursuit of truth and justice.
At its heart, NBC Dateline Season 23 Episode 43, “Queen of the County,” provides a thorough account of Bonnie Harkey and Karen Johnson’s murders. Through interviews and insights from family members and investigators alike, this episode shines a light on those involved and all its intricacies. This unforgettable story reminds us all about seeking justice and seeking closure when faced with unimaginable grief.
Investigation and Arrest
As revealed in this episode, Bruce Harkey experienced a problematic upbringing as Riley Harkey’s second child. In contrast to his siblings John and Connie, who eventually settled down and pursued higher education, Bruce lived an unstable existence – often traveling between San Saba and his biological mother’s house in Nevada before suffering the tragic loss of his young son in April 1970.
Bruce was forced into legal and financial turmoil. Unable to find work, he amassed past child support payments of $100k that required amount in 1998 alone. Desperate for relief, Bruce filed bankruptcy claiming relief from his $176,256 debt load.
As Connie died in March 2011, Carl Pressley assumed ownership of the Prichard Orchard. But as Bonnie’s health declined further, John and Bruce became embroiled in a disagreement regarding ownership of their family home, ultimately reaching an agreement with Carl to purchase his future rights for $75,000. In May 2011, this agreement was concluded.
The Harkey brothers attempted to strike a deal with Tommy Lee Jones to sell Prichard Orchard. However, tensions escalated further when Bruce, under financial strain and determined to gain full control of the property, devised an unsavory scheme.
Bruce recruited Carl, an addict undergoing drug rehabilitation, and Lillian King as accomplices to carry out the murders of Bonnie and Karen for reasons related to Bonnie’s life estate on their property. Once Lillian’s mother learned of Karen’s demise, she reported it to authorities which led to them being apprehended on March 26, 2012, in Normangee, Louisiana.
Carl and Lillian initially denied any involvement with the killings; however, after intensive questioning, they finally admitted to them. Carl admitted strangling Karen before seducing Bonnie for an “excursion,” only to drag her down an embankment to a nearby stream where he brutally murdered her by striking her head with a tree branch and submerging her face underwater. Both claimed Bruce had paid them off to commit these acts, with reduced sentences awarded in exchange for testifying against him.
Bruce Harkey was found guilty of orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot and was given life without the possibility of parole in April 2014. Carl followed suit shortly after that while Lillian received her own 45-year prison term – the lightest among the three conspirators’ terms. Tragically though, John, one of Bruce Harkey’s two brothers, passed away due to heart problems shortly after these double killings took place, sparing him further public scrutiny.
The Harkey family case is an eye-opening tragedy of greed and manipulation that devastated Bonnie, Karen, and those left behind. The episode provides an in-depth account of its investigation, subsequent legal proceedings, and outcome – providing an eye-opening account of human nature while exploring justice as an option when such appalling crimes occur.