The Deck - Roberta Johnson (10 of Diamonds, Florida)

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Our card this week is Roberta Johnson, the Ten of Diamonds from Florida.

In the spring of 1999, 38-year-old Roberta Johnson had a lot to look forward to.

The U.S. Army veteran had a job that she loved, working with at-risk children at a local school.

She was also nine months pregnant and would soon welcome a baby boy into the world.

And she was doing all of this while her teenage daughter was set to graduate high school in

the coming weeks.

But one April afternoon, all of that was taken from Roberta and her family when she vanished

from the parking lot of a grocery store and was brutally murdered.

I’m Ashley Flowers, and this is The Deck.

It was a little before 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 24, 1999, and 17-year-old Arkeisha Johnson

was waiting for her mother to pick her up from Vanguard High School in Ocala, Florida,

which is a town in central Florida about 80 miles north of Orlando.

Arkeisha was just weeks away from graduating, but she had spent that Saturday morning in

detention for mouthing off to a teacher the previous week.

It was no big deal, really.

She’d spend a couple of hours in so-called Saturday school, and then her mom, Roberta,

with whom she was extremely close, would pick her up at around 1045 after running some errands.

But 1045 had come and gone, and there was no sign of Roberta.

Arkeisha thought, okay, it’s Saturday, she’s out running errands, she probably lost track

of time or something.

But when even more time passed and her mom still hadn’t shown up, Arkeisha was really

starting to worry.

I mean, her mom was usually extremely punctual and regimented, her daily routines guided

by a strict adherence to plans and appointments.

So Arkeisha walked over to her grandmother’s house, it was her mom’s mom, and the house

was just down the street from the high school.

Now, her grandmother told her that she had last talked to Roberta a couple of hours before,

maybe at like 925 or so when they spoke on the phone in between Roberta’s errands.

That conversation was only a couple of minutes long, and Roberta mentioned something about

having an appointment at 10 that morning, but she hadn’t mentioned who she was meeting

at 10 or where it was taking place.

So Arkeisha called her boyfriend Sidney next, because he had actually been in the car with

them that morning when Arkeisha was dropped off at school.

Roberta said that she was just gonna drop Sidney off at his house after.

Over the phone, Sidney confirmed that her mom had in fact dropped him back at his house

at around 8 that morning.

After hanging up, Arkeisha and Sidney met up again.

Arkeisha decided to go back to their apartment to double check that her mom hadn’t gotten

back from running errands and just fallen asleep on the couch or something, but when

she and Sidney pulled up to the complex, there was no sign of Roberta’s car in the parking

lot, and when they got inside, she wasn’t there either.

Roberta was officially worried at this point, and so was the rest of the family.

So Arkeisha started working the phones, calling everyone who might have interacted with her

mom that day, but it wasn’t a very long list.

Several relatives who also lived in Ocala said that they had not seen or heard from

Roberta that morning, but they were also worried and agreed to help look for her.

Roberta’s family spent the rest of the afternoon making calls and looking for her around town.

The anxiety was running especially high because Roberta was nine months pregnant and literally

just days away from delivering a child.

With that in mind, family members also checked area hospitals to see if she’d been admitted,

maybe she was in a hospital room somewhere.

But that was a bust after hospital officials told family members that Roberta was not under

their care.

Arkeisha and a cohort of friends and family continued their search for Roberta through

the rest of the day, but as evening approached, Arkeisha was unsure what to do next.

So she and Sidney returned to his place where his mom was preparing a late dinner.

The thing is, his mom was missing a key ingredient for whatever it was she was making, and so

the teenagers offered to make a quick grocery run at a nearby Winn-Dixie.

It was a brief but welcome distraction.

Arkeisha and Sidney pulled into the store parking lot at around 9 or 9.30 that night,

and right away something caught their eye that made their hearts race.

Sidney pointed into the distance to a white four-door sedan.

It looked just like Roberta’s car.

They parked behind it and jumped out to take a closer look.

This was it.

This was her mom’s car, but there was no sign of Roberta.

Now this was all the evidence Arkeisha needed to know that her mom was in trouble.

So she immediately called police.

The parking lot was soon swarming with a mix of Roberta’s relatives and the blue and

red hues of squad cars.

As authorities scoped out the scene and did their best to see through the darkness with

their flashlights, an officer caught a glimpse of something small and metallic on a grassy


There, on the ground about five or six feet from the driver’s side door, were Roberta’s


With that discovery, the search for Roberta became a lot more urgent.

Officers secured and impounded the car and also requested surveillance footage from

the grocery store.

But unfortunately, the footage wasn’t helpful.

The grocery store’s cameras were rolling, but Roberta wasn’t captured by any of the

cameras that were trained on the parking lot.

For two days, law enforcement officials scoured the city looking for any sign of the missing

woman who, again, was nine months pregnant.

Which brings the officers, and I’m sure you, to one question.

Who is the baby’s father?

Did Roberta have a partner?

Well, Roberta’s family said, yes, Roberta was technically married to a man named Arthur


But she was only married to him in a legal sense.

They were estranged from one another.

And in fact, he didn’t even live in the area and her family said he definitely wasn’t

the father of her child.

But they did believe that they know who was.

Family members told detectives that though she never sought a paternity test, Roberta

insisted to her daughter that a man named Drayton Florence was the father of her soon-to-be

baby boy.

If the name Drayton Florence sounds familiar to you, you’re probably an NFL fan and are

thinking of a cornerback by the same name.

That’s Drayton Florence Jr.

And that NFL cornerback is actually the son of the guy we’re talking about.

Anyway, Drayton was an army recruiter based in Ocala who’d recruited Roberta years earlier.

The two had struck up a friendship and remained close in the years after, like more than just

friends close.

Arkeisha said that after some time, Drayton Sr. and her mother began a casual relationship

that lasted for years.

She also told our reporter that she would see Drayton around the apartment from time

to time and that her mother was forthright about the fact that they were more or less

a thing.

But Drayton never came into the apartment.

He and Roberta would simply hang out near the outside of their place.

So police knew that they needed to track down both Arthur and Drayton, but the most important

thing was still finding Roberta.

As the second day of searching began, Ocala police detective Mike Balkin was helping canvas

the area, starting in the parking lot where Roberta’s car was found and then fanning out

to surrounding neighborhoods.

He also had his eye on nearby lesser developed parts of the city that were dense with shrubbery

and fields, which was how he came upon a blink-and-you-could-miss-it dirt road just off of Northwest 44th Avenue.

This was just about three miles from the Winn-Dixie.

Marion County Sheriff’s Office Detective Daniel Pinder, who is the lead on the case today,

described this place as having a sort of lover’s lane reputation among locals.

It wasn’t that developed.

There were housing, but aside from that, it was open green fields and then some very dense

and heavy trees.

It was like a place where somebody might pull off the side of the road to do something that

they don’t want other people to see.

There was discarded beer bottles.

There was discarded car parts and just general junk.

As Detective Balkin followed the dirt road, something caught his eye.

Exiting his cruiser, he saw what appeared to be a detached Chevy car hood laid across

a bunch of loose dirt.

It was clear that the hood was covering something, but he couldn’t tell what exactly.

By the looks of it, the detective wasn’t going to be able to access whatever was beneath

that car hood alone, so he called for backup.

In addition to the other officers from Ocala PD, some deputies from the Marion County Sheriff’s

Office were also dispatched.

The Sheriff’s Office investigators actually took the lead since this site was in an unincorporated

county and in their jurisdiction.

Crime scene technicians and investigators worked together to lift the heavy car hood.

Based on the freshly disturbed earth and the amount of surface area the dirt was covering,

there was no doubt in their minds.

Something or someone was right below the ground.

Now because law enforcement had to be extra mindful as not to disturb a potential crime

scene, Detective Pinder said that the process was a painstaking one, and it took hours.

When excavations are done, it’s done via sifting.

So whenever a scoop of dirt is removed, it’s then moved to a sifter.

This allows to make sure that we’re not missing anything.

And that’s why it takes several hours to go through the dirt because it all has to

be scooped and then sifted and then slowly gone through.

You don’t want to just dig and you might strike something of value.

So it’s a slow process of sifting and going through evidence.

After at least six hours of scooping and sifting and scooping and sifting, authorities made

a truly horrific discovery.

Lying there in a shallow grave no deeper than two or three feet was the body of a visibly

pregnant woman.

Since she’d been underground, it was hard to tell how she died.

But investigators did see obvious wounds on the top and back of the woman’s head.

This woman’s body showed few signs of decomposition, which signaled that she’d likely been killed

and buried very recently.

She was also wearing the same clothes that family members had said Roberta was wearing

the morning that she was last seen, a white T-shirt and purple shorts.

Something that stood out to authorities, though, was the fact that she wasn’t wearing the

white canvas tennis shoes that she was last seen in, which were nowhere to be found.

Investigators processed this area, but ultimately came up with very little by means of possible


No weapon, no blood, and that made investigators think that this area had just been a dump

site and that the murder actually took place somewhere else.

Because the area was down a secluded dirt road, there weren’t many canvassing options,

so police didn’t come up with any witnesses right away.

By the next day, all they had for potential evidence was the loose dirt and soil that

had been disturbed around the woman, and a set of partial tire tracks.

There were also some fingerprints that were lifted from the car hood, but they didn’t

turn up any matches in APHIS or anywhere else.

The sheriff’s department dispatched a detective early that evening to Arkeisha’s place,

where her entire extended family had gathered.

They delivered the news that the woman they found was likely her mother.

Arkeisha, who, again, was just 17 at the time, spoke to our team about that day.

All I know is I was told that, you know, my mom wasn’t, my mom wasn’t living anymore.

And I didn’t believe it, I didn’t want to believe it, I guess I was in shock, maybe.

The following morning, family members formally identified the woman as Roberta, the 38-year-old

Army veteran who was on the verge of delivering a child died of blunt force trauma to the

head, and her death was ruled a homicide.

And it’s worth noting there was no indication that Roberta had been sexually assaulted.

So now that authorities knew for certain that they were staring down a murder investigation,

deputies took a closer look at Roberta’s car and processed it for potential evidence

that could be tied to her murder.

Detective Pinder said they recovered some fingerprints in and on her vehicle, as well

as miscellaneous fibers and debris, things like dirt, sand, other little bits of foliage.

All of it was preserved in hopes of being used in the future to try and compare them

against honestly anything.

But nothing about the car really stood out.

That is, except for where it was found and the fact that her keys were so close by.

That made investigators wonder if Roberta had encountered her killer right there in

the Winn-Dixie parking lot.

With a lack of physical evidence, deputies investigating her murder quickly realized

that they were going to have to lean hard on potential witnesses and people who knew

her if they were going to make any progress in this case.

Authorities spoke with Roberta’s loved ones and tried to find anyone who might have information

to offer about Roberta’s final hours.

They also wanted to know if there was anyone who might have wanted to harm her because

So far, her murder seemed to lack a motive.

Through interviews with her family members, deputies learned that Roberta was well-liked

in the community and was known for her signature bright smile and outgoing personality.

Or if you ask our Keisha, Roberta was fierce and kick-ass.

Everybody loved my mom.

Like, there was no reason for anybody to do anything to her.

I mean, all she did was help people.

That’s it.

Like, she was well-known in the community.

She always had, like, a serious look on her face, but she was a very genuine and caring


And there was no reason for anybody to do what they did to her.

Roberta had a degree in criminal justice and a deep passion for working with children.

Aside from her work as a case manager where she counseled at-risk youth, she was also

a substitute teacher in the public school system.

As they learned more and more about Roberta, Detective Pinder said they started to wonder

how anyone could have it out for someone so widely touted as a kind and compassionate


We weren’t getting tips that she was having conflicts with people.

She wasn’t somebody that was getting in constant fights or had problems or beefs with

people in the community.

There wasn’t many tips that would lead to anything regarding that avenue.

She wasn’t a person that had conflicts like that.

With no obvious suspect coming to light, the best they could do was work to track down

Roberta’s husband, Arthur.

Like I mentioned earlier, he didn’t live in town.

He’d relocated to Tampa, which is a solid hour and a half drive from Ocala.

When they found him, he told police that he’d been there for that whole two-day stretch

in which officials were searching for Roberta, who almost certainly died on April 24th, the

last time she was seen.

So with him having a pretty solid alibi, up next, they wanted to talk to Drayton.

But before they could track him down, something happened that police thought could deliver

them a break in the case.

A transient man showed up at the police department.

He had seen flyers and news reports about the murder, and he had something to give to


It was Roberta’s purse.

Detectives interviewed this man who said that he had found the purse discarded beneath an

overpass where he spent a lot of time.

Inside were personal items that had Roberta’s name on them, like pieces of mail and her

driver’s license.

The man told investigators that he immediately recognized Roberta’s name and walked to a

nearby restaurant where he used the phone to call 911 and report what he found.

Investigators worked to clear this man as well and learned that he spent the day Roberta

went missing at a Salvation Army hub where employees all vouched for him.

Now, this purse was promising, no doubt, and it did give police a new avenue to explore

because this overpass was like two miles from where her car and keys were found.

This gave them a whole new set of questions.

Had Roberta been there, or did her killer just discard her purse there after the murder?

And honestly, this purse also gave police their first possible motive, robbery.

But as they were exploring those possibilities, a witness came forward that made it more pressing

than ever for them to track down and talk to Drayton.

This witness said that she saw Roberta arguing with someone in a convenience store parking

lot the day before she disappeared.

It’s not clear what time this happened or if this was the same store parking lot that

her car was found in the next day.

But according to an article in the Florida Times Union, the woman told detectives that

she observed a man who was shouting and waving a fist in the air at a pregnant woman.

Now, we don’t know the exact description of the man the witness gave to detectives

all those years ago, but Arkesha told our team that whatever that description was, she

just remembers that at the time they thought it sounded an awful lot like Drayton Florence


And according to what Arkesha told our reporting team, the witness later picked him out of

a photo lineup.

Assuming for a minute that the child Roberta was carrying was Drayton’s, it wasn’t clear

to Arkesha how Drayton felt about welcoming another kid with someone who wasn’t his wife.

That’s right.

Drayton was married to another woman and had a whole family of his own outside of whatever

relationship he had with Roberta.

And on top of that, according to the Times Union report, Drayton Sr. had also fathered

two other children outside of his marriage.

Within a week of Roberta’s body being found, and after all of this was conveyed to authorities,

deputies reached out to Drayton and he agreed to sit down for an interview.

At first, he was cooperative and told authorities that he’d seen Roberta recently, actually.

Detective Pinder wouldn’t say exactly how recently, but we do know from the Times Union

article that they met up at some point, could be as recently as Friday, the day before she

was killed.

Drayton went on to provide a basic timeline of his whereabouts for the weekend leading

up to Roberta’s disappearance.

Drayton indicated that he was at work on the morning of April 24th.

That was the day that Roberta went missing.

And he said that colleagues would be able to back him up, vouch for him, basically.

But there were holes in Drayton’s story.

And after his initial interview, detectives were left with honestly more questions than


For example, although his employer did confirm Drayton was at work that day, his colleagues

told authorities that it would have been easy for him to slip out at any point without being


Drayton told investigators in that first and only interview that he and Roberta did not

have any kind of conflict or beef in the days leading up to her disappearance.

Then after that interview, he hired an attorney who declined any additional conversations

with law enforcement on his client’s behalf.

So by now, Drayton was absolutely a person of interest in the eyes of law enforcement.

And his reluctance to further cooperate with investigators only seemed to motivate detectives.

And what they found out about Drayton’s activities the week of Roberta’s murder cast an even

darker cloud of suspicion over the army recruiter.

According to reporting from the Times Union newspaper, in the days after being questioned

by police, Drayton returned to work and asked multiple colleagues to switch cars with him.

One of them agreed, and the two flip-flopped their cars.

And detectives actually caught on to this when they sought to corroborate the timeline

Drayton provided to them in his interview.

So law enforcement obviously went and tracked down Drayton’s original car and processed

it for potential evidence.

And they found something wild.

Forensic techs recovered traces of amniotic fluid in at least one portion of the car’s


Now, for those of you who don’t know, amniotic fluid acts as sort of a protective layer that

surrounds a fetus.

So when a woman’s water breaks, it’s actually amniotic fluid that’s discharged.

Now Detective Pinder declined to comment on this, but Arkeisha confirmed that she was

told by law enforcement that this was the case.

They did find this.

Now the story from the Times Union didn’t note where in the car that the fluid traces

were detected.

But Arkeisha said that she was under the impression it was found in the back seat, along with

miscellaneous traces of dirt and some leaves that were also collected.

Detectives have tried repeatedly to re-interview Drayton, but he’s rebuffed all of their requests.

He also relocated to the Jacksonville area soon after Roberta’s murder, which obviously

made it trickier for law enforcement to keep tabs on him.

Though Drayton continues to be considered a person of interest in this investigation,

he has maintained that he did not have anything to do with Roberta’s murder.

He even went on record with a reporter from the Times Union in July of 2010.

He said, quote, I know I didn’t do it.

It was troubling to me also.

She was my friend, end quote.

Arkeisha told our team that she always remained suspicious of Drayton and that she hasn’t

seen or heard from him in years.

Well, that is until 2015.

You see, every year there’s this block party style event that celebrates local class reunions.

Arkeisha said that she always avoided the event because she knew Drayton had ties to

the area schools and was anxious at the possibility of even running into him.

But in 2015, she and a cousin decided to go anyway.

And soon after they arrived, they saw him.

Arkeisha described the sight of him as having prompted a full body visceral reaction, but

she approached him.

I walked right into him, like we were face to face.

And I asked him, I said, do you know who I am?

And he was like, no, I don’t know who you are.

I was like, you sure?

I was like, I’m Roberta’s daughter.

You don’t know who I am?

And he said, no, I don’t know who you are.

And I said, Roberta Johnson, I said, you killed my mother.

According to Arkeisha, Drayton then told her that he, quote unquote, didn’t remember a

woman named Roberta Johnson.

At which point, Arkeisha became incensed.

I was like, you don’t know who I am?

And he said to me, I don’t remember her.

That’s what he said to me, that he doesn’t, he doesn’t, he said he doesn’t remember my


And I went, I lost it.

I went red.

And it was really bad, like, it was really bad.

And then we had a verbal altercation, and his son got involved, and his wife got involved.

And at some point in it all, his wife grabbed my hands, and she grabbed me.

And she says, why don’t you just let this shit go?

Your mom is dead now.

Arkeisha said that after the woman grabbed her, she pushed her off, which later prompted

the woman to try and get Arkeisha charged with assault, but nothing ever came of it.

Arkeisha also told our team that she felt as if the scales were tipped against her family

from the very beginning.

We didn’t come from a lot of money, you know what I mean?

My mom, she was just a regular working person, and then she was a black woman.

And I just feel like the type of publicity, maybe like that Lacey Peterson guy, my mom

didn’t get.

And, you know, the resources that maybe we could have had if we had more money weren’t

available to us at the time.

And also, like, as the years went by, his son went on to play professional football.

And so that brought them into even more money, which gave them more resources to be able

to have better lawyers for whatever the case may be.

Detective Pinder said this case is 100% solvable, and that more than anything, investigators

are still eager to interview Drayton again.

I would hope to rediscuss his timeline of that day.

I think any investigator that had this case would really like to learn a little bit more

past his initial statements regarding his timeline, especially since so many man hours

have been put in by all the other investigators in this case regarding his comings and goings

that day.

And Drayton Florence’s previous statements to law enforcement and his specific whereabouts

aren’t the only thing Detective Pinder wants to revisit.

He told our team that he has begun retesting fingerprints this year from both the car hood

that was covering Roberta’s body, as well as the prints recovered from the interior

and exterior of her sedan.

And still, more than two decades later, the results have yet to point to anyone in particular.

Now it’s unclear whether that means the prints themselves were not good enough to

generate a match, or they just weren’t returning hits, period.

And Detective Pinder declined to say anything more about the fingerprints other than they’re

continuing to try and retest them.

In the two plus decades Roberta has been gone, Arkeisha has navigated countless milestones

and special occasions without her mom, without her closest confidant by her side.

That included Arkeisha’s wedding, and the birth and upbringing of her own daughter,

who’s now the same age Arkeisha was when Roberta was killed.

Arkeisha also told our team that she’s since rekindled a relationship with her father,

whom she and her daughter are close with.

Every time I think that I’m getting stronger as the years go by, I don’t know, I always

end up still feeling so weak.

I just, I miss her.

I miss her so much.

I miss her so much.

I miss her so much.

I just, I always wonder, like, how, how, how our relationship will be, and, like, will

we have a, a set day that we would do dinner, or, you know, like, during the week, you know,

or every month we would get our nails done together, just, I just wonder how my life

would be if, if my mom was still here.

I just really miss her.

I want people to, to remember my mom for the life that she lived and not, not how she died.

I want people to know that she would literally get the shirt off of her back, and I want

people to know that she was very, very smart, very, very educated.

There wasn’t anything that she couldn’t figure out, you know, and I want them to know that

I love her, and I miss her, and I just, I wake up every day hoping that she’s, she’s

proud of the person that I’ve become, and I hate the fact that, you know, she, she never

got a chance to, to meet my daughter.

If you have any information about the April 1999 murder of Roberta Johnson and her unborn

child, or maybe you have additional insight into her relationship with Drayton Florence

Sr., or maybe Drayton himself is listening right now, you are asked to contact Marion

County Sheriff’s Detective Daniel Pinder at 352-368-3508.

You can also submit a tip anonymously to Crime Stoppers of Marion County by calling


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