Indiana Daily Student

Two killed over missing Prada purse

<p>Riverside Villa Apartments are just north of downtown Ligonier, Indiana, where two people were shot and killed last week in a dispute over a Prada purse.</p>

Riverside Villa Apartments are just north of downtown Ligonier, Indiana, where two people were shot and killed last week in a dispute over a Prada purse.

LIGONIER, Indiana — An Allen County man shot and killed two people in a dispute over a Prada purse, police said.

According to court documents, Michael J. Johnson, 35, fled immediately after the shooting in a black Impala and led officers on a chase — reportedly at speeds more than 100 miles per hour — through three northern Indiana counties before the state police punctured the Impala’s tires using strips of spikes.

Johnson was taken into custody, where he allegedly confessed to the shooting. He told police the Prada purse was worth $10,000, but authorities said the value of the item isn’t clear, and doesn’t matter given the loss of life.

“Whether it’s $10 or $100,000, two people are dead because of this purse,” Noble County Prosecutor Eric Blackman said. “It’s hard to kind of put into words that people could die over that.”

On Friday, Johnson was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Two women who were with Johnson at the apartment where the shooting took place were also charged Friday with aiding in felony murder and armed robbery. All three are being held at the Noble County Jail.

Tiffani E. Cox, 30, and Kyra J. Frost, Johnson’s 25-year-old girlfriend, appeared with him in an initial court hearing Friday.

Interviews with Cox’s attorney, the county prosecutor, state police and affidavits filed by the lead detective describe how a designer purse led to the double homicide. 

The violence began last Monday night when Johnson visited an apartment in Noble County to retrieve the Prada purse, which he believed to have been stolen from Frost, the girlfriend. According to court documents, Johnson and Frost, along with Cox, a friend of the couple, met at the Riverside Villa Apartment complex under the guise of selling methamphetamine to the apartment’s residents.

Amanda Feldstein, 39, opened the door of her first-floor apartment for Cox. She, Frost and Johnson entered together, where Johnson chased Justin Adams, 30, across the apartment and out the backdoor.

Witnesses recounted hearing two to three gunshots outside before Johnson returned to the apartment. According to the affidavits, he then shot Feldstein in the head with a Colt .45-caliber revolver and fired again at another woman in the apartment, Amberly Brown, who dropped to the floor. 

“Run, Kyra, run,” Johnson reportedly called out to his girlfriend.  

The three suspects fled through the apartment’s backdoor, Cox and Frost in a red Jeep and Johnson driving the black Impala. They never searched for the purse in question.

Brown, the witness who survived, called 911. Ligonier police, fire and EMS were dispatched to the scene just before 9 p.m. and arrived to find two unresponsive victims. Adams had been shot in the chest and was lying on a nearby sidewalk. Feldstein, found inside the apartment, had been shot in the head. A coroner arrived and pronounced both dead.

Contacted via Facebook, Brown declined to be interviewed by the Indiana Daily Student. “The detective has advised me that talking to reporters could hurt the investigation,” she said.

Acting on Brown’s description of the car Johnson was driving, police issued an “attempt to locate” for the Impala. An officer sighted the car, and when the driver of the Impala fled, the officer chased him from Noble County through LaGrange County and into Steuben County, where another officer had laid the spikes to puncture the Impala’s tires. 

Indiana State Police Sergeant Matt Lazoff, who laid the spikes, said the car traveled at least a mile before losing air in its tires. He said the Impala then traveled another quarter of a mile on its rims before veering off U.S. 20 and stopping.

A police dog, belonging to the lead officer in the chase, helped catch Johnson as he ran from the car, Lazoff said. As he was arrested, Johnson said very little, but carried an air of nonchalance, as if nothing big had happened.

As Johnson was taken into custody, police found a substance resembling meth “on his person,” the court documents said. When officers searched the Impala, they did not find the murder weapon.

A LaGrange deputy marshal took a photo of the accused. When the photo was shown to Amberly Brown, the eyewitness, she confirmed Johnson was the man who shot at her and Feldstein.

Gary Cox, the Ligonier detective who wrote the probable cause affidavits, said he first attempted to interview Johnson on Tuesday, the day after the shooting. But Johnson requested the detective return the next day because Johnson felt his memory was clouded by his use of meth. 

On Wednesday, the detective returned and found Johnson ready to make a statement. According to the affidavits, Johnson told the detective that Tiffani Cox and Kyra Frost, the girlfriend of the accused, had followed him through the apartment as he chased Adams, and shot him. Johnson allegedly added that he remembered shooting and striking one woman in the apartment, and firing at another.

The three defendants are next scheduled to appear in court March 27. Police are still looking for the missing gun. The purse was eventually found in the apartment where both Feldstein and Adams were killed. Seth Tipton, Tiffani Cox’s court-appointed attorney, said his client had no idea how much the purse cost. 

“I don’t know if it was $1, $10, $10,000,” the lawyer said Cox told him. “It’s a purse. It’s not worth anyone’s life.”

This story has been updated.

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