As he walked outside into the frigid, upper New York state air, fugitive rape suspect Michael L. Johnson Jr. noticed police and members of the U.S. Marshals Service were closing in on him after a two-week manhunt.

Johnson, 40, of Penn Township, ran back inside a boarding house room he had been renting for a few days, went to a second-floor room and killed himself by shooting himself - once in the chest, then once in the head.

Johnson, a former York City police officer and a Penn Township commissioner, had been on the run since Dec. 9 on charges he impersonated a police officer, then raped three women - two in York City and one in Baltimore.

The U.S. Marshals Service had been tracking Johnson up the East coast on a path that led to Burlington, Vt.; Troy, N.Y.; and finally Cohoes, N.Y., which is 10 miles outside of Albany, where Johnson committed suicide about 10:30 a.m. Monday.

Johnson killed himself as a state police tactical team was closing off a city block in preparation for a standoff.

From the very beginning, police believed Johnson would not be taken alive - that he would either kill himself or commit "suicide-by-cop," said York County District Attorney Stan Rebert.

If Johnson had been convicted, he would have faced 20 to 30 years in prison on the Pennsylvania charges and up to life in prison on the Maryland charges.

New York State Police Emergency Response Team members leave 2B Mohawk Street in Cohoes, New York December 22, 2008 after a standoff ended. The New York
New York State Police Emergency Response Team members leave 2B Mohawk Street in Cohoes, New York December 22, 2008 after a standoff ended. The New York State Police were called for their emergency response team resources. ((Albany) Times Union - Skip Dickstein)

"There is justice in the sense that he won't be doing this to anyone ever again," Rebert said.

The cases

U.S. Marshals were trying to serve an arrest warrant on Johnson for unlawful flight to avoid prosecution. He was facing multiple charges - including rape and impersonating a police officer - in the sexual assaults of a 34-year-old woman and a 42-year-old woman in York in September.

Johnson was free on $100,000 bail from York County prison on charges filed Dec. 1 that he kidnapped 22-year-old woman off a Baltimore street, then handcuffed her inside his van and raped her. He was fighting extradition to Maryland.

In all three cases, police allege Johnson posed as a police officer, telling the woman they were under arrest, handcuffing them to a seat in his van and raping them. Police found handcuffs, police badges, condoms, and hair and fiber samples inside the van.

Though Johnson is dead, Rebert said the York cases remain open. Investigators are looking into those who might have helped Johnson elude capture, he said. And officials believe there are other victims out there who have yet to come forward, he said.

Johnson specifically targeted women he thought would not come forward, Rebert said. In all three cases, the women admitted they were drug addicts. In the York cases, both women admitted they turned to prostitution to support their habits.

"I don't think my use of the word serial rapist is out of line," Rebert said.

'No winners'

Michael Regan, of the U.S. Marshals Service in Harrisburg, said Johnson did not have friends or family in the area where he he was found. He declined to say what led marshals to Cohoes, saying he did not want to compromise investigative techniques.

Johnson was staying at a boarding house, which was an old industrial complex converted into housing, said Deputy Marshal Steve Rowe. Johnson rented the room this past weekend but not under his name, he said.

The blue Chevy Cobalt he was seen driving from his home Dec. 9 has not been recovered, he said.

Johnson's attorney, Chris Ferro, had arranged for Johnson to turn himself Dec. 9, but Johnson did not show.

Ferro said Monday people should not assume anything from Johnson's taking his life or running from police.

"There are no winners in this story. At the end of the day, regardless of what is written and said, children have lost a father and a wife has lost a husband," Ferro said.

"Michael Johnson died today with a presumption of innocence that, in reality, means very little to a person who, in a short period of time, lost everything and was publicly vilified. These allegations have never been tested in court, and therefore, the final, most important, chapter of this unfortunate saga, will never be written."

Rebert said Johnson's running from the law and his suicide showed his "consciousness of guilt."

"You have to believe his conscience was weighing on him," Rebert said.

An autopsy is expected to be conducted by the Albany County Coroner's Office. Rowe said he believed the only weapon found in the boarding house room was the gun Johnson used to commit suicide.

There was no note found in the room, Rowe said. A note found at Johnson's home during a Dec. 9 search remains under court seal, Rebert said.

Based on his comments before and after he fled, Johnson believed he would find some "safe haven" in Canada, Rowe said.

OTHER COVERAGE

Click here to read the affidavit of charges, listed under "Reading Room."

Follow coverage of this at the Times Union's site in New York.

WHERE JOHNSON WAS FOUND


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