Real Names: Rhonda Renee Johnson and Sharon Lynn Shaw
Nicknames: Renee Johnson
Location: Galveston, Texas
Date: August 4, 1971
Details: On January 3, 1972, two boys fishing on Taylor Bayou near Webster, Texas, find a human skull floating in the lake. It belonged to a young girl; six weeks later, authorities searching a nearby field find the rest of her remains along with those of another girl. Dental records identified them as fourteen-year-old Rhonda Johnson and thirteen-year-old Sharon Shaw, who had gone missing the previous summer. The cause of their deaths could not be determined. Five months later, twenty-three-year-old gas station attendant Michael Lloyd Self was arrested and charged with their murders. He was convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life in prison; however, he claims that he is innocent.
Rhonda and Sharon were last seen on August 4, 1971, heading towards the Jericho Surf and Sea Shop in Galveston. An investigation was soon launched, pressure was placed on the officers because Rhonda's grandfather was a prominent city council member. In late May 1972, the Webster city council hired a new police chief, Don Morris, and an assistant chief, Tommy Deal, who came from the traffic division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. A few weeks after being hired, Morris received a tip from city councilman Glenn Price about Michael Lloyd Self, a known sex offender who had been arrested in previous "peeping tom" incidents.
On June 9, 1972, at 5am, Tommy Deal and officer Herman Morgan visited the gas station where Self worked the night shift. Deal mentioned that he believed Self was thinking about "two girls" referring to Rhonda and Sharon. Self was confused, but believed that he was talking about his estranged wife and new girlfriend. Later that morning, he voluntarily went to the police station. The officers asked him if he recognized pictures of Rhonda and Sharon. He said that he recognized them but did not know them. Immediately afterward, he was arrested for their murders.
The officers interrogated Self, claiming that they had evidence connecting him to the murders; he denied involvement. Another officer, Jerry Mitchell, stopped in during the interrogation to observe; he noticed that Self was relaxed and did not appear to be nervous. Mitchell left the room and Morris then took charge of the interrogation.
According to Self, Morris started asking him about why he killed Rhonda and Sharon. Morris said that he wanted a confession and would not leave until he got one. Morris allegedly held him against a wall and poked him with his nightstick. Morris allegedly then took out bullets from his gun and placed them on the table. Self feared that he was going to kill him; Morris allegedly told him that he would shoot him if he didn't sign a confession.
Self eventually agreed to write a confession; Morris allegedly told him what he had to write down. Less than an hour after Mitchell left, he returned and noticed that Self now seemed very upset and shaken. Mitchell noticed that Morris had Self rewrite his confession several times.
Self's confession did not completely match the known facts of this case. In it, he claimed that he dumped Rhonda and Sharon's bodies at El Largo, which was twenty miles from Taylor Bayou where they were actually found. It stated that he choked one of them, but there was no evidence of that injury on their remains. It also stated that he went to Sharon's house to pick them up, but her family contradicts that. It also noted that they were hollering, waving, and hanging out of his car, but no witnesses could be found to confirm this. In fact, witnesses placed them in Galveston at around 9pm even though in the confession they were already with him in Webster.
Three days after Self's arrest and confession, he took a polygraph test where he again confessed to Rhonda and Sharon's murders. He also claimed that he had knowledge on others that had taken place in Texas in 1971 and 1972. In his second confession, he claimed that he hit Rhonda and Sharon with a Coke bottle and dumped them in the bayou; these statements conflicted with his first confession. In his second one, he also claimed that he stripped their clothes and threw them onto the side of a highway; however, they was found with their remains, along with an unidentified pair of keys.
Two weeks after Self's arrest, two sheriff's deputies checked him out of jail on the pretext of buying him dinner. Afterwards, the deputies drove him to places mentioned in the confession and took pictures of him at these places. This was presented in court as a third confession by him. His attorney claimed that this was not a confession and was actually illegal.
While awaiting trial, investigator Dave Coburn met with Self while in jail. He told him about how Morris and Deal had attacked him and beat a confession out of him. He also mentioned how Morris removed several bullets from a handgun and placed it in front of him; Coburn remembered that he had witnessed Morris doing the same thing to another prisoner a year before. Coburn wanted to testify at the trial, but he was never called in.
On May 15, 1973, Self was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Three years later, Morris and Deal were arrested and charged with bank robbery. They were part of a robbery group that had robbed banks since 1972. In 1976, Morris was sentenced to fifty-five years and Deal was sentenced to thirty years. Both were eventually paroled, but Deal was later arrested again for robbery.
Self's attorneys again pushed for a new trial for him. Then, on April 2, 1980, a man walked into the police station in Taylor Lake, Texas, and confessed to Rhonda and Sharon's murders. His confession was vague, but he did mention that he used a cord to tie their bodies down.
This fact was never mentioned by Self; however, the police knew about the cord and had purposefully witheld the fact in order to determine the truth of a confession in this case. The man, although suffering for psychosis, knew Rhonda and Sharon and actually lived in the same apartment complex as one of them. Despite the confession and criminal activities of Morris and Deal, Self's conviction was upheld.
In 1992, Self was denied parole. On March 30, 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider his request for a new trial. He, his attorneys, and even Coburn, however, are certain that someone else is responsible for Rhonda and Sharon's murders.
Suspects: Although Self was initially considered a suspect, and then considered Rhonda and Sharon's killer, authorities now believe that someone else was responsible for their murders, and that they may have been victims of a serial killer in the Galveston area.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the May 19, 1993 episode.
Results: Unresolved. Self died in prison in 2000, without ever being exonerated for Rhonda and Sharon's murders. However, police believe now that he was framed by two corrupt police officers who coerced him into confessing to them. Now, investigators believe that an unknown serial killer is responsible for them, along with those murders of Debbie Ackerman, Maria Johnson, Brooks Bracewell, and Georgia Geer. Edward Bell, Larry Dickens' killer, was named a "person of interest" in these six murders. He died in prison in 2019.
- Murders of Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw on Wikipedia
- Human Bone Studied
- Bone Clues Still Sought
- Girl's Remains Found in Houston Area
- Man Charged in Deaths of Pair Of Young Girls
- Man questioned in another murder
- Man questioned about death of third girl
- Self says fear led to confession
- Self Guilty in Slaying
- Slayer of Girl Gets Life Term
- Man Convicted in Death Case
- Self Receives Life Sentence
- Self vs. State (1974)
- Man in prison despite pleas
- Authorities take another look at Galveston's cold case killings
- Taking another look at Texas cold case killings
- Some suspect serial killer in 1971 Galveston deaths
- Man admits to killing as many as 11 girls across Southeast Texas
- The Eleven: On the Trail of a Serial Killer
- Texas killer's death leaves unanswered questions in 11 girls' deaths
- Rhonda Johnson and Sharon Shaw on Find a Grave