Real Name: Unknown, Tom Johnson is believed to be an alias.
Aliases: Tom Johnson, Tommy Johnson
Wanted For: Murder, Attempted Murder
Missing Since: October 24, 1992
Details: In September 1992, a music video company in Nashville, Tennessee, ran ads in the classified section of a local trade publication for a $30,000 top-of-the-line computer system. On October 7, a man calling himself "Tom Johnson" answered the ads. He said that he was a freelance computer programmer and database consultant. A few days later, he met with twenty-one-year-old Jeremy Rolfs, a videotape editor and student at Middle Tennessee State University, for a demonstration of the equipment. They eventually agreed on a price of $31,000; afterward, Tom requested that the equipment be delivered to his office in Marietta, Georgia, several hundred miles from Nashville.
At 1:30am on October 24, Jeremy and his fiancé, twenty-two-year-old MTSU student Heather Uffelman, set off on a five-hour trek to deliver the computer to Tom. By that point, Jeremy was exhausted after working for about thirty hours on another project. He invited Heather because they enjoyed taking trips together. She was also concerned that he would fall asleep while driving if he went by himself. After driving all night, they arrived at the Knights Inn off I-75 in Marietta at 7:30am. Originally, they had planned to meet Tom at his office in an industrial park. However, he said that the directions to it were very complex, so he preferred to meet them at his motel room first.
When Jeremy and Heather arrived at the motel room, Tom told them that his business partner would be there shortly with a certified check. They decided to go get breakfast while they waited. When they returned about a half hour later, Tom said that his partner had called, was on the way, and would be there shortly. He then suggested that Jeremy and Heather load the computer into his car while they waited for his partner to arrive. They did so at 8am. They did not question it because they trusted him and felt that he was legitimate. They returned to the motel room and made small talk for about twenty minutes. Finally, Jeremy grew tired of waiting. He said to Tom that if he knew where his president was, they could close their deal.
Tom then pulled out a small handgun and said, "I think we can close this deal right now." He made Jeremy give him his money belt and had Heather lay the bedsheets on the floor. He made Jeremy wrap himself up in one and Heather do so in the other. He then said that he would take the computer and Jeremy's company would get an insurance check. He also said that everyone would be fine. However, just seconds later, he struck Jeremy in the head with a hammer. Jeremy felt a buzzing in his ear and saw the room spin. Tom then went to Heather and struck her in the head too. As she screamed, he continued to hit her. When Jeremy said, "Stop screaming and he'll leave," Tom came back and hit him again. He then went back and hit Heather several more times as well.
As Tom backed out of the motel room to leave, he dusted the countertop to remove the fingerprints. After he left, Jeremy crawled over to check on Heather. He saw that she was badly beaten. He told her that he was going to go get help. At 9:30am, a motel employee found him wandering around, disoriented, and bleeding. He and Heather were soon rushed to a nearby hospital. Two hours later, Heather died of massive skull injuries. Jeremy recovered and was released on October 27. However, he still suffered from vertigo, hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Meanwhile, the authorities questioned witnesses and searched the motel room for evidence. Among the few clues that Tom left behind was the murder weapon, a hammer. It was still wrapped in plastic, with the card identifying its weight and SKU number still attached. However, they were unable to trace it to the store Tom purchased it from.
Authorities noted that the robbery was unusual since Tom allowed himself to be seen in public during the day. They also thought it was unusual that he had a handgun with him, but did not use it to kill his victims. They soon learned of yet another curious circumstance that occurred approximately an hour before the attack. An unknown woman had complained of a problem in the motel room rented to Tom. At that time, Jeremy and Heather had gone out for breakfast. Authorities now believe that the woman may have been an accomplice of Tom's who attempted to sabotage the scheme when she learned that he intended to murder his victims. They hope that she, or anyone else at the motel, will come forward with more information about Tom and/or his car. They also hope to hear from anyone that has information on the stolen computer.
Tom's car was a black cherry or dark brown Dodge Dynasty with a red interior and Tennessee license plates. At the time, he was in his late twenties or early thirties; he would now be in his forties or fifties. He is approximately 5'10" to 6'0" and weighs 165 pounds. He has sandy brown hair, is clean-shaven, and may wear glasses. At the time, he was wearing an expensive pair of boots made of either snake or alligator skin. Jeremy noted how quickly Tom turned from a thoughtful, introspective guy interested in computers to someone who was cold, calculating, and deliberate. He also noted how Tom made them feel comfortable and at-ease, unaware of his true intentions until it was too late. He believes that Tom's friends and acquaintances may have no idea about his true nature.
The stolen computer was an Apple Quadra 950; it is used for desktop publishing and videotape editing. It had a 4 GB Hard Drive, 30 MB of RAM, and a 125 MB optical drive. The CPU's serial number was #F62164JW671. The monitor was a 24" super high resolution color display with the serial number #92020501.
Investigators have evidence that Tom tried to pull a similar scam just one week before Heather's murder. For some unknown reason, he never showed up for the appointment.
- This case first aired on the April 27, 1994 episode.
- To protect Jeremy's identity, his full name was not revealed and he was filmed in silhouette for the broadcast.
Results: Wanted. In 1994, a potential suspect emerged in this case: forty-nine-year-old Thomas E. "Tom" Steeples, a computer company owner from Nashville. He had committed a double murder in a motel room in April 1994 that was eerily similar to the attack on Jeremy and Heather. In that case, he lured a young couple named Rob and Kellie Phillips to the motel with the promise of a record deal, and beat them to death as well. He also murdered Ronald Bingham, a business partner and Nashville bar owner, in October 1993. Along with that, he also beat and sexually assaulted a young woman several years before. His wife also claimed that he attacked and tried to sexually assault a woman in their backyard.
It has been noted that Steeples closely resembles the composite sketch of Johnson and matches his physical description. Also, the car Johnson was driving had Tennessee license plates; Steeples was from Tennessee. Following Steeples' arrest, Jeremy asked to view his photograph in a photo lineup; however, police did not do this because they did not consider Steeples a suspect at the time. They noted that he was much older than Johnson's suspected age. In July 1994, Steeples died of a drug overdose in prison without ever being officially connected to this case.
Jeremy and Heather's family later created the "Heather Uffelman Memorial Scholarship" in her honor at her alma mater, Middle Tennessee State University. Jeremy later joined the Peace Corps as a telecommunications adviser. Tragically, he was killed in a car accident in Winburg, South Africa, on March 31, 1997; he was hit head-on by a driver who had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel. He was twenty-seven. "Tom Johnson" has never been identified or apprehended.
- MTSU coed murdered in Georgia (Page 1) (Page 2) - October 26, 1992
- Police seek murder suspect's identity - October 28, 1992
- Town shocked by coed's slaying here - October 29, 1992
- MTSU coed killed; companion beaten - October 29, 1992
- "When it happens to you" by Jeremy Rolfs - December 20, 1992
- Career, personal life crashes with beating - December 20, 1992
- Scholarships honor slain student - January 17, 1993
- Beating victim whose fiancée was slain still scared - May 2, 1993
- Houston Education Association sets scholarship for Uffelman - October 22, 1993
- Murder reward $10,000 (Page 1) (Page 2) - February 27, 1994
- Unsolved Mysteries to broadcast segment on MTSU student's death - March 7, 1994
- Reward offered in death of student - March 14, 1994
- Murfeesboro crime profiled - April 27, 1994
- TV show gets response on student murder - April 28, 1994
- TV show brings in 450 leads (Page 1) (Page 2) - May 6, 1994
- DNA ties suspect to deaths - May 28, 1994
- Steeples' past reveals evidence of troubled life (Page 1) (Page 2) - May 29, 1994
- Unsolved murder not tied to Nashville killings - June 1, 1994
- Victim's fiancé asks to see pic - June 8, 1994
- Victim's fiancé can't see lineup - June 11, 1994
- Jeremy Rolfs, Adviser in Peace Corps - April 17, 1997
- Ex-student killed in South Africa wreck (Page 1) (Page 2) - April 26, 1997
- Who Was the Mysterious "Tom Johnson"? - May 27, 2020
- Tom Johnson on Southern Mysteries (includes articles)
- SitcomsOnline Discussion of Tom Johnson
- Jeremy Rolfs on the Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project
- Heather Uffelman's Obituary
- Heather Uffelman on Find a Grave