Thomas Johnson and Leslie Jones were well-known Chicago-area lawyers – he, a member of the review board monitoring Chicago police – who were found dead in their Oak Park, Illinois, home under suspicious circumstances. It’s now been determined that they were murdered by being stabbed to death.
The couple were both attorneys for a Chicago law firm. “The deceased individuals have been identified as Leslie Ann Jones, 67, and her husband Thomas E. Johnson, 69. Police discovered their bodies during a welfare check at about 7:30 p.m. on Mon., April 13,” the Oak Park Police Department said in a news release.
For years, Johnson presided over hearings probing the misconduct of Chicago police officers, including some of the city’s most controversial police shooting deaths. He was also involved in politics, serving as campaign lawyer for former Chicago Mayor Harold Washington.
“On behalf of the Oak Park Police Department, I want to offer our condolences to the family and friends of Ms. Jones and her husband, Mr. Johnson, both of whom are known in the community and beyond,” Oak Park Police Chief LaDon Reynolds said in a statement.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Say the Deaths Occurred Under ‘Suspicious Circumstances’ & Don’t Appear to Be Self-Inflicted
Oak Park police haven’t released many details about the deaths or scene, but they did label the circumstances “suspicious.” The medical examiner later determined the deaths were homicides that were the result of “multiple sharp force injuries.”
“Preliminary information gathered at the scene indicates the deaths occurred under suspicious circumstances. However, early indications are that the deaths were not self-inflicted,” police said.
“It may be difficult to understand why we cannot provide more information right now. But the number one priority at this time must be ensuring the integrity and thoroughness of the investigation,” the chief said.
Reynolds said the Oak Park Police Department “has called on the West Suburban Major Crimes Task Force for assistance with the investigation. This multijurisdictional organization offers access to the expertise and resources of police departments across the region.”
The scene remains an active investigation, according to Reynolds, who said he had “no information to suggest that there is any risk to the neighborhood or the community. However, in an abundance of caution Police patrols and visibility have been increased in the area.”
“Anyone with information about the incident is urged to contact the Oak Park Police Department at 708.386.3800. Information may also be provided anonymously by calling 708.434.1636,” police wrote.
2. Thomas Johnson Worked on Labor & Election Issues, Once Representing President Barack Obama
Johnson was a lawyer with Johnson, Jones, Snelling, Gilbert & Davis, P.C., a law firm in Chicago. According to that law firm’s bio for him, he was a 1975 graduate of Harvard Law School, a 1972 graduate of American University, and a law clerk to U.S. District Judge Thomas R. McMillen, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, in the 1970s.
“In over 40 years of practice, Tom Johnson has litigated at every level of the state and federal court system and before numerous administrative agencies. He has played a pivotal role in the development of affordable housing in Chicago and in securing justice for coal miners, truck drivers and others in the labor movement,” the bio for Johnson says.
“Mr. Johnson has an active practice in litigation and real estate. He also serves as legal counsel to a significant number of small and mid-size corporations. He has spent considerable time seeking to reform Chicago’s voter registration and electoral system and, in doing so, has represented numerous local, state and federal office holders, including President Barack Obama and the late Mayor Harold Washington.”
Jonathan Konrath, a client, told WGN-TV that Johnson was a father figure to him.
“He did a lot of work for me pro bono, he was just that type of person,” he told the television station. “A lot of lawyers go into law to practice law for money. What they don’t understand is you’re going into law because you want to get justice for people, helping the little guy, that’s why you went into law. I felt like that was Tom. That’s what Tom did.”
3. Johnson Served as a Hearing Officer for the Chicago Police Board in Contentious Cases, Including the Laquan McDonald Shooting
According to his bio, Johnson “has also served as a special commissioner for the U.S. District Court in Chicago and a Hearing Officer for the Chicago Police Board, the Illinois State Police Merit Board and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for many years.”
Here’s what his resume says about his Police Board work:
Selected from a large number of applicants to serve as a hearing officer for the Chicago Police Board, where I have presided at more than two-hundred trials seeking the discharge of police officers for excessive force, criminal conduct and other good cause. I try about two of these cases every month and some are very high profile. The cases are reviewed through the state court system. … I also review many appeals by officers who have been suspended for up to thirty days.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Johnson served on the board since 1991 and oversaw its hearings into the four officers “accused of covering up the investigation into the 2014 Laquan McDonald shooting.” Other high profile cases involved the shooting deaths of Bettie Jones, 55, Quintonio LeGrier, 19, and LaTanya Haggerty, 26.
“Tom was an outstanding hearing officer and a wonderful man,” Police Board President Ghian Foreman said in a statement. “All of us on the Board admired and respected Tom’s deep knowledge of the law and commitment to fairness. His work was of the highest caliber.”
On his resume, Johnson wrote that he founded the law firm in the 1980s. “In 1984, I founded the Johnson, Jones, Snelling, Gilbert & Davis litigation firm. The firm has handled substantial trial and appellate litigation both in the federal and state courts,” he wrote. “We are very experienced in labor work (both on behalf of employees and employers); disability and injury cases; commercial litigation; housing development issues; health care litigation; civil rights work (particularly in the areas of public benefits, employment, police misconduct, election, and voting rights issues); as well as real estate and land use matters.”
He was previously director of social welfare litigation for the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago. Under areas of expertise, he listed the following activities: Representing the Teamsters Union; “designing and defending an early retirement program for the faculty of the Chicago City College system”; “Successfully defending the discharge of high-profile public figures where the issues surrounding their discharge raised serious public policy question”; and “designing employment handbooks to govern employee relations for a number of companies.”
In addition, he was involved in issues relating to housing projects. “Representing the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA), over a twenty-four year period, in connection with its effort to transform its largest family public housing projects from dilapidated, gang-controlled high-rises into new mixed-income communities, integrated both racially and economically into the surrounding neighborhoods,” he wrote on his resume.
He was also involved in politics, writing that he, “Served as principal counsel for Chicago Mayor Harold Washington on his campaigns, all voter registration and election issues, as well as on many other neighborhood issues.”
4. The Couple Was Married More Than 35 Years & Was Described by a Neighbor as ‘Compassionate’
On his website, Johnson wrote that he was “married for 35 years with three children and one permanent foster child.” His resume also lists many charitable activities, services on boards, and awards.
Their children are adults, and the couple lived alone together in their home, according to The Chicago Tribune.
“They were the best neighbors,” said Jeanne Gallo to the Tribune. “They were compassionate, they were welcoming and they were interested in helping people. They were not ‘me’ or ‘I’ people. They were ‘you’ and ‘we’ people.”
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans told the Trib of Johnson: “He was one of the brightest lawyers I had ever met. He was thoughtful and generous at the same time. He met people who were just people on the street who were happy to support Harold with the same kind of vigor (with which) he met others much higher in terms … of titles.”
5. Leslie Jones Graduated From Harvard & Specialized in Federal Litigation, Real Estate & Corporate Issues
Leslie Jones’ biography says she graduated from Harvard Law School, the University of Chicago (with an MBA) and Yale University. She served as a Harvard Law School (J.D. 1982) law clerk to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit for Judge Luther M. Swygert in the 1980s.
She sometimes got political on Facebook, even sharing a 2019 photo showing a KKK hood over the White House. “Truly shaming to be associated with this,” she wrote with a post about immigrant children being held by the government in Texas.
“Leslie Ann Jones specializes in federal litigation, real estate and corporate transactions and zoning,” her law firm website bio says. “She was formerly a clinic fellow at Northwestern Law School, teaching trial practice and ethics and General Counsel to a large real estate development and management firm.”
In one of her previous activities, she worked as “General Counsel (handling a wide range of employment, real estate and corporate matters in house and through supervision of outside counsel) and low income housing developer.”