CAPE CORAL, Fla. — A case under investigation for decades is finally coming to a close. Florida deputies traced the identity of a woman’s remains that were found in the home of a serial killer north of Tampa to a family who lives right here in Southwest Florida.
Margaret Johns has been searching for decades to find out what happened to her sister, Theresa Fillingim.
“She was a princess and you’ll see the pictures - she was the baby of the family,” Johns said.
Johns said her sister Theresa came to live with her in Tampa back in 1980 - the same year Theresa went missing at the age of 17. Margaret Johns was the one to file a missing person’s report for her sister.
“Between me and my brother, we just kept searching for her,” Johns said. “Maybe she was going to turn up in another life somewhere and we can find her… it’s like thinking when you see someone - or thinking someone might be her.”
For decades, Johns and her family continued to search for Theresa. Margaret Johns talked about her last year when she found out from detectives that her sister’s remains were found at a Springhill home that once belonged to Billy Mansfield Jr. - a serial killer.
“I guess two of the favorite things he used to do was drive up and down I-75 between Springhill and Tampa and pick up somebody hitchhiking,” Johns said. “Or the other thing he would do - he would stop people at the malls and I think that’s where he got her.”
Even though the recent update brought some sense of peace, Johns said the news came too late. Her dad and other loved ones passed away without knowing what happened to Theresa.
Detective George Loydgren, who worked directly with the case, talked about Theresa’s father’s search efforts.
“Their father became an Alaskan state trooper and was in law enforcement for over 30 years," Detective Loydgren said. "He looked for his daughter every day and wasn’t able to find her. Meanwhile, nobody knew, obviously, she was buried in a hole since 1980.”
Detective Loydgren said it was a bittersweet sensation to tell Theresa’s family the news of her connection to a serial killer.
“Well, it’s like a double-edged sword,” Detective Loydgren said. “It’s sad in the sense that you’re giving somebody the sad news that their loved one is deceased. But it’s positive and happy for me because I’m instrumental in bringing her home and bringing her sister home to her.”
“The next step is choosing the crematory funeral home and getting her there,” Johns said. “Then, I know they have these little things that they can make little bottles to put ashes in. I was going to do that because she loved horses. She would look at horses 24-7.”
Margaret Johns still doesn’t have every single detail on what exactly happened to her sister the day she went missing back in 1980, but she has a message for the person who sits behind bars for the murder:
“How dare you cut her life short?” Johns asked. “How dare you? Who do you think you are doing that? The women are haunting him well. I hope they do. I hope they haunt you to your grave and beyond. I just don’t have any compassion in my heart for people - dirtbags - I don’t know what better word to call him - that commit that kind of crime against other people - young, innocent people especially.”
When it comes to some sort of justice, Johns said she does see pieces of it.
“She got killed by him, buried on his property, and then he’s residing in a California hospital prison in the very town that she was born in - Stockton, California,” Johns said. “She was born 11 miles from where he’s incarcerated right now. So, it’s like, did the stars align, or what?”
Going forward, Johns said she wants families who experienced a loss like this or have a loved one who’s missing to never stop searching for answers. She said this can happen to anyone - as she can’t believe it happened to her family.
“And I want people to educate their kids and teach them how to watch out for predators like this,” Johns said. “Self-defense is priceless.”