Cody Lee Johnson’s family is convinced the 25-year-old Kalispell man was murdered in Glacier National Park this summer.
Now federal authorities are, too – and they say it was Johnson’s new bride who allegedly pushed him over a cliff, and to his death, during an argument on July 7.
Johnson’s widow, 22-year-old Jordan Linn Graham of Kalispell, was taken into custody in Kalispell Monday morning and made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Missoula Monday afternoon on a complaint alleging second-degree murder.
The couple had been married for eight days when Johnson was killed, according to Johnson family friend Tracey Maness.
“Nobody is shocked at all” that Graham is suspected in her husband’s murder, according to Maness. “She’d been telling people she knew she never wanted to be married, she just wanted to have a wedding, and that’s apparently what they were arguing about.”
According to an affidavit in support of the complaint, Graham allegedly confessed to the killing to FBI special agent Steven Liss in mid-July. Graham had initially told law enforcement her husband had gotten into a dark car with Washington plates on July 7 and never returned home.
Johnson’s body was located on July 12 below The Loop, a switchback and parking area on Glacier’s famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.
The affidavit says on July 16, Graham admitted to lying to authorities about the disappearance of her husband.
Instead of him leaving with an unknown person or persons, Graham said she and Johnson argued on the evening of July 7, and decided to travel to Glacier Park.
“Once there, they walked on The Loop hiking trail for a while and were arguing,” court documents say. “Then they walked to the other side of the trail to an area that was very steep and proceed(ed) down the rocks near a stump. Graham stated their argument intensified.”
Graham allegedly told Liss that she turned to walk away, but that Johnson grabbed her by her arm.
“After removing Johnson’s hand from her arm, Graham stated she could have just walked away, but due to her anger, she pushed Johnson with both hands in the back and as a result, he fell face first off the cliff,” the complaint says.
An autopsy on July 19 confirmed Johnson’s injuries were consistent with a fall from a cliff.
The affidavit suggests authorities had their suspicions about the story Graham told them the day after Johnson was reported missing.
It alleges she initially said that after the couple arrived home from a dinner party on July 7, she realized her cell phone was going dead and she left by herself to collect her phone charger from another location.
“Graham said while she was retrieving her cell phone charger … she received a cellular text message from Johnson’s phone saying he was going for a drive with a friend from out of town,” the complaint states. “When Graham arrived back at the house she advised she saw a dark-colored car pulling out of the driveway. Graham stated she is sure Johnson was in the dark car.”
In a later interview, Graham allegedly told authorities she could not produce the text because “she and Johnson routinely delete their text messages.”
On July 11, a friend of Graham identified only as “K.M.” told authorities that Graham had recently informed her she was having second thoughts about having gotten married, and was going to talk to Johnson about it.
At 8:56 p.m. on the day Johnson died, the document says, Graham texted K.M., saying, “Oh well, I’m about to talk to him.”
“I’ll pray for you guys,” K.M. responded.
Graham replied to that by saying, “But dead serious if u don’t hear from me at all again tonight, something happened.”
Maness told Missoulian reporter Alice Miller last week that Johnson’s family was sure Cody had been murdered, and was frustrated the investigation had dragged into September without any information coming from authorities.
“He was very in love with Jordan,” Maness said last week. “And he was really excited about starting the next chapter of his life.”
The couple dated for two years, according to Maness, before Johnson proposed last December.
It was Graham who reported she had found Johnson’s body below The Loop four days after his “disappearance.”
A park ranger was dispatched to the Lake McDonald Camp Store at approximately 8:30 p.m. on July 11 to meet with the woman who said she’d located “a dead body.”
The ranger found Johnson’s wife there, and “commented to Graham he thought it was unusual that she had found the body,” the affidavit says. “Graham replied, ‘It was a place he wanted to see before he died,’ and, ‘He would come up here with friends to drive fast when his friends were visiting from out of state.’ ”
Another friend of the couple, identified as “A.H.,” told investigators that on the night of July 10, at a Faith Baptist Church service, Graham told her she had received an email while working at a daycare center.
“The email said Johnson had left with three friends, went hiking, had fallen, was dead, and the search should be called off,” the affidavit says.
Maness says family and friends suspected Graham “from the day (Johnson) went missing.”
“She kept continuing to lie, she kept changing her story,” Maness says. “She showed no grief and she would not speak to Cody’s mother.”
Graham made her initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah C. Lynch Monday, and was detained afterward.
She has not yet waived her right to a grand jury hearing, according to Victoria L. Francis, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Montana. If Graham does not waive her right, the case will proceed to a grand jury, which would decide whether to indict her on the charges.
The investigation was a cooperative effort between the Kalispell Police Department, the Flathead County coroner, the FBI and the National Park Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zeno B. Baucus is the prosecutor.