It’s been a year. Who killed Katie Janness?

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

She and her dog were found stabbed to death in Piedmont Park

The gruesome stabbing death of Katherine “Katie” Janness and her dog, Bowie, on July 28, 2021, stunned friends, neighbors and the police. Atlanta’s mayor at the time held a news conference to allay fears a serial killer was at work while the district attorney urged people not to venture into the park alone at night. The Atlanta Police Department said the FBI was joining the investigation and, about six months ago, said an arrest could be nigh.

But on the anniversary of her killing, Janness’ loved ones are still seeking answers and justice.

“If somebody that had a pit bull and was walking by the park wasn’t safe, no young woman in this neighborhood is safe,” said Chip Powell, Janness’ friend and supervisor at the Whole World Improv Theatre Co., where she worked as a bar manager.

Janness’ body was discovered just after 1 a.m. about 100 yards inside a Piedmont Park entrance by Emma Clark, her girlfriend of about seven years. She’d been stabbed more than 50 times and the dog’s body was discovered about 100 feet away, police have said. Clark tracked her phone when she never returned home from her evening walk with the dog.

Janness frequently walked the couple’s dog at night and Clark said she often worried about her safety.

“She was so confident in her awareness,” Clark said. “She had always gone on long night walks even before she and I ever met. She loved to explore.”

While the killing was one of 160 homicide cases authorities investigated in 2021, Janness, 40, was the first person killed in the park since 2009, authorities said. The incident stood out in other ways; most homicides involve firearms and many, police say, stem from disputes that escalate to violence.

ExplorePolice release photo of Piedmont Park victim, renew calls for help

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said he speaks with investigators regularly and that police are still working with the FBI.

“I was assuring the family that the case has not gone cold. That’s what APD tells me, that they continue to collect information,” Dickens said, noting there were several people in or near the park that night, some of whom may have seen something that could aid investigators.

Just a few hours before her body was found, Janness was texting her friend, Kristy Stupka, about a scarf she wanted to give her. Stupka would continue texting Janness’ phone until January when someone else bought the line.

“For a while, I would text her phone,” Stupka said as she read over some of her old messages. “On Friday, January 7, I say, ‘I wish you were here, I really miss you.’”

A killing that stunned the city

As Janness’ friends plan gatherings to mark the anniversary of her death, many remain reluctant to visit Piedmont Park, even during the day.

Powell, Janness’ colleague at Whole World Improv, recently went to the park to photograph a bench dedicated to the memory of Janness and Bowie. It was the first time he’d gone to the park since his friend’s death.

“I think about the timeline and the short amount of time that this crime took place, and I think about the violence incurred,” said Powell, who is among Janness’ friends who have been interviewed by the FBI.

He’s avoided reading the autopsy report and listening to the frantic 911 call Clark made to alert authorities.

”I don’t want that to be the last memory of my friend,” Powell said.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

ExploreWoman killed at Piedmont Park remembered as intelligent, gentle, kind

An old soul’

It was never a dull moment with Janness, Clark said. Whether they sat together in silence or learned a new skill, Clark said she always felt at peace in their relationship.

“She was an amazing friend and partner. I miss so much about her. I miss our life together,” Clark said, noting they never ran out of things to talk about. “She always pushed me to better myself and I truly did become a better person because of her. She left me with so much of who she was.”

Heidi Oley, who had been Janness’ neighbor, said she often spotted her sitting in the courtyard of their Midtown apartment complex into the early morning hours, reading and listening to music.

”She would sit under the stairs,” Oley said. “I felt like she felt safe because sometimes I’d see her out there at like 1 in the morning.”

Aside from being a friendly neighbor, Stupka remembers Janness for her humor and passion for her artistry.

”She would be hilarious. People would not even catch something she would say under her breath. She was never vindictive, she’s so kind,” said Stupka, adding that Janness had a “spirit for people and creativity.”

Katie Hahn met Janness in 2007 and they dated for several years. She described her former girlfriend as adventurous, talented and kind. A Michigan native, Janness had played in a rock band in Detroit and wrote songs.

“She was an old soul,” Hahn said. “She was living her life and she was happy. I’m heartbroken.”

An avid runner, Hahn seldom jogs alone in the evenings anymore.

ExploreFulton DA urges people not to go into Piedmont Park alone at night

Safety in the park

Shortly after the killings, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis held a news conference cautioning residents against visiting Piedmont Park alone at night.

Then Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also held a news conference, to assure the public there was no evidence a serial killer was on the loose. Tori Lang, 18, was found shot to death in a Gwinnett County park hours after the Piedmont Park killing, but an arrest was later made in that case. The suspect is someone Lang knew well, her family has said.

After Janness’ death, Atlanta police stationed more officers in the area. Security cameras in Piedmont Park that weren’t working a year ago have since been replaced and integrated into the department’s surveillance network.

ExplorePiedmont Park cameras weren’t working night of deadly stabbing

The Piedmont Park Conservancy, a non-profit organization that manages the park alongside the City of Atlanta, launched the Safe Haven Fund in September 2021 to bolster public safety improvements. According to budget reports, the Conservancy’s expenditures have increased each year since 2018, but money going toward “security services” has remained the same.

President of the Conservancy, Mark Banta, told the AJC that the organization hires supplemental overnight security services to augment security by police that the city provides. The security budget is set between the organization and the city every five years, according to Banta.

“We would definitely like to see increases in the reimbursement that we get from the City of Atlanta to do the various things that we’re doing, which includes landscaping and some of the things that improve the visibility in the park as well as the security services,” Banta said.

A killer on the loose

The Atlanta Police Department is expected to hold a news conference Thursday to provide updates in the case. Janness’ loved ones will be eager for answers.

“She was always one of those people that wanted to make sure that you were enjoying yourself and laughing, at least while you were there in front of her,” said Chris Jones, a former Atlanta police officer turned investment banker.

ExplorePiedmont Park visitors on edge after woman’s brutal slaying

Powell is hopeful an arrest will be announced soon but laments that closure may remain elusive.

“I can only imagine what pain Katie went through and how horrific the end was,” he said. “It will take a long time to close this wound because there was no way to say goodbye.”

For Clark, the last year without her partner has been extremely tough.

”What happened to Katie is not something I will ever be able to understand,” she said. “Although I have accepted that she is gone, I miss her every second.”

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC