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

A gruesome stabbing death remains unsolved

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, assuming a more prominent role in high-profile crime investigations, said Thursday there was unity among all the agencies investigating the stabbing deaths in Piedmont Park of a Midtown woman and her dog.

Willis said she wanted to “send a strong message to the public that the federal government, the city and the county are working together to make sure this crime is solved.”

People shouldn’t go into the park alone at night, she added.

“I love Piedmont Park as well, but at this time we’re asking you go with three or four friends,” she said.

The lifeless bodies of Katherine Janness, 40, and her 3-year-old pit bull, Bowie, were found by Janness’ longtime girlfriend, Emma Clark, in the early morning hours on July 28 near the park’s entrance. Janness, a local bartender, had been stabbed multiple times, leaving her badly disfigured.

In an interview with Channel 2 Action News that aired Thursday, Clark said the couple had been wary of crime in the Midtown area.

But Janness, according to Clark, still felt safe in the park.

”I talked to Katie about this before, and she knew we were worried about her being out at night,” Clark said.

Willis, who shared a podium with Fulton Sheriff Pat Labat and acting U.S. Attorney Kurt Erskine, acknowledged the significant attention the case is receiving.

“Every murder and every case requires different resources,” Willis said. This investigation stands out, she said, “because there had not been a murder in Piedmont Park for so long. Because it is a public treasure. "

Details about the probe, now in its second week, remain scarce.

“They haven’t told me anything extra,” Clark said. “I don’t know about suspects, I don’t know if they’re looking into anything like that. I want them to find whoever did this.”

“I’ve been angry a lot of the time just because none of it makes any sense to me,” she said.

The information vacuum has been filled by amateur sleuths online, resulting in rumors authorities have denounced, while the case is being closely followed in the communities near the park and beyond.

Willis, as Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms did two days earlier, dispelled rumors that a serial killer might be involved.

“We have no evidence of that at this point,” she said. The veteran prosecutor also said it was too early to know whether Janness’ death may have been a hate crime, referencing Midtown’s large LGBT community. Bottoms has said there’s no evidence the incident was a hate crime, but did describe the case as atypical.

“This does not fit the description of anything that we’ve seen,” she said.

On Tuesday, police released photos of six people who were in the park around the time investigators believe Janness was killed. APD has asked for the public’s help in checking their security cameras in the area.

The nine security cameras inside the park, and some just outside it, were installed 2008 and are now obsolete, said Jon Keen, Atlanta’s deputy chief operating officer. They are not integrated with the newer cameras in the city, he said, and investigators are still working to determine whether they hold any additional evidence.

The city plans to install 250 additional cameras by December, according to the mayor.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution submitted an Open Records Request to the city related to cameras at Piedmont Park; the records are expected to arrive within two weeks.

Fulton County deputies have joined Atlanta police in dispatching extra patrol cars to the park, Willis said.

“We hear the fear in a community that is usually safe,” she said. “The public is watching and waiting.”

Willis said she is taking a more proactive role in investigating crimes, saying she is “trying to work with the police, show them how to put better cases together.”

Her predecessor, Paul Howard, was known to have an antagonistic relationship with law enforcement. Howard and former Sheriff Ted Jackson rarely communicated, Willis said, and relations with APD were also frosty.

“That hurt cases because we didn’t have access to jail calls,” she said.

THE STORY SO FAR

The bodies of Katie Janness and her dog, Bowie, were discovered July 28. The two had gone for a late-night walk near their Midtown home, but when they didn’t return, Janness’ longtime girlfriend used a cellphone tracking app to find them. Emma Clark discovered the body of the dog first, then Janness about 100 feet away. Police have canvassed the area, met with neighbors and released images of people they think might have been in the area at the time of the crime in hopes someone with information will come forward. The FBI has joined the investigation.