Brutal Atlanta murder case reopened after 7 years

Investigators believe whoever beat and stabbed John E. Ray repeatedly on the evening of May 16, 2004, targeted his victim through a gay dating website.

“I think that he was set up in some kind of online dating scheme,” Atlanta police Detective David Quinn, a member of APD's Complex Cold Case Unit, said.

Ray’s body was found on May 19, 2004, bloodied and lying face-down on the floor of his home, his hands bound behind his back and the broken-off blade of a knife in his chest, police said.

Gone were Ray’s TV, some stereo equipment and his car, Quinn said.

“We believe that the day that he [disappeared], he was on a date in his home,” Quinn said. “At some point, something happened … something huge, and John Ray is attacked violently within his home.”

But the killer was calculating.

“That one individual actually took a shower at John Ray’s home,” he said. “He also took the time to go into the kitchen [and] get cleaning products, and … he wiped everything down with bleach.”

By chance, police happened upon Ray’s car in the early hours of the next morning, when the vehicle ran a stop sign not far from the crime scene. But the responding officer was called off the ensuing chase, just in time to see the car collide with an electricity pole and explode a transformer in his rear-view mirror, police said.

The officer returned to find the driver was gone.

“It was definitely a shock,” Ray’s younger sister, Jonique Brown, told the AJC on Wednesday. “We thought that whoever did this had to be either crazy or in desperate need of something. But John would’ve given them the shirt off his back.”

The cold case unit was recently created to look at old crimes that new technology and investigating techniques might be able to help solve.

So Ray’s family had mixed emotions when, seven years removed, detectives again called the family in Columbia, S.C., last week with questions.

“It brought up all those sad feelings again,” Brown said. “But my mother was overjoyed.”

Brown said her brother was her best friend, and she made him the godfather of her first child. And when the U.S. Air Force veteran and Benedict College graduate moved from South Carolina to Atlanta in 2001, she said he took a neighbor’s 12-year-old son under his wings, helping the adolescent improve his grades in school.

Beyond that, however, she said he didn’t talk much about his personal life in his new home, where he worked as a paralegal for a nonprofit organization that provided legal services to indigent defendants.

Police said Ray had lived in the house on Browns Mill Road, in the Lakewood Heights community, for only two months and was planning to move after several burglaries.

Ray, then 32, spent the early hours of his final night by entertaining a friend and his wife at home, watching basketball.

Quinn said the couple had stopped by after attending a college graduation, and Ray drove to lead the couple from his house back to the interstate.

Later that night, Ray had another visitor. Evidence showed the guest shared alcohol with Ray. The guest then “beat and bludgeoned and killed” Ray, Quinn said.

Ray was stabbed numerous times in the head and chest, although investigators believe he put up a fight. In the struggle, the knife blade was apparently broken off in Ray’s chest, and the killer disposed of the handle.

While signs of the struggle were evident throughout the house – crime scene photos show a broken glass vodka bottle and blood on the couch, floor and walls – there were no fingerprints or footprints left by the killer. The assailant was careful to wipe clean any evidence, Quinn said.

“He had time,” Quinn said, noting that investigators believe several hours passed before police chased Ray’s white Pontiac Grand Prix around 3 a.m. The chase took place only a few miles from the house.

“I want to know if there are people that contacted John Ray via the Internet and participated in these online dating sites that may have had the same kinds of problems,” Quinn said.

"I think that the person that preyed on John Ray online was not gay,” Quinn said. “They came here specifically to target John Ray for robbery.”

Ray’s family still wants answers. Who did this? Why? Are they still on streets?

“We want some closure,” Brown said.

Crime Stoppers Atlanta is offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest and indictment of a suspect, and callers may remain anonymous. Call Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477 or call Atlanta Police at 404-245-8039.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.