Last fall I wrote about one of those stranger-than-fiction cases (entries here and here): Louann Bowers, age 16, disappeared in 1993 leaving a note saying she was running away to get married. She vanished seemingly without a trace and some people wondered if she’d actually met with foul play. She was actually declared legally dead in 2004, eleven years after her disappearance. But Louann turned up in 2009, alive if not well, and stuck around just long enough for the cops to verify her identity, then she dropped out of sight again, only to reappear in 2010.
Louann, it turned out, had run off with her uncle by marriage, Sinhue Johnson, who is twelve years older than her. She thought of him as her husband. They had five children together (Louann was pregnant with a sixth when they were discovered) and had lived essentially off the grid all that time: the kids weren’t in school, they had no documents, lived in a filthy hovel that had no water or electricity and was later condemned. The children, who were between 2 and 13, were taken into foster care and their parents were charged. Louann said she simply didn’t know any better and hadn’t realized how abnormal the situation was. She said she kept the children underground to protect them from abuse.
Well, Louann just got sentenced after pleading no contest to five counts of child endangerment. (The article includes current pics of Louann and Sinhue Johnson.) She was given a term of 11 1/2 to 23 months in prison followed by 23 months of probation. She was in jail awaiting trial for nearly as long as her minimum sentence, so she might get out soon. Whether she’ll ever get custody of her children again is an open question.
As for Sinhue Johnson, his case is still up in the air. He was found incompetent to stand trial, but he wants a second opinion on that, and the case can’t go anywhere until that issue is taken care of. If convicted of all charges (in addition to child endangerment he’s facing weapons violations and theft charges) he could get up to 42 years in prison.