Crime

Report: Teens Brendan Johnson and Cassie Rieb burned, tried to dismember his grandma's body

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A warning before we go on: Information from the arrest affidavit, shared by both 9News and 7News, may disturb some readers.

As we reported, Johnson called police on May 29 on a supposed medical call for his grandfather. Charles was dead upon the cops' arrival, and the fact that he had been killed a week-plus earlier goes a long way toward explaining why an autopsy didn't find immediate signs of trauma to his body.

In a subsequent interview, Johnson reportedly maintained that Charles had given him a couple of checks adding up to $4,500, as well as permission to use his 2009 Chevy truck. He's said to have used the money and vehicle to attend a concert in Denver during the days leading up to the body's discovery.

Shirley, for her part, was missing, and in a separate interview with investigators, Rieb allegedly denied knowledge of her whereabouts -- although the report quotes her as admitting that Johnson actually wrote and signed the checks supposedly given to him by Charles.

Armed with this information, the cops went back to Johnson. The affidavit says he and Reib subsequently confessed to killing the Severances, and their explanations about the botched process are chilling.

The murder plot reportedly came together in early May, with the goal focusing on Johnson collecting his inheritance early.

On May 20, the affidavit says, Johnson and Rieb entered the Severances' place, with him assigned to smother Charles and her tasked with doing the same to Shirley. But things didn't go as planned.

The document says Charles struggled so much that Johnson eventually had to choke him to death -- although the seventy-year-old may have suffered a fatal heart attack while fighting for his life. And Shirley was even less cooperative. She apparently tried to run away, and when she couldn't escape, she pleaded with the teens not to kill her and even offered them money to go away.

They didn't. Johnson reportedly allowed her to get some water -- but while she was drinking, he tried to cut her throat. Instead, he slashed her jaw, prompting Shirley to try fleeing again. She failed to get free, however, and Johnson is accused of repeatedly stabbing her as she pleaded for her life.

Finally, Johnson strangled Shirley with a string, the affidavit says. Investigators believe that's what finally killed her.

The teens took the couple's bodies to a bedroom and left them there until the next day, police say. After the cleanup at the murder site was complete, they used the truck to drive Shirley's body to Prewitt Reservoir, a short drive from Sterling. There, they're accused of dousing it with gas and setting it ablaze -- and while it burned, they tried to hack off an arm and a leg.

The body was initially buried in a reservoir fire pit. But they apparently didn't feel it was secure enough there, so they returned on May 28, dug it up and took it to a remote location in Nebraska before returning home. Johnson alerted the cops to Charles's death the next day.

Johnson and Rieb made their first court appearance yesterday, where they were formally charged with two counts apiece of first-degree murder, aggravated robbery and theft. On top of that, Johnson faces two forgery charges.

Look below to see a brief 7News update on the case, followed by our original post.

Continue for our previous coverage of the Brendan Johnson and Cassandra Rieb arrests, including additional photos and a video.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts