Episode 084: Johnny Cashman

July 24, 2023

Johnny Cashman allegedly died of natural causes, but a terrible discovery sends his family on a desperate search for the truth. What really happened to Johnny?

Episode Media
Johnny Cashman Jr. (WSET)
Johnny Cashman Jr. (WSET)

Photos of Johnny’s apartment [WARNING: Graphic Images]

Full video from security camera

Witness seen leaving the apartment, later identified as Steven Church (Lynchburg PD)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you a baffling case – a tragic death that has left a family desperate for answers. This episode discusses sensitive topics and includes graphic descriptions, so listener discretion is advised.

In the spring of 2022, 38-year-old Johnny Cashman Jr. was living and working in Lynchburg, Virginia. He rented a second-floor apartment in the Diamond Hill district near the James River, not far from downtown Lynchburg.

Johnny’s family lived 800 miles away in Maine, but Kim Cashman called her son every day to make sure he was taking care of himself and not getting into trouble. And she had reason to worry: Johnny had struggled with alcohol addiction for years, and he had been arrested several times in the past when his drinking had led to choices such as driving under the influence and assault. Johnny also battled with depression, and Kim worried about him being on his own.

So when Johnny suddenly stopped communicating, Kim knew immediately that something was wrong.

The last time Johnny spoke with his family was on April 14, 2022. After that, he no longer responded to texts or calls. This was completely out of character for him – even when he was in dire straits, he always talked to his family.

For days, the Cashmans tried to reach out to Johnny, but eventually they knew they needed real help. On April 19th – five days after their last contact – Kim called the Lynchburg Police Department and asked them to perform a welfare check at Johnny’s apartment.

Officers knocked on Johnny’s door several times that morning with no response. Finally, they were able to make contact with the landlord and get a key. When they entered the apartment, they found Johnny slumped over on the floor. He was declared dead at the scene.

Johnny’s family was devastated by the news. Of course, they wanted to know what happened: Were there any signs of violence? Had his depression led to him taking his own life? Had Johnny suffered?

The officers who found Johnny’s body told the family that it appeared he hadn’t suffered, that he had passed alone in the apartment after a medical emergency. The Cashmans asked if there would be an autopsy performed, but the police said no – the case was closed, no autopsy was needed. The family made arrangements for Johnny’s body to be cremated.

Ten days later, Johnny’s ex-girlfriend went to the apartment to gather some of Johnny’s things for his family. But when she opened the door, she encountered a horrifying scene: there was blood everywhere.

Pictures from the scene are incredibly graphic, almost too terrible to describe. The ex-girlfriend later described it as “an abundant amount of blood”, and she wasn’t exaggerating. Blood trailed through the hallway, smeared on the floors. Bloody streaks and handprints lined the walls, and large blood stains could be seen on the doors and windows. But the worst of it was in the bathroom, where blood covered every surface in massive amounts. I will link the images on the podcast website, but please be aware that they are difficult to look at.

Shaken by what she was seeing, the ex-girlfriend thankfully had the wherewithal to document everything and not disturb the scene any more than she had already had. Coincidentally, she ran into Johnny’s neighbor in the outer hallway and explained what she had seen. The neighbor told her that she had a security camera above her door that would have captured anyone coming in or out of Johnny’s apartment in the last few weeks. Maybe they could get some answers.

The two women began sorting through the video clips saved by the door camera, scrolling back to the day Johnny last talked to his family. Then, they saw it. At 3:03pm on April 14th, Johnny was caught on camera coming up the stairs and entering his apartment. He looked perfectly fine. There was no indication that he was ill or injured in any way.

As Johnny entered his apartment, the camera kept recording. Less than a minute after Johnny closed the door behind him, voices were heard coming from inside the apartment. I’m going to play the audio for you, but be forewarned – it is difficult to listen to, and it contains profanity.

(begin inserted audio clip)

Yo dude, what the f***? (banging) What are you doing? (banging) Yo, what the f*** dude? What are you doing, man? (banging) Stop, stop! What are you doing? What are you doing, man? Stop! Stop. (banging) (inaudible voice) Stop. F***. (inaudible voice) (banging)

(end inserted audio clip)

At 3:11, just eight minutes after Johnny entered the apartment, the camera recorded a different man exiting the apartment. On the video, he closes the door behind him and starts heading down the stairs. But before he reaches the bottom, he turns around and goes back up to the apartment door. He pulls his shirt sleeve over his hand and wipes down the door handle. Then, he goes back downstairs and disappears. Seconds later, a voice, presumably Johnny, is heard through the apartment door shouting, “Help! Help! Help!” The video kept recording for five more minutes; all that could be heard was scraping sounds and a few thuds before the video ended at 3:17pm. No one else was seen coming in or out of the apartment until five days later when police arrived to do a welfare check.

Johnny’s ex-girlfriend immediately sent all the videos and pictures to Johnny’s sister Sara. Sara later described the moment she saw the messages – she went completely numb. Then, she jumped into action, calling the detective in charge of Johnny’s case. “I called and left him a pleading voicemail, ‘Please call me. I don’t know what’s happening, but something is wrong — something is happening that we weren’t aware of.’”

Johnny’s neighbor turned over the videos to police that same day, and the next morning, officers were back at the apartment supposedly collecting more evidence, although it’s not clear what was taken. By this point, Johnny had been dead for over two weeks, and the apartment had been left in that horrible state for 10 days.

Aside from the officers’ baffling decision to not process the scene immediately after finding Johnny’s body in the middle of a bloody mess, the family was also infuriated by the fact that police had told them he had died of natural causes and that they didn’t need to do an autopsy.

Sara left multiple messages for the lead detective after seeing the photos of Johnny’s apartment, and she finally got a call back days later. According to Sara, the detective tried to backtrack, saying that he had told them it was a medical emergency, that Johnny had obviously vomited blood everywhere. Maybe he just hadn’t explained it well enough, or the family had misunderstood.

But by now it was too late. Johnny had been cremated – any evidence that could have been collected from his body was gone.

On May 2nd, Lynchburg PD released a still image of the man who had entered Johnny’s apartment and announced that they were looking to identify him so they could question him about the events of April 14th. A week later, they had a name – 34-year-old Steven Michael Church. They believed he was in Tennessee and asked local agencies to help find him.

Meanwhile, the Cashman family was taking matters into their own hands. Sara reached out to Noreen Turyn, an investigative journalist at Lynchburg news station ABC13, and asked her to look into Johnny’s story. Sara believed that the police had not taken Johnny’s case seriously because he had a history of trouble with the law and struggled with alcohol abuse. She told Noreen, “It’s police negligence. And every day I find out so [many] more things that have been ignored.”

Noreen immediately began digging into the case, requesting records from police and the medical examiner’s office. According to a search warrant she obtained from April 19th, police only took 6 swabs of evidence and a white iPhone with “red stains” from the apartment on the day Johnny was found.

I’ll admit, I was stunned when I read that in the search warrant. After walking into a horrifically bloody scene, police decided they only needed to take 6 swabs? Especially when the warrant gave explicit permission for them to retrieve “cutting instruments, blunt objects, firearms… cell phones, clothing, [and] trace evidence.” I can certainly understand why the Cashman family believes Johnny’s death wasn’t taken seriously.

Another mystery is that the affidavit states the search warrant was requested “in relation to an offense substantially described as follows: Violation of Code of Virginia 12.2-32 (Murder).” This means that the detective requesting the warrant specifically stated that they needed access to Johnny’s apartment to investigate a potential murder scene. They had permission to search the apartment for a full nine hours on April 19th, and still, all they collected were 6 swabs of evidence and a white iPhone.

I’m sure I’m not the only one scratching my head right now, trying to figure out how on earth police could walk into such a gruesome scene and not immediately lock the whole thing down. But I think the Cashman family might be right – it was easier for police to believe that Johnny was the victim of a medical emergency rather than investigate a violent crime.

According to the medical examiner’s report obtained by ABC13, the officers at the scene told the medical examiner that they had found Johnny deceased, surrounded by “blood with fecal matter mixed in”. The officers were the ones who told the medical examiner that Johnny had likely died from a gastro-intestinal bleed. The report states that officers indicated there was “no trauma, no drugs, nothing suspicious.” Based solely on the word of these officers, who I assume were not medical professionals, and a “viewing of the body” by a local doctor, the chief medical examiner’s office declined to investigate further. They would not do an autopsy.

On May 23rd, Lynchburg police announced that they had located Steven Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and had spoken to him about his encounter with Johnny on April 14th.

According to Steven, he had come to Lynchburg for work in early April, but the job had fallen through and he found himself without a place to stay. At some point he had met Johnny, who offered to let Steven stay at his apartment for a few days while he looked for another job. Steven told detectives that in the short time they spent together, Johnny always had a drink in his hand and would drink to excess every single day, sometimes getting so drunk that he would vomit.

Steven said he was in the apartment on April 14th when Johnny came home around 3pm, drunk and belligerent. He said Johnny immediately started yelling at him for stealing his clothes and not paying rent. Steven said he was the one heard on video telling Johnny to stop. Finally, he just decided to leave, not wanting to get in a fight with a drunk person. According to Steven, when he left, Johnny was hunched over the toilet as if he was going to be sick.

Detectives said that Steven was shocked when they showed him pictures of the bloody apartment. He hadn’t thought Johnny was in that much distress when he left, and he was already exiting the building by the time Johnny was heard calling for help on the security video.

When detectives asked Steven about his decision to come back up the stairs and wipe down the door handle, Steven admitted that it was strange, but he already had several arrests on his record for aggravated burglary and didn’t want to be accused of squatting at Johnny’s apartment. Obviously his fingerprints would be all over the apartment if he had been staying there for a few days, but for some reason he felt that wiping down the door handle would keep him from getting arrested.

Detectives took pictures of Steven’s shoes and determined that the tread pattern didn’t match any of the footprints at the scene. Keep in mind that this is a full six weeks after Johnny’s death; it’s possible that Steven had changed shoes since then. But detectives believed that the footprints in the blood belonged to Johnny and no one else.

In all fairness, it is possible that Johnny had some sort of medical emergency on April 14th. There are gastro-intestinal conditions that can cause severe reactions such as vomiting blood and loss of bowel control. Johnny had a long history of alcohol abuse, which could have severely damaged his liver. The video shows Johnny climbing the stairs with a glass of dark liquid in his hand, and his family admitted that he could very well have been drunk that day. It’s possible that less than a minute after Steven Church left the apartment, Johnny’s body began to break down, and he called out for help.

But Sara told ABC13 that her brother went to the doctor regularly and had even had a full physical exam just four months before his death. His medical records indicate that he had no known GI-related issues and was only being treated for anxiety, bipolar disorder, and high blood pressure. The Cashman family does not believe that Johnny had a medical emergency on April 14th.

On October 7, 2022, the Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney announced that no charges would be filed in the death of Johnny Cashman.

In a written statement, Commonwealth’s Attorney Bethany Harrison said, “Given the pattern of blood loss by Cashman, that there were no other shoe patterns in the blood other than his own, that his medical history and current prescriptions and risk factors were consistent with his death resulting from a fatal medical event, no evidence of external trauma to his body, and that Cashman’s body was cremated preventing law enforcement from examining his body further, there is insufficient evidence to bring any criminal charges against Steven Church for the death of John Cashman.”

Harrison ended the statement with a note to the family. “It is regretful that Mr. Cashman died in such a manner and that his family had to witness the shocking scene. I hope the conclusion of this investigation can give some form of closure to the family as they continue to mourn the loss of their loved one.”

The Cashman family was understandably upset by this decision. Sara told ABC13, “No, this doesn’t give us closure. This is a punch in the gut. This is a ‘Hey we are not going to bother to investigate this further because we don’t want the police department to get in trouble. We don’t want the medical examiner’s office to get in trouble.’… None of this would have been given a second look had we not gone to [ABC13]. They didn’t investigate until we reached out and said hey something happened here.”

In my opinion, Sara is right. Whether Johnny died as a result of a medical emergency or foul play, his death was not investigated properly. Officers from the Lynchburg Police Department did not correctly communicate the circumstances of his death to his family, and it resulted in his body being cremated rather than preserved for examination. Very little evidence was taken from the scene, and that horrific scene was left for a grieving family to discover on their own. Because of these missteps, whether intentional or not, the Cashman family will never truly know what happened to Johnny that fateful day.

Sara spoke tearfully to journalist Noreen Turyn when she first began looking into Johnny’s case, and I think her words sum up this story perfectly. “Johnny was a really good person. He had a really big heart, and no matter what he was going through or he had done in his past, it should not be this easy to just discard a human life.”