Fayette Co. Coroner: Chef likely died in pain

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by Brooke Hasch

WHAS11.com

Posted on January 26, 2014 at 9:52 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 27 at 8:01 PM

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WHAS11) -- The coroner who helped identify the body of a missing Lexington man is speaking out about the crime.

Fayette County Coroner Gary Ginn says Alex Johnson likely died in pain last month shortly before his body was dumped in the Kentucky River.

"This is the result of somebody being very cruel," Gary Ginn, the Fayette County Coroner said.

The Lexington Fire Department spent Friday evening searching for evidence along the Kentucky River, hoping to find clues surrounding Johnson's disappearance. What they found was a sealed 55-gallon barrel with Johnson's body inside it.

"There were injuries to his body from some type of weapon or some type of means to hit someone with," Ginn said.

Johnson was killed after several blows to his head, according to the coroner, who also said the body had likely been in the barrel and in the river for about a month.

"The person or persons that took his life did put him in the barrel and put the barrel in the river," Ginn said.  "We think that happened fairly close to the time of his death."

The coroner confirmed the barrel was the evidence search crews were looking for Friday as they checked the Kentucky River near Riptides Restaurant, but would not say what led police to the location.

Johnson was a chef at the Hilary J. Boone Center at the University of Kentucky. He went missing on December 20 of last year. Police say he was on the phone with his girlfriend that night when he heard a knock at the door at his home on North Hanover Avenue, in Lexington. He hung up the phone and that's the last time anyone heard from Johnson. His family immediately began asking for help through social media, hoping to find Johnson alive. A Facebook page, called "Justice for Alex" gained more than 14,000 likes.

But just last week, police arrested two men they say were acquaintances with Johnson. Timothy Ballard is charged with kidnapping and tampering with evidence. Robert Taylor was arrested near the Mexican border, charged with tampering with evidence, kidnapping and the murder of Alex Johnson.

"Always a little bit of a rainbow just simply because the fire department was able to find the remains so the family will be able to have those remains to be able to bury," Ginn said.

There's still no word from police on why Johnson was killed but the coroner said he was found fully clothed and there was also money in the barrel.

Funeral arrangements will be held in Bowling Green at J.C. Kirby & Son Funeral Chapel.

Our sister station WTVQ in Lexington contributed to this report

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