Coming to No Good End

Undertaker Jay Herman shot his lover, Edwina Prosen, to death in 1991. That's the only thing he and her family have agreed on since.

But nobody in the Sweeny Funeral Home would seem to fear the prospects of death by intruder. Johnson had formidable security in the form of three Doberman pinschers and a Rottweiler. Under their bed was a handmade rolling platform covered with shotguns. There were handguns in each nightstand drawer. More shotguns sat in the closet and downstairs in the body preparation room. And another shotgun rested on a rack in the embalming room.

Despite that armament, Edwina Prosen got more insurance a month before she died. She bought a pistol of her own. Robert Prosen said she feared that Johnson would kill her or her son Jeff.

While the confrontations flared in the upstairs rear of the funeral home, unsuspecting clients came to the chapel to pay their last respects. Somber services sent the newly departed on their way. And, Prosen's sons said, their mother herself made plans to move on into another life.

His actions soon after Edwina Prosen's death raised strong questions about who -- or rather, what -- was the real love in Johnson's life.

Yes, he followed in his hearse as the ambulance drove Prosen to the hospital. Johnson waited until she was formally pronounced dead.

And no, authorities told him, they would not release the remains to him. The sons, her next of kin, would not allow it. Instead, an independent transport service moved the body to the Harris County morgue for evidentiary examination and possible autopsy.

Johnson would travel there later that day, but he had another stop first: at the Lake Jackson office of his financial adviser. Johnson said he went there only to confide in the now-deceased adviser, who was his friend. However, the man told investigators, Johnson pressed him for details about the impact of the shooting on lender negotiations to stall the foreclosure of his West Columbia funeral home.

When he called to tell the funeral home he was heading to Houston, Johnson got a surprise.

"Lo and behold, Mr. Jeff answered the phone, which he had no right to do," Johnson testified later. "He didn't have any right to be on the property." Johnson drove the hearse to his home and was upset to find "it was crawling with police." It was still filled with police later that night.

Then-sergeant Charles Davis of the Sweeny Police Department "was jumping up and down like a flea on a skillet," said Johnson, who told officers they were violating his rights.

The next morning, Johnson awoke early and got down to more important matters, at least for him. An officer with the First State Bank of Brazoria said that Johnson was already waiting at the door when he arrived for work. Johnson informed him that there had been accidental life coverage on Edwina Prosen's purchase of her Cadillac. She had died. He was the beneficiary. And he wanted the title.

Loan officer Debbie Mallard told him it would take a few days to process the claim.

Johnson went by the Sweeny Police Department to protest to Chief Murphy about the police investigation. He never mentioned Edwina Prosen or remorse. He said only that he had valuable documents -- the insurance papers -- missing from his home.

Then he headed to Houston in his hearse. He testified later that he and Prosen had a postdeath pact: If anything happened to either of them, the other would handle the personal tasks of embalming and preparing the body.

Jeff Prosen said it was the opposite. His mother had told him that if anything happened to her the family should block Johnson from touching her body or possibly destroying evidence.

Johnson ignored an order from the justice of the peace. As a mortuary insider, he pulled into the body storage area and loaded up Edwina Prosen's remains.

He turned the hearse south toward Sweeny, to their home.
As sunset neared, Brazoria County Deputy Frank Cisneros heard his patrol radio crackle with an unusual dispatch: All units were to be on the lookout for a vehicle believed to be transporting stolen property.

The vehicle was a black Cadillac hearse. The purloined property was a day-and-a-half-old corpse. And the suspect was Johnson.

Cisneros, patrolling along Business 288 near Angleton, pulled him over. He said that with the dim light and tinted windows it was difficult to see if there was a body inside. He called for a supervisor, who arrived, made a cell phone call and ordered Johnson arrested. They impounded the hearse after taking the body to an Angleton funeral home.

In a search of the vehicle, deputies found copies of six-figure insurance policies, other financial documents and a note scrawled by Johnson on subjects to raise to his financial adviser. And they found the body bag with Prosen's remains.

Police jailed him on what would soon be a charge of murder.
In the next few days, Prosen family members provided more fodder for investigators. In clearing out the belongings of their mother and grandmother, they found altered IDs, more insurance policies and documents containing false social security numbers and names.

An attorney for Johnson complained loudly about the family's removing Johnson's items from the residential portion of the funeral home. He filed a theft complaint with police. Sweeny Chief Jerry Murphy said the family offered to return the disputed belongings to Johnson until ownership could be determined. But Johnson refused, so the Prosens turned them over to police -- boxes and boxes of items, including some of the policies and other questionable documents.

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