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Oct 2, 2023

Murderer of a Polk County deputy and two others in 1981 dies in Florida prison

Media Contact: Brian Bruchey, PIO

More than 42-years after the murders of Polk County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Theron Burnham, Ray Beasley, and William Evans, their killer died Saturday, September 30, 2023, at the age of 74 while receiving ongoing medical treatment at a hospital while in the custody of the Union County Correctional Institution. 

Paul B. Johnson was convicted in 1981 of three counts of first-degree murder, plus robbery (two counts), kidnapping, arson, and attempted first-degree murder (two counts) for his violent actions that began just after midnight on January 9, 1981.

“Three innocent people were violently and viciously murdered that night in 1981 during an all-night meth-induced crime spree, and I personally lost a good friend in Deputy Theron Burnham. Johnson was captured by SWAT during a manhunt, and I had the pleasure of being one of two deputies to take him to jail. I am glad he hasn’t enjoyed a day of freedom since then, but the truth is, he should have been executed by the State a long time ago. Ultimately though, there is one final judgement he has to face—and based on the kind of person he was, I doubt that goes well for him.”Grady Judd, Sheriff
Theron Burnham
Johnson’s first victim was cab driver William Evans, who was robbed and fatally shot. The victim’s vehicle was then set on fire.

Johnson then got a ride with Ray Beasley and Amy Reid. When Johnson shot and killed Beasley, Reid fled to get help.

Deputy Theron Burnham responded to the scene and was fatally shot by Johnson with Burnham’s firearm. Burnham’s gun was never recovered.

Following his conviction in September of 1981, Johnson was sentenced to death for the murders, but due to appeals and changes in sentencing guidelines, Johnson managed to elude execution right up until his death in prison.