Details of Disappearance Johnston was last seen at Debbie Griffiths's apartment at a motel in Brigham City, Utah on July 22, 1981. He had met her for the first time at a bar the previous evening and they talked and played pool together.
Rudy Matthew Rebeterano was also at the bar and was jealous because she was paying attention to Johnston. He and Griffiths had divorced in 1979 but remained friendly with each other. Rebeterano had a history of being violently jealous of any man who approached Griffiths and, several months before, had tried to run over a man who was helping Griffiths move some furniture.
At 5:30 a.m. on July 22, Johnston and Griffiths went to her apartment and she asked him to escort her inside because she was afraid Reberterano might be there. He was. Reberterano shouted at Johnston, and Griffiths quickly left the apartment, leaving the two men behind.
As she did, she heard scuffling noises and a loud groan, as if someone had been hit in the abdomen. She ran outside and under a bridge across the street. From this position, Griffiths watched Reberterano leave her apartment carrying a large white bundle, which he placed in the trunk of Johnston's 1972 Ford Torino. He drove the vehicle away, down Main Street.
Griffiths called the police, who arrived at her apartment at 6:08 a.m. and found fresh blood spattered all over. The blood was Type A, which is Johnston's type; Reberterano's blood type is O. A white sheet had been removed from Griffiths's bed and several kitchen knives were missing.
Later that day, Johnston's vehicle was located. There was Type A blood on the rear bumper and a large puddle of Type A blood soaked into the trunk mat. A Zippo lighter and two Pall Mall cigarettes, items Johnston normally carried in his shirt pocket, were inside the trunk.
On August 6, two weeks after Johnston's disappearance, a maintenance worker found a knife on the roof of the motel where Griffiths lived. Griffiths identified it as one of knives that had disappeared from her apartment the night of Johnston and Rebeterano's altercation.
The knife had a spot of blood on the handle, either Type A or Type B; authorities were unable to determine which. Late in August, Reberterano took a polygraph in Johnston's case. The exam indicated he was being deceptive when he claimed he hadn't cut or stabbed Johnston.
Rebeterano was subsequently charged with Johnston's murder. He claimed he was innocent and Johnston was alive. At the trial, his defense attorney admitted the two men had gotten into a physical altercation on the day of Johnston's disappearance, but said Rebeterano had simply bloodied Johnston's nose and then left.
He was convicted of second-degree felony homicide and sentenced to prison. Rebeterano was released from custody after five years and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Johnston's remains have never been found, but authorities are continuing to search for them.
- Brigham City Police Department
Updated 2 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated July 21, 2012; distinguishing characteristics and details of disappearance updated.