Lowell, MA

Man Found Strangled to Death in Basement Freezer Years After His Sister Was Murdered


John Wayne Potter.Photo byGoFundMe

Thirty-seven-year-old Massachusetts resident, John Wayne Potter, went missing on the 23rd of November 2022. John Wayne had been living in Lowell at 190 Coburn Street with his sister and multiple roommates. His sister said she hadn’t seen John since the day before Thanksgiving. When he didn’t attend his family’s Thanksgiving celebration, everyone knew something was alarmingly wrong.

John's father tried to contact him by cell phone, but it was turned off. He then went to the police station to report his adult son missing.

A few days later, John Wayne was found dead, packed into a basement freezer.

His 38-year-old roommates were charged with kidnapping and have both pleaded not guilty. However, they claim a third person is the actual murderer.

On the 29th of November, a call came into dispatch and the woman on the other end said she knew where John Wayne was. He was being held hostage inside a home on Coburn Street. She said she believed Potter was in the basement of that house, or that he might have been buried in the backyard on the property.

The woman also told authorities that her son had witnessed the residents of the home, Michael Burke and Samantha Perry, attack John on November 23rd, the very same day he disappeared. She said she was certain the victim was either gravely hurt or already dead.

On the 2nd of December, police arrived at 190 Colburn Street to do a welfare check on the missing man and discovered a lot more than they expected to find. There was clear evidence inside that someone had been held against their will. Something sinister had happened.

Equipped with a search warrant, law enforcement searched the basement of the home where they found a wooden chair covered in duct tape. The police then opened the freezer nearby and saw the torso of a deceased male. Bruises covered his back and there was still duct tape wrapped around his arms and chest.

His whole body had been stuffed in headfirst.

His family had to come in and positively identify him.

Samantha Perry and Michael Burke.Photo byMy Crime Library

Police believe his roommates had restrained him at the home and beaten him before he died. Michael Burke and Samantha Perry were arrested and charged with John’s kidnapping.

Prosecutors say the pair tied him up with rope, wire, and duct tape. John was strangled to death with a rope and his lifeless body was shoved into the basement freezer. His body remained there until it was found a week later.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s office says there was plenty of evidence to prove that he was restrained inside the home before his death. The motive remains unknown.

According to court documents, Perry and Burke were the ones who carried the victim’s dead body to the freezer and stuffed him inside. Although they do admit to concealing the victim in the freezer, they say they did not kill John, rather another person did. They claim they were forced to watch as this third person strangled John Wayne to death.

Prosecutors say the suspects are identifying the killer only by the nickname “Superstar” and that this unidentified suspect held them at gunpoint, forcing them to restrain the missing man. Perry said that after tying John Wayne to the chair, Superstar demanded she cut a section of rope so that they could use it to strangle the victim to death.

Perry then told prosecutors that Superstar had worn gloves while the killing occurred and therefore the only DNA investigators would find on the rope would be her own.

<img src="https://miro.medium.com/v2/0*vaMzDEcvNQkIOGNV.jpg" style="width:100%;border-radius:10px;margin-top:0" data-caption="Tabitha Potter, John Wayne Potter’s sister, was murdered in 1999." data-credit="Cape Cod Times" data-externalurl=""/>
Tabitha Potter, John Wayne Potter’s sister, was murdered in 1999.Photo byCape Cod Times

Unfortunately, there’s an ironic twist to this story.

This wasn’t the first tragedy to befall the Potter family. In 1999, John Wayne’s little sister, Tabitha Potter, was murdered at only 11 years old. She was found buried in a shallow grave in Lowell Park. Her abductor had raped and strangled her.

Tabitha’s killer, a local housepainter by the name of James Howley, hanged himself mere days after her murder, preventing himself from ever being brought to justice.

Those closest to John Wayne say he was a loving man, a bright spark in the world, and will be missed by everyone who was ever lucky enough to meet him. John’s stepmother is living with the nightmare of what horrors he must have experienced in his last moments.

“I can’t even sleep, I can’t shut my eyes, because all I see is whoever is bashing Johnny’s head,” she said. “It’s terrible, it’s a terrible, terrible feeling.”

Charges have yet to be filed against anyone in regard to John Wayne Potter’s death. The family is still waiting for answers as to who is responsible for the vicious murder of their loved one.

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Investigative Journalist

New York, NY

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