Tulsa, OK

Missing Man's Wife's Cousin Charged With His Murder. Authorities Drop The Charges, He Murders Innocent College Student

The Vivid Faces of the Vanished

Ray Nathaniel Johnson Jr.The Charley Project

Ray Nathaniel Johnson Jr. owned Straight Up Auto Sales, a car dealership at 6014 Peoria Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The father of six was described as a workaholic who loved his family. On September 11, 2008, Ray and his wife, Adriene Wherry, spoke on the phone around 11:00 pm. He told her he would be home shortly after he towed a vehicle, reports the Charley Project. When Ray failed to return home or answer phone calls, his wife went to the dealership. The car lot was locked.

Ray was last seen around 11:30 pm on September 11, 2008. He was driving a white 2000 Chevrolet Impala with police decals, sirens, and lights. Ray had recently acquired the former police vehicle. The car was sitting on the lot of the dealership. The vehicle was unlocked, with a window rolled down, and a strong odor of bleach in the car. Adriene called the police and reported her husband missing.

Authorities discovered a bloodstained baseball hat and bloodstained shoe in the trunk of the car that belonged to Ray. The items had been cleaned with bleach, reports the Charley Project.

"It is just so crazy that I don't even know what I feel," Adriene told The Oklahoman. "I don't feel like he is dead. I don't feel like he is gone. I just really don't know what to think."

Gregory Jerome Epperson went to school with Ray Nathaniel Johnson. Gregory Epperson told investigators he is also Adriene's cousin, reports the Tulsa World.

On July 8, 2015, authorities arrested Gregory and charged him with the murder of Ray after he turned himself in. A man, Jarid Taylor, told investigators Gregory made him help dispose of the body of a man in September 2008. He told authorities he went to Gregory's house, where Gregory told him he "got into it with his boy," reports the Tulsa World. Jarid told investigators Gregory was holding a bucket of bleach and using a hose to spray blood down his driveway. He said Gregory put a gun to his head, forced him to help load the body in a vehicle and dump the man in a creek. Jarid told them he did not know Ray, reports the Tulsa World. Gregory denied any involvement in Ray's disappearance or murder.

In January 2016, prosecutors dropped the murder charge against Gregory Epperson.

“We didn’t feel like there was sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, with the evidence we had,” Assistant District Attorney John David Luton told the Tulsa World. “And if we did take it in front of a jury and they found him not guilty, we’d be forever barred against prosecuting him.”

Gregory Epperson was released from jail in January 2016.

On March 20, 2017, Broken Arrow High School graduate Kelsey Tennant was at her apartment in south Tulsa, Oklahoma, near 65th and Mingo Road. The bright and bubbly 19-year-old was studying at Tulsa Community College to become a therapist for people with special needs, reports the Tulsa World.

“She had a big heart for special-needs children,” her mother, Michelle Tennant, said reports the Tulsa World. “She wasn’t intimidated like a lot of people are. She embraced them, and they embraced her right back. You could tell she was genuine. I don’t think she ever didn’t have a huge smile on her face.”

Authorities suspect Gregory Epperson ambushed her at her front door. Gregory severely beat and strangled Kelsey. 18-year-old Riley Allen, Kelsey's boyfriend, arrived at her apartment. The young man planned to propose to his girlfriend. When Riley walked into the apartment, he was attacked by Gregory, who attempted to strangle him. Riley ran to a neighboring apartment for help, who happened to be a friend of Gregory's. Gregory would occasionally stay at the apartment of that friend. Paramedics revived 19-year-old Kelsey, but she later succumbed to her injuries.

In September 2020, Gregory Epperson pled guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison.

Ray Nathaniel Johnson Jr. has never been found.

Gregory EppersonThe Charley Project

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