Instant shock registered on the faces of those in the crowd who knew Vonda. Now, the body had a name. It was no longer just an unidentified corpse lying naked in a yard covered by a white sheet. Many knew her. She was a fun-loving young woman who worked to support her two children. She enjoyed socializing and was a regular at the American Legion Hall's weekend parties.
The body in the yard became more than a body when Ronnie Johnson showed up. Most people in the neighborhood knew Ronnie. He was Vonda's boyfriend. Ronnie spent several hours looking for her when he learned that she didn't come home the night before. When he saw the body, his fists curled up, and his face grimaced as he tried to hold back the tears. He walked around in a circle waving one hand in the air with the other on his head in utter disbelief. He went to pieces and his emotions poured out.
Even though he teared up at the sight of her body some in the crowd remembered the argument he had with her at the American Legion Hall. They remembered the look on her face when she saw him with another woman and how they argued outside the Hall just hours before her death. Even as he cried, some connected the dots. Was his show of emotion a sham? He didn't seem to have any feeling for her the night before. If there was any love or concern for her, he certainly didn't show it the last time he saw her. He was not crying then. The crowd condemned him even before the facts were known.
Vonda lived with Ronnie Johnson for four years, but she never married him. He was 28-years-old and a former military man. He loved Vonda and she loved him, off and on. After four years of playing house at locations on Griffin Street and then on Booker Street, in June of 1976, he moved out. Although they loved each other, more often than not, they were like water and oil. They couldn't get along. They said things to aggravate each other. She would yell, he would yell back, and then he would stomp out of the house.
He spent the entire eight months after he moved out trying to get back in her favor. He called continuously or came by riding his motorcycle. Despite being estranged, they were attracted to each other like flies to the sweet nectar of a Venus fly trap. Three days before her body was found, he had spent the night with her.. They satisfied each other's passion under cover of night, but the next morning he was out again.
It was hard to tell who loved whom the most. Vonda loved Ronnie, but sometimes he had other women. That's enough to aggravate any relationship and Vonda was no exception. Love seeks to possess and carve out of the mountain of failed experience a single stone of hope. Like a cherished gem, those who have known love selfishly guard it and jealously rebel against any forces that seek to tear it from their grip. The very thought of someone else sharing his affections, his warm kisses, and strong embrace stirred her anger. Yet, strangely, it also stirred her passion and longing for him. Though she hated his philandering ways, she opened the door to her heart to him repeatedly.
Even as he made love with her that Thursday night, he had a developing relationship with Cindy Richardson. Vonda didn't know her, but she suspected that there was someone. With Ronnie, there was always someone. The fact that there were many others and not just one single person was a consolation; at least they meant little to him. That thought consoled her, but only momentarily. Ronnie was a dog, plain and simple. It was in his nature to philander and sample every woman who gave him an opportunity. He could no more control that dark passion within himself than a dog could curtail a natural urge to chase a cat. Although she loved him, she would not let him move back in because he would hurt her again as he had so many times in the past. Theirs was a flawed relationship held together by the power of their physical chemistry, but doomed to failure. She called it love, but sometimes, she called it hate. He shared the same feelings, but he was unable to limit himself to one woman when there were so many available to him.
By Sunday, the day of her death, February 21, 1977, she was thoroughly frustrated with him. He appeared in her life, made love to her, and then disappeared just as quickly. Sometimes he called, sometimes he didn't. Sometimes he gave excuses; sometimes, he didn't. He played with her emotions like a joy ride. He carried her to the highest mountains on one day and then dropped her in valleys of depression the next. Loving Ronnie was like riding a roller coaster; it was filled with thrills, twists, and turns, but he always seemed to let her down, at least until the next ride. It was the rides that thrilled her and kept her coming back for more. However, the thrills increasingly came few and far between.
Sunday, Ronnie showed up at her house trying to patch things up. Like a water faucet, her passion for him turned on and off. Today it was off. She was tired of the roller coaster.
"We can work this out, baby!" said Ronnie.
"There ain't nothing to work out. This is not going to work," she responded.
"Look at it this way; we got four years invested in each other, you the one I want," he said.
"That's why you slip over to my house and lay with me one night and then jump on your motorcycle and lay with somebody else the next night?"
"It ain't like that,” he said.
"The hell it ain't," she fired back.
"It ain't like you ain't been around yourself," he said angrily.
"I know you been talking to Frankie Joe. I hear things. I got ears, you know."
"So what? You got your women," she shot back.
Ronnie was always persuasive with Vonda; sometimes, she couldn't resist him, especially if he came close. Ronnie knew that if he could spend a little more time with her, he could patch things up, so he tried to make a date with her for later that night at the American Legion Hall. There, on the dance floor, he could hold her, whisper in her ear, and win her back. It was worth a try. It had worked before; she always melted in his arms.
"Will you go to the Hall with me tonight?"
"I'm going to the Hall, but I ain't going with you," she said, crossing her arms in front of her stubbornly and rolling her eyes.
She knew the plan. She wasn't falling for it this time. He would hug her on the dance floor and press himself up against her. He knew she could not resist. If she went to the Hall with him, she would be putty in his hands before the night ended. She needed to resist him and shock him into the reality that she could have a life without him.
"Why not? Who are you going with?"
"None of your business," she said, irritating him.
"Come on, baby, we can go to the Hall and have a good time together," he said.
"I'm going to have a good time, but it won't be with you."
"Well, I'm going. Since you won't go with me, I'll go with Cindy."
"Yeah, right," Vonda said cynically. She took his threat to bring Cindy to the Hall as an attempt to make her jealous, but it wouldn’t work.
"Oh, you don't believe me, huh?"
"Whatever," she said as she turned away from him and rolled her eyes. It wasn't unusual for Ronnie to say things to upset her, whether they were intentional or not. She believed that his threat to bring someone else to the club was pure fiction, an idle blurb meant to get under her skin. He wouldn't do that if he was standing in her living room, trying to make up with her.
Ronnie stormed out of the house, cranked up his motorcycle and raced down the road.