The incidents shook the small, quiet towns where they took place.
“One victim’s son told us, ‘This is a small town. Everyone here knows me or my dad,’” said Special Agent Wesley Leatham, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Knoxville Field Office along with FBI Task Force Officer Mark Webber of the Knox County Sheriff’s Department. “It really caused a lot of worry and concern in these communities.”
A break in the case came when a tipster saw a couple driving a rental car that matched the description of the robbers’ car and told local police. Pawn shop employees also confirmed that Small had been seen pawning stolen jewelry and other items.
Investigators found overwhelming evidence against the couple once they were identified, including incriminating evidence on their cell phones. Several victims also identified Johnson and Small based on photos.
The couple lived in West Virginia, and they used Small’s employer, a family paving business, to find some of their elderly victims. In other cases, investigators aren’t certain how the robbers targeted their victims, but they were all in their 70s, 80s, or 90s.