Alleged Killer on the Loose Armed and Dangerous

Armed and dangerous, Justin P. Welch is on the loose. 

Welch, 26, escaped the custody of guards in the wee hours of January 13 at a rest stop in Van Buren, Arkansas.  Reports indicate that Welch stabbed and disarmed one guard then fired at another near I-40.  Welch then gained access to the prisoner transport van and fled eastbound on the interstate. 

In November, a criminal complaint charged Welch as a party to a crime to the First Degree Intentional Homicide of Kimberly Smith. 

On October 1, Smith’s live-in boyfriend, Timothy McMickle, discovered Smith unresponsive and bloody at their Oconomowoc, Wisconsin residence around 8:30 a.m.  First responders found that Smith, who had expired, had her hands bound together.  An autopsy revealed that the Smith died of multiple stab wounds. 

Searching the area near the crime scene, officers located a knife and pair of bloody gloves in a sewer a short distance from the residence.  DNA from inside a rubber glove matched a sample in the National Data Bank collected from Justin Patrick Welch during a stint in a California prison. Investigators showed Welch’s photograph to Smith’s family and friends, but they had never seen the man before.  Moreover, Welch did not have any ties to Wisconsin.

When contacted by investigators, the suspect’s estranged wife, Ariele Welch, reported that she visited Justin Welch in Rosarito, Mexico in May 2009 and that the suspect may be using the name of his step-brother, Ricky G. Freeman. The suspect’s mother knew that Justin Welch had resided with a man named “Jack.”

Oconomowoc Detective Andrew Rich later called “Jack’s” telephone number and identified the man as Jack E. Johnson, who stated that his best friend is Darren M. Wold—Kimberly Smith’s ex-boyfriend and the father of the victim’s four-year-old son. Court records, as well as Wold’s attorney, drew a picture of a “highly acrimonious” child custody dispute.

Working in conjunction with a Wells Fargo fraud investigator, detectives obtained records from Jack E. Johnson’s debt card.  Johnson had purchased an American Airlines ticket for a September 28, 2009 trip from San Diego to Milwaukee—36 miles to the east of Oconomowoc—for Ricky G. Freeman.  Records from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security showed that Johnson and Freeman entered the U.S. from Mexico five hours prior to the flight’s departure. Freeman’s return flight left Milwaukee on October 1 at 10:45 a.m.

Another witness from a Walmart store in Lubbock, Texas, where Darren Wold resided, told investigators Jack Johnson sent a $700 money gram to Wold on September 25. Johnson picked-up the money gram at a Walmart in San Deigo on September 26.  Detectives continued to follow the money trail that painted a picture of a murder for hire scheme.

Investigators canvassed area hotels and soon discovered that Freeman — the alias used by Welch — had rented a room at the Lake Country Inn in Oconomowoc. Telephone records showed several calls from the inn to Johnson’s telephone.  On the day Kimberly Smith was murdered, an employee from the Lake Country Inn reported giving Freeman a ride to Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.

Welch, Wold, and Johnson face charges of being parties to the crime of Kimberly Smith’s murder.  If convicted, all three could receive a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Welch’s daring escape is proof that he doesn’t plan on going quietly into the night.  Let’s hope the prisoner transport vehicle is equipped with a GPS system and that Welch is taken into custody before he can harm others. 

For updates on the search for Justin P. Welch, visit, the Web site of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.


Steven Spingola is a retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler.

Follow Steve Spingola (MilwSpinny) at Twitter.

Copyright, Steven Spingola, Wales, WI 2010

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