Kendrick Johnson’s Emergence into Pop Culture

In a list of “25 Of The Weirdest Places Human Bodies Have Been Found,” Kendrick Johnson is named in a short paragraph, with a picture that is not even of the same kind of mat — though plenty of pictures of the real thing have appeared online. A charming website called “50 More Ways to Die an Unnatural Death” does not name KJ but acknowledges Unnatural Death #25 as “Asphyxiation after being rolled into a gym mat”

There’s a mention on a rabidly racist page whose mildest remark is, “I call it extremely funny!”

When writer Matthew Clemens discusses the eternal question, “Where do you get your ideas?” the example he gives is of a news item that captured his attention.

The story concerned a male high school student found dead in a rolled up gym mat. Horrendous enough, right? The gist of the story concerned the following facts, though. The coroner ruled the boy’s death accidental. Weird. But when the boy’s body was returned to the family for burial, after an autopsy, it was discovered that the young man’s internal organs were missing. Weirder, still.

Clemens explains that he has also been thinking about a protagonist (hero) for a story, who would be an amateur detective/high school student. Perfect! He goes on to list possible “what if” questions that could be fleshed out into a plot, and asks his mentees to “Enjoy the magic.”

What if my protagonist is the one to find the body?
What if the missing organs are not for sale on the black market (becoming a cliche), but were removed to hide the true cause of death, or for some other reason?
What if the coroner wasn’t the one to remove them?
What if the dead boy was a drug dealer?
What if the dead boy was a straight A student and a goody-two-shoes?
The questions go on and on.

Indeed they do, Mr. Clemens. They certainly do.

On his website, an attorney named Scott Newmark uses the KJ case as an example of the kind of thing he investigates. Clemens and Newmark are not the only professionals to find value in this story. But its appearance on a website called Blendspace is not easy to assimilate. The site is a resource for teachers, where apparently, free-lancers create lesson plans. The relevant lesson, which is not in very good English, concerns the William Faulkner story “A Rose for Emily.”blendspaceIt starts with a short video bio of Faulkner, then an explanation of his short story and a writing exercise. Then, “Divide students into three groups to analyze the poem by Emily Dickienson [sic], the children [sic] story, “Raindrop,” and the newpaper [sic] article ‘Gym mat death shocker.’”

Next comes the Emily Dickinson poem that seems to relate to Faulkner’s story. And then, a link to one of the many pieces of journalism relating to KJ – “Gym mat death shocker: Body stuffed with newspaper” from

Then, a vocabulary lesson for the words pertaining to the poem, followed by a 21-minute audio reading of the Faulkner story. Then, ten English-teacher-ish questions about the story. Then, discussion questions about the story. And another writing assignment about it, and a picture of the real Emily’s house.

There is no explanation of how KJ fits into any of this, and it is quite puzzling.

Perhaps the most bizarre mention of “Death by gym equipment” is a comic book story. Though it was published long before KJ died, it seems to belong here anyway. Published in May of 2008, it references a Marvel superhero called Daredevil.daredevilThe character is described as having “almost met with the most pathetic and awkward demise in all of comicdom.” We quote:

Here’s a page (the first of Vol 1 #50) that shows Daredevil in a rather awkward position. While we can safely assume that most superheroes don’t actually want to die on the job, they would probably prefer a more glamorous fate than the one that awaits Matt in this story, should they ever run out of luck. What could possibly be more embarrasing [sic]than having Starr Saxon send his “indestructable [sic] fighting robot” to your gym, kidnap you and roll you up in one of your own gym mats?

About Pat Hartman

Before publishing the two books "Call Someplace Paradise" and "Ghost Town: A Venice California Life", my main project was "Salon: A Journal of Aesthetics. " I wrote extensively for "Scene," a monthly arts and entertainment magazine with a circulation of 25,000. Also proofread, sold ads, put together the music calendar and, for a couple of years, served as editor. Presided over a couple issues of the local NORML newsletter, as well as being featured speaker at chapter meetings. Wrote a complete screenplay; collaborated on another one; worked on a couple of scripts (additional dialog and general brainstorming) with an indie film producer. Booked the talent for a large music festival. Wrote, designed, illustrated and produced various catalogs and brochures for small businesses. Spoke at a high school as a panelist on Women in the Professions; was a featured speaker at the 1991 Women in Libertarianism Conference; presented public programs on "Success in One Lesson" and "The Bloomsbury Group: What's It To Us?" Created the website and wrote many politically-oriented pieces for
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