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Gilliam met Gary Neal Johnson while hitchhiking in San Jose, California in 1977. A photo of Johnson is posted below this case summary. Gilliam was 17 years old at the time and in high school; Johnson was 12 years older than her and lived with his parents while selling automotive chemicals. According to Johnson, Gilliam had an unhappy and allegedly abusive home life at the time. Johnson stated that Gilliam had many siblings and acted as the caregiver to the children. Johnson claimed he witnessed Gilliam's mother abuse her daughter shortly after they began dating. Gilliam decided to leave her residence shortly afterwards and she and Johnson hitchhiked to Kansas together.
Johnson said that he and Gilliam were happy in Kansas, but had financial problems and returned to San Jose to live with his parents six months later. Gilliam was employed in a hospital and earned her GED (General Education Development) and her California Nurse's Aide license. She and Johnson moved into an apartment in the 200 block of Union Avenue in Campbell, California when their finances allowed it.
The couple embarked on a six-week camping trip through the United States during the late spring of 1979. They returned to San Jose and found new jobs in June of that year. Gilliam had been employed at Skyline Convalescent Hospital as a nurse's aide for three weeks on June 22, 1979. She was sent home from work on that day when she failed to arrive in her uniform. According to Johnson, Gilliam was last seen returning to their residence and disappeared. She has never been seen again.
Johnson visited a psychic who claimed that Gilliam had been picked up by the occupant(s) of a blue vehicle, driven to an unknown location, sexually assaulted and then beaten to death. Johnson said that he searched areas fitting the psychic's description, but never located any evidence related to Gilliam's disappearance. Her case grew cold and remained unsolved over the next several years.
Johnson married in 1985 and began using drugs around that time. He began selling drugs around 1986 and shot and killed an innocent bystander, James J. Carver, while involved in a drug transaction. Johnson was convicted of the murder in the late 1980s. He was also charged with attempting to murder his former wife, but the outcome of that is unknown. Johnson claimed that a prison informant lied to authorities and told them he had admitted to Gilliam's 1979 murder. Johnson was charged with the crime and brought to trial in California. Several of Gilliam's family members testified that they believed Johnson was responsible for her death. He was convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Johnson maintains his innocence and is hoping to build public support in order to overturn his conviction for Gilliam's murder. He has accepted responsibility for Carver's death. It is worth noting that if Johnson's conviction for Gilliam's case is overturned, he would become eligible for parole in the future.
Gilliam's body has never been located.