By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
A District man has been charged in two killings that took place more than 11 years ago, including the slaying of a woman who disappeared from her family's home in Alexandria, D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said yesterday.
Michael Dickerson, 38, a convicted felon, is accused of killing his ex-girlfriend, Shaquita Bell, in the District on June 27, 1996. Investigators have long believed that Dickerson disposed of Bell's body in southern Prince George's County, days before Bell was to testify in an assault case against him. Despite years of intensive searches, her body has not been found.
Dickerson, who is serving a 15-year federal sentence for assaulting Bell in March 1996, is also charged in the killing of Sean A. Thomas, whose body was found with multiple gunshot wounds in the 3000 block of Massachusetts Avenue SE on Feb. 17, 1996. Police released few details on that case.
Lanier said new evidence and witnesses who recently came forward helped revive the Bell investigation. Authorities executed a search warrant on Dickerson's prison cell and searched his family's home in the 3200 block of G Street SE on Jan. 10, officials said.
Lanier and Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced the charges during a news conference at D.C. police headquarters, to the relief of Bell's mother, Jackie Winborne. She and her husband, Thomas, waged a fierce campaign to pressure police to solve the case.
"I can put some closure on what happened to my daughter. I thank God for that," said Winborne, who attended the news conference with her husband. "I've cried a lot of tears, and I've prayed a lot of prayers."
Bell, who worked at a Giant Food bakery, was last seen leaving her grandmother's Alexandria home with Dickerson. Relatives said the couple, who shared a home in Laurel for a time during their stormy two-year relationship, had recently split.
A month earlier, Bell told police that Dickerson had beaten her and held a 9mm gun to her head. The incident was one of several, relatives said, that led police to suspect Dickerson of killing Bell. Relatives said they believe Dickerson killed Bell days before she was due to appear in court as a witness in the assault case because she also might have had information about his role in other crimes.
Relatives have said that Bell, a single mother of three, had been taking notes about Dickerson's activities. Several notes were later found inside Bell's address book that indicated she was thinking about contacting police. "Call homicide," one read, "tell them that the person was killed w/a .380 bullets."
Lanier declined to say whether Bell had information about Thomas's slaying, noting that the investigation is continuing. But she said there is a tie-in, adding, "There is a connection in this case, and the connection is very disturbing."
Bell's mother said several tipsters hinted that Bell might have been buried in a wooded area in Fort Washington. Over the years, the family received other clues, including documents detailing Dickerson's criminal history and a late-night phone call from a woman who said she knew that Bell's body was buried in Fort Washington.
Detectives launched a new search for Bell's body last year when Lanier took a personal interest after hearing Bell's mother talk about the case during a television broadcast on the anniversary of Bell's disappearance. Lanier said she was touched by Winborne's struggle and her persistence.
In July, the D.C. police cadaver canine unit picked up a scent in the area previously pinpointed by tipsters, authorities said. But a three-day search in August led by detectives from D.C. and Prince George's County and a top forensic anthropologist turned up no remains.
"There's not a parent out there that doesn't know the gut-wrenching feeling of your child being missing for five minutes," Lanier said. "For nearly 12 years, Jackie Winborne had to live with that gut-wrenching feeling."
Every year for the past 11 years, Winborne, other family members and friends have commemorated Bell's disappearance and presumed death with public vigils and occasional demonstrations.
"I never gave up. People would tell us, you know, 'You're in denial.' I just kept saying, 'No, it's going to be solved,' " Winborne said.
Dickerson, who is being held in a federal prison in North Carolina, is expected to be extradited to the District in March to face charges in both killings.