With Help of Killer, Woman's Remains May Soon Be Found
Saturday, October 25, 2008; Page B03
Two weeks before she disappeared in 1996, Shaquita Bell told D.C. homicide detectives that she heard her boyfriend describe how he fatally shot a man in a gunfight. Police later suspected that the boyfriend, Michael Dickerson, killed Bell to prevent her from testifying against him. And for years, they tried in vain to find her body.
Now, with Dickerson's help, they might be close to ending the mystery.
Dickerson, charged in January with murder, is nearing the end of a prison term for a weapons offense. He earlier served more than eight years for assaulting Bell with a gun shortly before she vanished. Last week, he admitted in D.C. Superior Court that he shot Bell in Southeast Washington in June 1996, wrapped her body in a blanket, put it in a car trunk, drove to woods and buried it in a deep hole.
And as part of a plea bargain, Dickerson, 39, agreed to help police find her remains. Bell's anguished mother, Jackie Winborne, who has urged police over the years to keep looking for her, said yesterday that Dickerson has led investigators to a wooded area in Fort Washington.
But Bell's body has not turned up.
"It would mean the completion of things after all this time," Winborne, of Alexandria, said by telephone. "We just didn't know what was going to happen at first, whether she'd return home or if she had, in fact, been murdered. We know she was murdered now. So finding her would finalize things, at least.
"If we find her, then I'll be satisfied," she said. "But that hasn't happened yet."
Bell, a bakery clerk at a Giant supermarket, was a mother of three. "She'd be 35 now," Winborne said.
D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier disclosed during an appearance Thursday on News Channel 8 that Dickerson was helping police look for the body.
"Her mother, Jackie, for the last 12 years, every year in June [she] came to police headquarters and protested," Lanier said. "She kept her daughter's murder very much in the forefront."
Describing the search as "an arduous process," even with Dickerson's help, the chief said: "For Shaquita Bell's family, there is nothing more important than recovering her. And for us -- and we are presently looking -- if we recover Shaquita, it'll be the best day in 18 years of law enforcement for me."
Dickerson pleaded guilty Oct. 16 to second-degree murder in Bell's death. In return, prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 15 years in prison without parole eligibility. In addition, Dickerson admitted culpability for the fatal shooting that Bell heard him talking about. As part of the plea deal, he will not be prosecuted for that slaying, which occurred during a shootout in Southeast.