A task force of police from three jurisdictions searched a desolate, wooded area near Accokeek in southern Prince George's County yesterday for evidence they believed might link the murder of 13-year-old Arlene Flowers, whose body was found there March 2, with two other slayings.
In all, 35 police officers and officials from the District, Prince George's and Charles County spent about five hours combing the rough terrain along Mattawoman Creek. They declined to say whether any clues had been found.
The search was organized because there appear to be similarities between the Flowers slaying and the two other unsolved murders, police said. In each case, a young woman apparently was kidnaped in the District, taken to the area of the creek separating Prince George's and Charles counties, raped and killed.
"Since two other bodies were recovered in the same general location that Arlene Flowers was found, we decided to look for evidence that might connect the two arrested suspects with the two unsolved murders," said Capt. Jimmy Wilson, head of the District's homicide branch.
John K. Johnson and Clifford L. Johnson, both 26 and both of Accokeek, were arrested Saturday and charged with murdering Flowers, who was abducted Feb. 20 as she was returning to her home in the Valley Green housing project in Southeast Washington from a late-night errand.
The two unsolved murders are those of Vickie L. Belk, who was 28 when she was kidnaped, raped and shot to death in August 1979, and whose body was found in Charles County near the creek, and Deborah A. Brooks, 17 when she was raped and stabbed to death in November 1980, whose body was found by deer hunters in an area about 200 feet from where Flowers' body was later discovered.
"We're putting our heads together on this because we're all connected to the cases," said Capt. James Gartland of the Charles County sheriff's office. Police said that in light of the fact that several young girls from Southeast have been missing for more than a year, yesterday's search was in part a search for possible evidence in those cases.
Capt. Gartland said 17 teams of men and dogs trudged through approximately two square miles of marshy and "nasty" landscape and parts of the chilly creek yesterday, uncovering several pocketbooks, a pair of women's boots, a woman's sweater and other items. Police expect to complete the search today.
At a bond hearing for John and Clifford Johnson in Prince George's District Court on Monday, the brutal details of Flowers' murder were read to Judge Bess Lavine in a successful effort to persuade her to order the men, who are cousins, jailed without bond.
Charles Kiess, an investigator in the Prince George's state's attorney's office, said in court that Flowers was abducted at about 1 a.m. on Feb. 20 a few blocks from her apartment building on Valley Avenue SE.
Kiess said that the suspects allegedly forced her into a vehicle at gunpoint and took her to John Johnson's trailer, located in the rear of a house on Livingston Road in southern Prince George's. There, both men allegedly raped her repeatedly.
Hours later, Kiess alleged, she was forced back into the vehicle and driven to a wooden bridge on Sharperville Road spanning a narrow section of Mattawoman creek.
At that location, Flowers was forced out of the vehicle and Clifford Johnson allegedly shot her once in the back with a sawed-off shotgun, Kiess told the court. Flowers' body was then picked up and dropped into the shallow creek about 20 feet below, Kiess alleged.
Last November, John Johnson, an unemployed construction worker, was convicted in D.C. Superior Court on a charge of assault with intent to kill while armed. According to court records, he fired several shots at a young woman in Southeast. He was given 24 months' probation.
Clifford Johnson, who police said was a caretaker at Arlington National Cemetery, is on probation in connection with a burglary conviction in Tennessee.