For about a year, a Baltimore woman allegedly drove a car with a gruesome secret: the dead body of her 7-year-old niece stashed in a suitcase in the trunk. Then in May she allegedly cracked the trunk’s lid to dump the body of her 5-year-old nephew beside it.
It wasn’t until months later that police discovered the decomposing bodies of siblings Joshlyn Marie James Johnson and Larry Darnell O’Neal.
Baltimore County Police said in a statement Thursday night that they were grieving over the “unspeakable deaths” after discovering the kids’ bodies when they pulled 33-year-old Nicole Johnson over in a traffic stop late Wednesday.
Police say the brother and sister, weighing just 21 and 18 pounds respectively, were likely malnourished before their death, WBAL reported. Their fragile bodies were brought to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to determine a cause of death. Johnson was charged Friday in connection with neglect and abuse that caused the deaths.
“This truly was a devastating incident,” Chief Melissa Hyatt said on Friday afternoon, adding that it shocked the community and had a significant impact on the county’s patrol officers, forensic technicians, and detectives.
In charging documents obtained by local outlets, police allege Johnson told detectives that her sister, Dachelle Johnson, had asked her to look after the kids in 2019 when she was unable to care for them.
The documents allege Johnson said she had grown angry with Joshlyn more than a year ago, hitting her niece several times, resulting in the girl hitting her head. Johnson allegedly told police she put her niece’s body in a suitcase in her car in May 2020, where it has remained ever since.
She allegedly told police that Larry’s body was put in a bag alongside Joshlyn’s a year later, without providing details about how or when he died.
Johnson was charged with multiple counts of neglect and child abuse charges, as well as failing to report the deaths to authorities and unauthorized disposal of their bodies.
According to a probable cause statement obtained by the Baltimore Sun, Johnson was initially issued a citation to appear in court after cops noticed unauthorized tags and registration on her car, and found she had been driving without a license.
The car would be towed, an officer allegedly told Johnson.
It was then, the Sun reported, that Johnson told the officer: “It don’t matter, I won’t be here in five days.”
“Y’all going to see me on the news making my big debut,” she allegedly added.
The officer smelled the decomposing bodies while preparing the car to be towed, according to police documents. Johnson attempted to flee the scene when the officer opened the trunk and uncovered the first body in a suitcase before discovering a second in a plastic bag, the documents said. Johnson was then taken into custody.
Police documents say Dachelle had repeatedly tried to reach her sister after leaving her son and daughter in their aunt’s care in 2019, but had been unsuccessful in finding them until she was told of their deaths, the Sun reported.
Baltimore police are still combing through the details of the case to determine what caused the kids to end up in their aunt’s trunk.
“Due to the nature of this case, it will take time to determine the exact circumstances that led to the children’s deaths,” Baltimore law enforcement said on Friday.