Robbing 'em blind

For burglar Carnell Johnson, willing fences, indifferent neighbors, and friendly dogs ame for an easy living

"She was up in age," Mitchell says of her mom. "She had high blood pressure and stuff. I moved her here so I could watch her and take care of her. I don't have any children. I thought I'd do the right thing."

On Friday, October 3, Mitchell planned to spend the weekend celebrating her friend's birthday. Before she left for the evening, she stopped at home to check in on her mother and feed Malcolm, a rottweiler-mix puppy. Everything was in order.

Sometime around 5 a.m. October 4, the Rev. Ray Ball heard someone pounding on his door. It was Gussie Allen, his new next-door neighbor, whom he hadn't yet had a chance to meet.

"She said, 'There's a man in the house, come help," Ball recalls.
A large man, who uses a cane to help ease the arthritis in his ankles, Ball grabbed his walking stick, put on his shoes, and headed next door in the darkness.

A footprint on the front door revealed that the intruder tried to kick it in before he sneaked around the side of the house, jumped the security fence, broke through the side door, and entered Mitchell's bedroom. He walked past the closet, where Mitchell's gun was, and rummaged through the kitchen. Then he went down the hall to the second bedroom, where he found Gussie Allen.

"I tried to get her to calm down," Ball says. "She said that the man walked into the bedroom and woke her up. He told her to give him her purse."

At about that time, Mitchell and her friend arrived breathlessly at the house. Allen had called her daughter before she summoned Ball.

"Mom called. She said, 'Hurry, come quick, someone's breaking in.' We just burned out," Mitchell says. "When we got here, the reverend was with her."

From there, everything happened quickly. Ball and Allen were in the bedroom. Mitchell and her friend were in the living room.

"She was standing at the foot of the bed, showing me her wallet with the money in it," Ball says. "She said she didn't give him the money, and all of a sudden she just fell over. I made sure she was breathing. There was a heartbeat."

"The reverend came out and said, 'Come quick, your mom's fell over,'" Mitchell recalls. "I said, 'Mom are you all right?' I was looking around. I don't know if he [the intruder] is still in here. I said, 'Mom get up.' That's when I called 911."

"By the time [the paramedics] got here, there was no pulse," Ball says.
The only items stolen from the house were Allen's purse, a Sony VCR, and an old CD player that barely worked.

Weeks later, the Dallas County medical examiner ruled that Gussie Allen died of a heart attack, but the truth is, she was scared to death.

Phyllis Mitchell sits at the edge of her living room couch, her eyes focused on a police report that details Johnson's last burglary--not the one that claimed her mother's life. Police don't know who was responsible for that break-in. A cigarette smolders on the coffee table. Plants rest on either side of the television set, which has been repositioned between two windows so it cannot be seen from the outside.

The red eye of a new motion detector blinks in the hall.
Tears flow and are replaced by angry words as Mitchell recalls that October morning. But those emotions are not as powerful as the guilt Mitchell continues to feel about her mother's death. What if she hadn't moved into this neighborhood? What if she had installed better protection sooner? What if she had stayed home that night?

"It's really been on my mind," she says. "I'm always thinking about what I should have done."

It has been eight months since the intruder entered this home and stole Gussie Allen. Since then, Mitchell hasn't heard much from the police.

"I hope this is him. I need to know. My family needs to know," Mitchell says, peering at the police report. "If he had not broken into my house, my mom would still be alive. It's as simple as that. They need to understand that."

But there is little that police can do.
Dallas Detective Rebecca Williams, who is handling Allen's case, was unaware of Johnson's arrest or his connection to the Junius Heights burglaries when she spoke about the case late last month. But unless he or someone else confesses to the crime, Williams says, it's doubtful that they'll ever make an arrest. So far, they have no suspects.

"He didn't leave any fingerprints. There's no one that can identify him. She [Allen] is the only person who saw the suspect," says Williams, who adds that whoever broke into Allen's house is a "sorry piece of shit, mainly."

It would be logical to conclude that Johnson was responsible for the break-in--after all, Mitchell's house sits right in the middle of the area Johnson targeted earlier this year. But Detective Paul Fullington, who is one of the officers assigned to the Junius Heights cases, says the facts of Allen's case don't fit with Johnson's style.

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