Robbing 'em blind

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

If Johnson had broken into the house, and if he had seen Gussie Allen, Fullington says he does not believe that Johnson would have awakened her, much less demanded her purse.

"That doesn't sound like him," Fullington says. "I think he knows what makes a robbery offense and what makes a burglary offense. I don't think he'd cross the line. He did not want to confront."

Sadly, the facts seem to point to another suspect. One who is probably still lurking in Old East Dallas or some other sector of the city.

In the last eight months, Mitchell has installed motion lights and secured her windows. She replaced the door the burglar kicked in with a heavier door and got a gun permit. Malcolm is full-grown. He wouldn't hurt a flea, Mitchell says, but he barks loudly.

None of these things have allowed Mitchell to sleep much better at night.
Not long after the break-in, Mitchell says she was at home late one night when she heard a bump on the front porch. Somebody was out there. Suddenly it felt like October all over again. Mitchell fell into a panic.

"I didn't know what to do. Should I get my gun? Should I shoot through the door? I was too scared to open the door," she says. "I was shaking."

Then she heard a car speed off and, the next morning, Mitchell discovered that somebody had stolen the spider plants from the overhang. "I said, 'Goddamn! Somebody took my two plants,'" she says. "I could have killed someone over two flowers. Isn't that petty?"

Mitchell considered moving, but she still likes living here, despite everything, and the house is the only thing she has left.

"This is the first house I ever owned. My family never owned anything. My mother never owned anything. My mother liked this house," Mitchell says. "It doesn't make any sense to me. I worked my ass off for 11 years at American Airlines. I worked hard for my things. I can't stand a liar and thief."

The one thing Mitchell says she wished she knew when she first moved in was that the house next door to her had been broken into twice, causing the occupants to move. The information might have prevented her from buying the house or, better yet, maybe she would have befriended her neighbors sooner and created a support network.

Now, Mitchell and Ball have become friends. When she laid her mom to rest, he fed Malcolm and looked after the house. Other neighbors sent her flowers and words of condolence. Still, Mitchell hasn't met her neighbor across the street, and she doesn't know most of the people on the block.

"I like this neighborhood. I really do, but since this happened my eyes are more open," Mitchell says. "If we're gonna be neighbors, we have to look out for ourselves. We've got to be aware. We have to come together. The cops can't be here 24-7."

The cops' inability to be at all places at all times is just another one of the observations about life that Johnson has made.

While Johnson likes to blame all of his problems on cocaine, he has what might be called a natural predator's eye. Johnson is a detail-oriented person.

"It's just a sheer living experience. You find yourself in a situation where you become familiar with life," Johnson says. "People are stuck in a routine, you know, get up, go to work. Leave this on, leave that off. Get the newspaper. It becomes a routine.

"I knew all of these things before I even indulged in [criminal] activity," Johnson says. "I'd tell my family when they got an alarm system, 'Get something that's good, because we have an element in our society that will perpetrate crimes against you.'"

They didn't know that Johnson was that element.
"I just didn't want to believe that he was capable of something like that," says his sister Candis, who works as an administrative assistant for Texas Instruments. "I never really knew that he had a problem. I guess I just never paid any attention."

A detail-oriented thief like Johnson thrives when honest people stop paying attention to details.

"I would admonish [people] to be more aware of the things that are around them. You know, their mail, their newspaper. There's so much that's obvious--the living-room light on, that's like [saying], 'Hey, I left the light on, come on in,'" he says. "When I did it, I just picked people that wasn't at home. If I went in a place and someone was there, I would run."

On any city block, it doesn't take long to figure out when residents go to work and when they come home. A Friday evening, the couple of the house drives off. They leave a porch light on though the sun is still up. Guests at a dinner party? Perhaps they're having a romantic night at the movies. Whatever. It's obvious that they'll be gone for hours.

"It depends on if there's two, three newspapers stacked up on the porch--obviously no one's here and no one's been here for weeks," Johnson says. "If there's two or three days' worth of mail, the people aren't coming home that late at night, so you can shop around."

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