Robbing 'em blind

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

On July 8, 1994, Johnson hit the streets again.
"In December it gets out of hand again. I burglarize, and I take a laptop and I pawn it. And of course I got caught for it," Johnson says, omitting an incident in which he broke into a man's car on the same day he stole the laptop.

On July 26, 1995, Johnson was finally penitentiary-bound, having received a five-year sentence to be served in Huntsville.

"The whole time that I was there, I had remorse for what I had done because I know I had harmed people," Johnson says. "I knew I had committed errors in my life."

Instead of seeking treatment while he was in Huntsville, Johnson chose to stick with his pride. On August 29, 1997, after serving two years, he was released under mandatory supervision.

"I really wanted to straighten my life out," Johnson recalls. "And I really thought I had it all together."

Bessie, not her real name, has two things in common with Gussie Allen. She is 66 years old, and she was asleep when she heard an intruder outside her window at 11:33 p.m. on April 8.

"The Lord woke me up," Bessie says. "I thought it was squirrels."
The sound was a man prying at the window. The man was Carnell Johnson.
Bessie, who had prepared for this sort of situation by keeping a list of her neighbors' telephone numbers at the side of her bed, didn't hesitate to call them for help. In moments a squad car arrived.

When they got to Bessie's house, they knew the same burglar who had been hitting homes in the area since late February had attempted to strike again.

"The [suspect] removed broken plate-glass pieces, while wearing black gloves, and placed the pieces on the ground next to the window," the police report states. "[Johnson] was subsequently located on Junius walking away from the offense location. [He] was subsequently arrested after a brief foot chase."

"I was distraught," Johnson says.
That evening, he had driven to Junius Heights with a friend, who supposedly wanted to visit a woman. Johnson says he had given the man $100, and he was sitting in his car while the man was inside the woman's house. After a while, Johnson says, he realized the man had taken off with his money.

"So I'm mad, I needed some more drugs," Johnson says. "Of course my bank card was overtapped, so I went and I attempted, and at that moment in my life, I said, 'This is it.'"

Some six weeks earlier, Johnson was heading back to his sister Candis' house in Balch Springs when he made another U-turn in his life.

In the five months after his release from prison, Johnson stayed with his sister. He had gotten a job doing paperwork for a family friend who owned a business. He went to the gym often with his sister's husband, Steve, and he stayed out of trouble. Except for an occasional beer, Johnson was sober.

"He was doing real good, me and my husband thought," says Candis. "We used to go to church quite often. There was a time when he would never miss a service or Sunday school. He used to teach Sunday school."

On the day that Johnson caved in to old temptation, he had been in East Dallas to pick up his dry cleaning and get his hair cut--preparations for a dinner date at which he was going to accept a job as a road manager for a band.

"It was a [simple question of] do you want to be a road manager or not?" Johnson says. "This was the job that I had been seeking for. I had it in the palm of my hand."

He would let it slip through his fingers. While he was in East Dallas that day, Johnson says, he ran into an old acquaintance at a gas station. It was someone he knew from the crack house. Johnson got in his car and turned onto I-30, going East and South. Before he could make it home, the thought of cocaine lured him off his path. Johnson got off at Buckner Boulevard.

"I found myself back in the same discontentment I found myself in back in 1993--four years later, almost to the day," Johnson says. "I fought hard. I really did."

All her life, Mary Carroll fought hard.
Carroll stands on her front porch on this Saturday afternoon, her rose bushes in bloom behind her. At 65, Carroll is still fit and trim. Dirt from her garden is visible underneath the tips of her nails, in places where her pink nail polish has chipped off.

She's wearing Bongo jeans, tennies, and a green sweatshirt that features a picture of a weightlifter and the words "Basic Training." The only indication of her age is the slight stoop, which gives her the look of a vulture perched high in a tree, scanning the territory below for trash.

Carroll is staring at a picture of Johnson's smiling, gap-toothed face, taken by the Dallas County sheriff's office.

"I can just visualize him in people's houses. To go right through a front window with the light on. Ohhhhh!" she says, scowling. "He knew this neighborhood so well. He knew it like the back of his hand."

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