Essex, MD – Police discovered during a traffic stop last week that a woman had been driving around with two dead children in her trunk for months.
Police said the body of one of the children had been there for well over a year, WBFF reported.
The gruesome discovery was made after officers with the Baltimore County Police Department’s (BCPD) Essex precinct stopped 33-year-old Nichole Michelle Johnson for speeding near Wagners Lane and Eastern Boulevard at approximately 11 p.m. on July 28.
Johnson was also allegedly driving a vehicle with fake paper tags out of West Virginia, WBFF reported.
Police confirmed the car was both uninsured and unregistered and arranged to have it towed.
They also issued Johnson multiple citations and told her to show up in court in five days, WBAL reported.
“It don’t matter, I won’t be here in five days,” she allegedly told police, according to WBFF. “Y’all going to see me on the news, y’all going to see me on the news making my big debut.”
Johnson was gathering her belongings out of the trunk when one of the officers caught a whiff of “the unmistakable odor of decomposition,” according to court documents.
“She admitted that she smelled the strong odor of decomposition but thought it was a rat in the engine,” police said, according to WBAL.
She lifted a clear trash bag from the car and the officer saw maggots crawling around inside it, but Johnson tried to claim it was just a bag of dirty blankets, police said.
The officer told her to remove the blankets, which were covering a suitcase, WBFF reported.
Johnson opened the suitcase, revealing the severely decomposed body of one of the children, and took off running, according to police.
She was apprehended shortly thereafter, WBFF reported.
Homicide investigators subsequently found the body of the second child stuffed inside a plastic tote in the trunk, according to police.
The children were identified as seven-year-old Joshlyn Marie James Johnson and five-year-old Larry Darnell O’Neal, WBFF reported.
Johnson was their aunt, court documents revealed.
When her sister moved from Ohio to Maryland in July of 2019, she allegedly gave Johnson custody of the children because she couldn’t take care of them, WBFF reported.
Police said the children’s mother had been trying to reach Johnson repeatedly without any luck, according to WBAL.
She told investigators Johnson contacted her in March and set up a time to give the kids back to her, but that she never showed up.
She said she didn’t have any idea where her children or Johnson were between that time and when she received the call from police that her daughter and son were dead, WBAL reported.
Johnson allegedly told investigators that Joshlyn had been dead since May of 2020.
She recounted an incident she said occurred at the Regal Inn, during which she got mad at the little girl and hit her repeatedly, according to court documents.
Johnson said Joshlyn fell and hit her head, so she stuffed her into a suitcase and threw her into the back of her car, police said.
She allegedly blamed Larry’s death on a mysterious injury that happened two months ago, WBFF reported.
According to police, Johnson said Larry wanted to lay down in the back of her car and that she noticed blood on his left leg, but she wouldn’t say anything more about the injury.
She claimed he fell asleep and never woke up, so she stuffed him into the plastic tote and put him in the trunk, investigators said.
An autopsy revealed both of the children were severely malnourished at the time of their deaths, WBFF reported.
Larry weighed 21 pounds and Joshlyn weighed just 18 pounds.
Their exact causes of death remain under investigation, according to FOX News.
Johnson has been arrested on charges of neglect, child abuse resulting in death, and failure to report the deaths of children, WBFF reported.
“This truly was a devastating incident – one that not only shocked our community to its core, but significantly affected our patrol officers, forensic technicians, and detectives,” BCPD Chief Melissa Hyatt said in a statement.
“I am grateful that the harrowing details of this case were thoroughly and quickly uncovered, resulting in an expeditious closure to this tragedy,” Chief Hyatt wrote. “I want to commend all of our Baltimore County Police Department members who worked tirelessly throughout this investigation to bring justice to these innocent, young victims.”
Johnson remained in jail without bond on Friday, WBAL reported.
Her preliminary hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27.