Illegal cabs may be link to killings

Man, woman found dead had driven `hacks,' police say

October 16, 2001|By Del Quentin Wilber and Michael Scarcella | Del Quentin Wilber and Michael Scarcella,SUN STAFF

Two people found dead in a wooded area of Northwest Baltimore last week had operated unlicensed taxis in recent months and might have been carjacked, police said yesterday.

This year, at least eight people have been killed in Baltimore while "hacking," or driving illegal cabs - including three whose bodies were found in Clifton Park in the last three months.

Bryan K. Johnson was last heard from Oct. 7 when he called his mother on his cellular phone and told her that he was on his way home from Towson. On Friday, five days later, he was found dead, his body tied up, in a creek in a wooded area near Cold Spring Lane and Greenspring Avenue.

Johnson, 37, of the 3500 block of Derby Shire Circle, had driven an unlicensed taxi recently, police and relatives said. Detectives suspect he might have been operating one the night of Oct. 7 and was then carjacked, tied up and thrown over an embankment into the woods. He either drowned or died of hypothermia, police said. The car he was driving is missing.

Johnson's body was found 100 feet from where a woman - who was bound and gagged and partially disrobed - was discovered five days earlier by a woman walking a dog, detectives said.

Melissa Barksdale, 32, most recently of the 14000 block of Cuba Road in Cockeysville, had been beaten and partially undressed, police said. She died five days later at Maryland Shock Trauma Center. Her car is also missing.

Detectives said that Barksdale had operated as an unlicensed cabby in the past, but they aren't sure whether she was doing so when she was abducted.

Homicide detectives said they have few clues in the most recent deaths.

Turning his life around

Johnson was turning his life around after a troubled childhood, said his mother, Octavia Johnson-Pompey. He dropped out of high school but eventually earned his GED. He was married five years ago and was working for United Parcel Service and Vann's Spices. He lived at his mother's house in Woodlawn with his wife.

His mother said she has heard from friends that her son had been hacking with her red Pontiac Grand Prix. "I'm not surprised, he wouldn't tell me that," she said.

The Pontiac was spotted by Johnson's brother at Walbrook High School two days after Johnson disappeared, said homicide Detective Al Marcus, who is investigating Johnson's death. The brother approached the car and saw three young men in it, Marcus said. When he got closer, one of the men pulled out a gun, Marcus said, and the brother fled.

The car was also spotted the next day at a gas station at Liberty Heights and Gwynn Oak avenues, Marcus said.

"We need that car," Marcus said.

When detectives went to Pompey-Johnson's home to tell her of her son's death, they found a letter addressed to Johnson that contained his driver's license, Johnson's mother said. It had arrived the day before. Someone may have found the license on the street - maybe where the abduction occurred - and mailed it to him, Pompey-Johnson said.

Barksdale, who was recently splitting time between Baltimore and Cockeysville, was likely abducted several days before her body was found, detectives said.

Barksdale grew up in Plainsfield, N.J., and graduated from Plainsfield High School in 1987. She took modeling and business classes and worked as a secretary and for temporary employment agencies, said her mother, Phyllis Barksdale-Edmonds.

Barksdale enjoyed writing lyrics to rap songs and was very outgoing, her mother said.

`Very well-liked'

"She was very well-liked and very well-known," Barksdale-Edmonds said.

In recent months, she had begun hacking, her mother said.

Police are looking for Barksdale's burgundy Mazda, Maryland tag GYP-009. They are also seeking the red Pontiac Grand Prix that was driven by Johnson. Its Maryland tag is HGG-194.

"At this point we don't have anything concrete to go on," said Detective Darren Sanders, who is investigating Barksdale's death.

Anyone with information is asked to call Sanders and Marcus at 410-396-2100.

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