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DATE OF EVENT: Thursday, May 5, 2005

DATE PUBLISHED: Thursday, May 5, 2005, in The Kansas City Star

Editor’s note: When police found the nude, decapitated body of a 3-year-old girl on April 28, 2001, the community was shocked. Who would do such a thing to a toddler? The search for the killer of the girl called “Precious Doe” often seemed futile. “As with most crimes, the longer this one goes without solution, the less chance there is that the murderer will be caught,” The Star wrote May 5, 2001.

The case would remain unsolved for exactly four more years — four years of false leads and candlelight vigils as Kansas City refused to let the case go.

Precious Doe was identified as Erica Michelle Marie Green, although at first, as this story reflects, authorities reported her middle name as Maria.

After four years of mystery, Precious Doe has a name — Erica Michelle Maria Green — and authorities were preparing to file charges against those responsible for her death.

Signaling that the long-unsolved case of the 3-year-old’s death was finally nearing a close, Kansas City police, chasing down a lead in Oklahoma, released the girl’s identity early this morning.

“Everyone over here is excited beyond words,” police spokesman Capt. Rich Lockhart said.

Jackson County Prosecutor Mike Sanders said he had been presented a case file in the homicide of Precious Doe and had called a press conference for this morning to announce charges in the case.

Lockhart could not elaborate on what led police to make a positive identification, other than to say that a call last week directing officers to an Oklahoma couple brought investigators to a break in the case that began with the discovery of the girl’s decapitated body April 28, 2001.

“It is still very much a developing investigation.”

Police found her body near 59th Street and Kensington Avenue. Community members named her Precious Doe and mounted a passionate campaign to remember her, bury her and help find her killer.

But for the long years spent trying to unravel her story, the end came in a whirlwind this week with the re-emergence of an old lead.

It started Friday, when a Muskogee man called police and said he was related to Precious Doe. He said he knew her mother and also who killed her.

The same man called police last year, but police said he provided less detailed information at that time.

That lead took them nowhere, police said.

Working with Muskogee detectives, Kansas City investigators on Wednesday interviewed members of a Muskogee family.

Michelle Johnson, 30, and Harrell Johnson, 25, had been arrested Monday on unrelated charges.

Police said Wednesday that they planned to question the two people.

Kansas City police said they planned to seek a DNA sample from Michelle Johnson to determine whether she was Precious Doe’s mother, but they had not taken the sample Wednesday. Tests comparing such a sample to Precious Doe’s remains would take two to three days, police said.

Michelle Johnson served prison time for a larceny conviction, according to Oklahoma records. Harrell Johnson has been convicted of several charges, including assault with a dangerous weapon and possessing a sawed-off shotgun.

The tipster recently told a reporter for The Kansas City Star in a telephone interview that two people drove with the girl to Kansas City in the spring of 2001 to find jobs. He said the girl was killed in a Kansas City house and dumped outdoors.

The tipster also sent Kansas City community activist Alonzo Washington a photo showing nine persons, whom the tipster said were Michelle Johnson and her eight children.

The tipster drew an arrow to one young girl, whom he identified as Precious Doe.

Washington gave police a copy of the photo Tuesday. Police confirmed the young girl in the photo to be Erica Green.

The Precious Doe murder investigation was one of the city’s biggest in recent memory. Police already have conducted at least 17 DNA tests.