New York Times

19 November 1999

Brother's Search for Twin Revealed a 20-Year-Old Killing

By Alan Feuer
New York Times

André Carmichael always suspected he had a twin.

There were old stories drifting through his family's lore about a sister his own age, and there were troubling visions he sometimes had of the child -- "a baby," he said.

So in early October, filled with questions, Carmichael approached the one sister he knew he had, Sabrina Carmichael, and asked about the girl. At first, Sabrina denied there was a twin, he said. But when Carmichael told her he would never give up his search, she burst into tears and confessed a secret she had guarded fearfully for 20 years: in 1979, when she was 8 years old, she had witnessed their mother and older brother beating their 3-year-old sister, Latanisha, to death.

Yesterday, the Brooklyn district attorney's office announced charges against the mother, Madeline Carmichael, and the older brother, Gregory Carmichael, with second-degree murder. They were also charged with hindering a prosecution and tampering with physical evidence, prosecutors said.

Mrs. Carmichael, 60, was arraigned in her bed at Brooklyn Hospital, where she was admitted for chest pains last week, and will undergo a psychiatric examination to determine if she is fit to stand trial, the authorities said. Gregory Carmichael, 37, was arraigned in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn and remanded to the Cape Vincent Correctional Facility near the Canadian border, where he is serving a two- to four-year sentence for robbery.

As Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, presented the indictments Thursday, he said the case was "straight out of a Stephen King novel." Many of the macabre details were released after Mrs. Carmichael's arrest on Nov. 6, but the revelation that one daughter claims to have watched her murder another has provided a fuller picture of the family drama.

"It's a double loss," André Carmichael said Thursday outside the Harlem homeless shelter where he lives -- "discovering the death of my sister and the fact that I'll never have a relationship with my mother. I have nothing to say to her anymore."

The story began to unravel about a month ago when Carmichael finally visited his mother for the first time since he was put into foster care at the age of 9. He said he was disappointed when his mother recoiled at the sight of his 3-year-old daughter, Andrea, who was with him.

Days later, his disappointment turned into shock when an aunt told him that his mother had blanched because his own daughter bore a strong resemblance to his twin sister, who had vanished 20 years ago.

With the legend at least partly confirmed, Carmichael confronted his sister, Sabrina, learned of what she had seen, and, with her, called the police.

Hynes said that investigators from the New York Police Department's Cold Case Squad obtained a search warrant for Mrs. Carmichael's apartment in Brownsville, Brooklyn, and knocked on her door on the evening of Nov. 5. According to witnesses, Mrs. Carmichael dashed toward a closet in her apartment when the police arrived, screaming: "Please don't let them take me. I don't want any more suffering."

The police opened the closet and found Latanisha's body inside. The body was swaddled in a baby blanket, placed in four plastic bags, wrapped in yellowing newspaper from Nov. 4, 1979, and hidden in a cedar-lined footlocker, Hynes said. That locker was found in a scuffed, rusting steamer trunk, which had been wrapped in cellophane and left in the closet surrounded by piles of air fresheners, camphor cakes, baking soda boxes and incense sticks, he said.

The Kings County medical examiner conducted an autopsy on the body this week and ruled the death a homicide, Hynes said.

The police said Latanisha's disappearance had gone unnoticed for so long because Mrs. Carmichael kept to herself after sending Sabrina and André to foster homes in 1988 and telling relatives that she was too poor to care for the girl and had sent her to "live down South."

Hynes said the city's former children's services department, the Child Welfare Agency, was also at fault. He said Gregory and Madeline Carmichael had a long history of child abuse complaints.

Indeed, once the police began to investigate, child welfare workers went back to old files and discovered that at least eight complaints against Gregory and Madeline Carmichael had been lodged from 1982 to 1988, said Nicholas Scoppetta, commissioner of the city's Administration for Children's Services.

Yesterday, Carmichael said he planned to file a lawsuit against the city, charging that his twin sister had fallen through the cracks.

"The city failed her," he said. "I blame my mother, but I also blame the system."

Though Carmichael still lives in a homeless shelter and works as a security guard to support his daughter, his wife and her four children, he said he wants to open a center for abused children one day.

"I want to try to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else," he said. "I don't want any more kids to suffer like we did."

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company