Details of Disappearance
Bell was last seen leaving her family's residence in the 300 block of Raymond Street in Alexandria, Virginia on June 27, 1996. She was accompanied by her ex-boyfriend, Michael Eric Dickerson, at the time; they were riding in his gray 1987 Cadillac Fleetwood with tinted windows. A photograph of Dickerson is posted with this case summary.
He was supposed to be driving Bell while she took two of her three children to a doctor's appointment. She called home at 2:00 p.m. to say she would be returning there shortly, but she never arrived and has never been heard from again. When questioned, Dickerson claimed he and Bell had gone to southeast Washington D.C. together and had an argument and she had left him there.
Bell's family believe Dickerson had been abusing her for some time prior to June 1996. Her mother stated Dickerson would not allow Bell to attend church, and neighbors reported hearing frequent loud arguments between the couple. A month before her disappearance, Bell told the police that Dickerson, who lived with her in Laurel, Virginia, had beaten her.
Dickerson was charged with malicious wounding and Bell moved in with her grandmother in Alexandria. She wrote down an account of the attack. Three weeks later, Bell reported that Dickerson had threatened her and held a loaded 9-millimeter gun to her head, and he was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm as a result.
After Bell's disappearance, her purse was found in the vehicle of Jonathan "Jody" Shields, a friend of Dickerson. Shields told investigators that Dickerson told him he had killed Bell in Washington D.C. Dickerson allegedly asked Shields for help in getting rid of the body. They traveled to Dickerson's house and Shields saw Bell's body lying in the yard. He says he acted as a lookout while Dickerson wrapped the corpse in a blanket and put it in his own car.
Shields and Dickerson then went to a wooded area alongside Old Fort Road in Fort Washington, Maryland, and Dickerson buried the body. Shields agreed to visit Dickerson in jail and wear an audio recording device in hopes of recording Dickerson's confession to Bell's murder. On June 6, 1999, day before the visit was scheduled, he was murdered. His murder remains unsolved.
In March 1997, authorities dug up the yard of Dickerson's parents' home in the 3200 block of G Street southeast in Washington D.C. They found no evidence relating to Bell's case. Dickerson was convicted of beating Bell after her disappearance. Bell's handwritten account of the assault was used as evidence against him.
Bell was employed as a clerk at the Giant Food bakery at the time of her disappearance. She does not have a criminal record or any history of leaving without warning. Her loved ones don't believe she would have abandoned her children, the youngest of whom was only an infant in 1996.
Two of her previous boyfriends had been shot to death, and one of the homicides is considered to be drug-related. At the time of her disappearance, Bell was afraid for her life and kept a diary to be used as evidence in case she was murdered.
In January 2008, while still incarcerated for assaulting Bell, Dickerson was charged with her murder and with the murder of another man, Sean A. Thomas, who was shot to death on the street in February 1996. Bell was interviewed by police about Thomas's murder in June 1996, and stated Dickerson had told her he committed the crime.
When police told Dickerson he was a suspect in Thomas's murder, he told them he knew Bell must have reported him. Investigators believe he killed Bell at least in part because she of her knowledge of Thomas's murder.
In October 2008, Dickerson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Bell's case and also admitted to Thomas's homicide. As part of the plea agreement, he wasn't prosecuted in Thomas's case. He led authorities to a wooded area in Prince George's County, Maryland where he says he buried Bell's body, but digging there has thus far not produced any evidence.
Dickerson will serve fifteen years in prison without parole eligibility. Foul play is suspected in Bell's case due to the circumstances involved.