By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
MAURICE DAWKINS CLUTCHES A PHOTO of his daughter Crystal that reminds him of a promise. During a family gathering last year, the powerfully built former Jamaican police detective made a vow intended to provide a measure of assurance to his four daughters. But in the end it foreshadowed unimaginable tragedy.
“I remember telling [my daughters] if anybody does anything to them, if it takes the breath out of my body, I will be there for them,” Dawkins says in his heavy Jamaican accent.
He was forced to keep that promise after Crystal Danielle Dawkins, his 18-year-old daughter, left the home they shared in Columbia, South Carolina, just before Thanksgiving last year to visit her estranged mother, Christine Bacon, at her Lancaster home near Los Angeles.
It was a trip the elder Dawkins opposed, having learned of it only a day before Crystal left on November 17. Dawkins and Crystal’s stepmother in South Carolina had just separated, and for this young woman who was “gentle and loving,” the emotional yearning to visit her mother in Lancaster had grown strong.
But things began to go awry three days into her trip to Southern California, when Crystal called her stepmother to report that her mom’s ex-boyfriend had been hanging around and had been so verbally abusive to her mother that the two women went to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s station to report him.
Maurice Dawkins believed all was well until November 25, when he got a gut-wrenching call from Crystal’s boss at a Popeye’s, saying his daughter hadn’t returned to her job on the day expected. He was horrified to belatedly learn from Crystal’s stepmother of the incident involving the mother’s boyfriend. And when he tried to reach his daughter by cell phone, he got an uncharacteristic silence — from a girl who was always reachable.
Only much later would he learn that Crystal and her mother were dead — their bodies left to decompose for weeks inside a house that deputies refused to enter. Today, Dawkins is pursuing a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, saying their actions call into question the manner in which the department handles missing-persons reports, deals with perceived foreigners in trouble and follows up on such complaints.
When Dawkins called the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s station in Lancaster late last November to file a missing-persons report, he tells the L.A. Weekly, his request was denied. Distraught, he called Sheriff’s stations throughout Los Angeles County seeking help before taking matters into his own hands and flying to L.A. on November 27.
Dawkins says nobody answered the door at his ex-wife’s quiet house on Price Lane in Lancaster, and Sheriff’s deputies would not go inside. So he spent days surveilling the house in hopes that Crystal or her mother would show up — so much time, in fact, that neighbors began to befriend him.
“He seemed to really care for his family,” says Sasha Garcia, a neighbor of Bacon’s. “He was distraught. He was frantic, really.”
When Dawkins begged the deputies to break into the Price Lane house to search for clues, he says he was smugly told, “That’s not how we do it here .?.?. Who do you think you are?”
Little did the high-desert deputies know that Dawkins was not some helpless immigrant with a thick accent, but had been a celebrated tough-guy New York City whistleblower, who, in 1990, acted as the key courtroom witness against Darryl “God” Whiting, head of a vicious Jamaican crime ring. Dawkins’ own history gave him little patience with cops who didn’t stick out their necks. And as he saw it, the Lancaster Sheriff’s deputies played that role to the hilt.
So Dawkins launched his own probe, ultimately logging 17,330 miles in a desperate search for his daughter, scouring mountains, valleys and gullies throughout the Southland. “It was tormenting, it was frightening in the sense of not knowing what happened,” he says. “My experience in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t wish on anybody — even the guy that killed my daughter.”
His investigation led him to Las Vegas on a second trip last December, where Dawkins showed a picture of his beautiful young daughter to hotel clerks, gas station attendants and even prostitutes — and he began to have his worst fears confirmed. He learned that his ex-wife and her boyfriend, Christopher Anthony Brown, owned two rental properties in Las Vegas, yet one tenant said she hadn’t heard from her landlords in weeks.
When the tenant called Christopher Brown’s number, a male who answered the phone said Brown had changed his number. But, recalls Dawkins, how would a stranger recognize Brown’s name, or know that he changed his number? Says Dawkins, “That’s when I knew he killed my daughter.”
Dawkins immediately called the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide bureau, imploring deputies to go to the home on Price Lane. “Somebody better get there before I get there,” he declared as he drove toward Lancaster.
THREE HOURS LATER, Dawkins was near Barstow when Detective Bill Marsh called him. Dawkins says the veteran detective was crying, and told him both women’s bodies were found in the house. “I was trembling, but I was trained in the police [academy], so that made it a little more easy to take it,” Dawkins says.