Murder mystery unlocked in mother's apartment

Monday, November 8th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) -- Though she lived alone in her Brooklyn apartment, Madelyn Carmichael was haunted by the sound of a crying baby. She complained frequently to the building superintendent, who insisted that no children lived nearby.

Now it turns out the complaints had a macabre meaning: Acting on a tip, police found the mummified body of a little girl, dead for 20 years, entombed in a trunk in Ms. Carmichael's closet. Police are convinced the toddler was Latanisha Carmichael, Ms. Carmichael's daughter. Ms. Carmichael, 60, was arrested Friday on suspicion of murder. She remained hospitalized after fainting when detectives found the body of the 3-year-old girl.

Police suspect the child was beaten to death but are awaiting results from the medical examiner's office. Ms. Carmichael has no criminal record. But facing accusations of child abuse in the 1980s, she had sent two of her three children -- including Latanisha's twin, Andre -- into foster care. It was Andre Carmichael, now 23, who tipped police about the body.

Over the years, Ms. Carmichael told people she had sent away Latanisha and her other children because she was too poor to care for them. The superintendent, Johana Rivera, said Ms. Carmichael talked about hearing a baby that was screaming and keeping her awake.

Several weeks ago, Andre Carmichael sought to renew his relationship with his mother. According to family members, Ms. Carmichael welcomed her son at her home but was disturbed by the sight of his 3-year-old daughter, who looks like Latanisha. She asked him to never bring the granddaughter back. Andre also contacted an aunt, who startled him by asking if he was in touch with his twin. He didn't recall having one. That prompted him to confront his older sister, Sabrina.

The sister broke down, telling Andre that she thought his twin was dead and that the body was still inside their mother's Brownsville apartment. When he was young, Andre said, Latanisha "went through my mind a lot of times." He claims social workers and teachers ignored talk about a twin sister, "So I shut myself down."

Welfare officials said they are investigating how the toddler's disappearance went unnoticed and unreported. The twins' father apparently hasn't been heard from since their birth. After Andre and his sister called police, members of the department's Cold Case Squad knocked on the door of Ms. Carmichael's ramshackle, one-bedroom apartment Friday night with a search warrant. She fainted as they began opening a bolted-shut closet strewn with air fresheners.

Detectives found a trunk covered with cellophane. In the trunk was a tiny body wrapped in a baby blanket, plastic bags and yellowed newspaper dated Nov. 4, 1979. Police think the newspapers mark the date Ms. Carmichael killed the child in another apartment. She took the body with her when she moved to her Brownsville address almost 20 years ago, they said.