Fort Worth

A young mother and crack addict went missing 24 years ago. Felecia, where are you?

The Johnson Family: Felecia's son, Cordell Cortez, back left and her daughter, Ariana Lee, back right; Felecia's mother, Mollie Johnson, front left; her sister, Tawanna Roland, front center, and Grandmother, Joleen Thompson, front right.
The Johnson Family: Felecia's son, Cordell Cortez, back left and her daughter, Ariana Lee, back right; Felecia's mother, Mollie Johnson, front left; her sister, Tawanna Roland, front center, and Grandmother, Joleen Thompson, front right. Star-Telegram

Hidden away in the bathroom of their family's east Fort Worth home, Felecia Johnson would draw a deep hit from her crack pipe while her younger sister watched.

"She would always tell me, 'Sis, don't ever do this. ... Don't let nobody talk you into doing this,'" recalled Tawanna Roland. "She said it was like a wolf calling in the middle of the night. Even when she didn't want to do it, she said it was calling her."

The crack cocaine epidemic that gripped Fort Worth and the nation in the 1980s and early '90s, devastating families and sending crime skyrocketing, hit the Johnson family hard. Felecia Johnson went from a Dunbar High School honor student to a dropout who was pregnant by 16.

Her parents sent her to rehab more than once but it wouldn't be long before the drug took full control of her life. Those same parents would end up raising her young son, Cordell, and later a daughter, Ariana, who was born with a crack addiction.

And although Felecia would frequently go off on her own, she was never entirely out of touch. She'd always call a family member or a church friend, saying she was OK and to let her Mama know.

Felecia Johnson Courtesy Johnson Family

But in early 1994, the phone calls and visits stopped.

And 24 years later, the family is still searching for Felecia.

They know in their hearts that she's dead. They strongly suspect she was murdered. And they long to have even just her remains back.

'Just pierces your heart'

"I still don’t know where my first born is. I have no clue," Mollie Johnson said. "She could be right down the street in a shallow grave. And I just don’t know. It just pierces your heart so bad.”

Felecia's case — the focus of the Star-Telegram's latest Out Of The Cold podcast — is one of some 50 adult missing persons cases pending each month in Fort Worth. One of more than 5,000 in the state. One of more than 80,000 in the nation.

In Fort Worth, two officers and a civilian make up the missing persons unit.

Felecia's case has been worked by both missing person investigators and homicide detectives through the years, and is most recently in the hands of the department's sole cold case detective, L. Wagner.

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Mollie Johnson wants more done to bring home missing persons like her daughter, Felecia Johnson, who disappeared 24 years ago. Max Faulkner Star-Telegram

But as a mother who hasn't seen her daughter in almost a quarter of a century, she said she wants more to be done to find Felecia and other missing persons. She wants more investigators dedicated to bringing these missing persons home. More attention given to these cases.

"I wanted so many times to go down to talk to the chief of police and say you've got to do better. You've got to put more people in these positions because, just looking at the Texas missing person report, I was so surprised by all of the missing people that we never saw anything on TV about," Mollie Johnson said. "... I don't care if they're on heroin, crack, whatever the case for whatever the reason, you still should say we have a missing person if anybody knows the whereabouts. Put it on 4, 5, 8, 11, whatever channel we have available."

Wagner said adult missing person cases present unique challenges for investigators.

"Everybody gets up in arms when you have a missing child because children are dependent on us as adults to take care of them. We know that if a child goes missing, that bad things are afoot," Wagner said. "When you have an adult that is missing, we have to keep in mind that some people are missing because they want to be missing. So you’re treading a fine line between actively looking for somebody that may just be gone or looking for somebody that is truly a victim of some sort of crime.”

In Felecia's case, reports show investigators have taken various steps though the years to try to find her, including searching for her in jail and prisons under alias names and even questioning a woman on a downtown street who resembled her.

A 'puzzle' without the pieces

Felecia's information is in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), which alerts any officer in the nation that she is an endangered missing person should they make contact with her. As of the end of December, there were more than 88,000 active missing person records in NCIC, 63.5 percent of those records involving persons over the age of 18.

In Texas alone, there were 5,932 active missing person cases in NCIC as of the end of February, including juveniles.

Felecia's name, description, photo, dental records and notice that the mother and daughter's DNA samples are available for comparison, is also on file with NamUs, a national online depository for missing person and unidentified remain cases. The database, maintained in Fort Worth by the Center for Human Identification at the UNT Health Science Center, can be searched by police and the public and compares missing person cases against those of unidentified human remains.

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Felecia Johnson poses with her younger sister, Tawanna. Courtesy Johnson Family

Since 2009, NamUs has received records on almost 29,000 missing person cases nationwide. A little more than half of those cases have been closed after the whereabouts of the missing persons were determined — 13 percent that were directly aided by the database.

But more than 14,000 missing person cases remain open.

In some states, including a missing person in NamUs is required by law. Despite it being in Texas' backyard, however, the state is not one of them.

"It's like trying to put together a puzzle and not having all the pieces," said Todd Matthews, director of case management and communications for NamUs.

Texas has entered 1,942 missing person cases into NamUs since 2009, 56 percent of which remain open.

'This is an urgent message'

Felecia's family has gone to desperate lengths to find her.

When her father, Robert Johnson, died about a year after she disappeared, they enlisted the help of a family friend, then Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sanders.

“They didn’t know if she had run away from home. They didn’t know if she had been murdered. They were just looking for her," Sanders recalled. "They asked me if I could help in some way. I said, 'Well, I may be able to tell the story.' ”

Sanders wrote his column as an open letter to Felecia.

"This is an urgent message for 22-year-old Felecia Johnson. Your children and your mother need you. Please call home. You know your parents were worried sick when you left home in January 1994. I’m told that it wasn’t unusual, but always before, when you’d leave, you’d at least call some family. But not this time. They need to hear from you. "

He wrote about Felecia's drug addiction, the two children her parents were left to raise, and her father's health problems since she'd been gone.

He ended the column with the devastating news that the family had hoped would bring Felecia home.

"Your father died of a massive heart attack last Saturday morning and they can’t wait any longer to hold the funeral. It will be this Saturday at 1 p.m."

At Corinth Baptist Missionary Church that day, all eyes kept turning back toward the entry doors.

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Tawanna Roland says her sister used to tell her that crack was like a wolf calling for her. Max Faulkner Star-Telegram

"We were just waiting.," Roland said. "We just knew she was going to walk through the door."

It didn't happen. In 2001, Mollie Johnson had her daughter declared legally dead.

“I did that because after seven years, I just felt like in my heart, she’s dead. She’s not here," Mollie Johnson said. "Because if she was, Felecia would have found her way home. With these kids, she would have found her way home.”

'Never had a relationship with her'

Felecia's kids are now adults.

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Felecia Johnson with her son, Cordell Cortez. Courtesy Johnson Family

Cordell will be 30 this year. He's in a serious relationship and works as a security guard. He doesn't remember anything about his mother.

Ariana will be 25 this year. She has a good job with the U.S. Department of Justice and is in no hurry to get married or have kids.

Although neither has any memories of their mother they, too, want her found for the sake of the family members that do.

"It’s just more so I want closure for them, because I never had a relationship with her," Ariana said.

Through the years, the family had heard rumors about what may have happened to Felecia. One, which has come up repeatedly, is that she was killed by two members of the Truman Street Bloods for taking crack from them and giving it to a member of the Crips, their rival gang. She was then buried in someone's back yard, they heard.

The family has passed the information along to detectives. Wagner says reports show the tips were looked into, with investigators even reaching out to one of the alleged suspects. He refused, however, to talk to police, she said.

“People don’t understand we can’t just go in a backyard and start digging. We can’t take a dog out there and start sniffing around," Wagner said. "You have the right to protect your property and if we don’t get cooperation from some of these people, we’re hitting that wall again."

Deanna Boyd: 817-390-7655, @deannaboyd

How to help

If you have information about what happened to Felecia Johnson, or know her whereabouts, please call Detective L. Wagner at 817-392-4307.

Missing North Texas Day

Families impacted by the disappearance of a loved one are invited to Missing in North Texas Day, an event on April 22 by the National Institute of Justice and UNT Health Science Center. The second annual event will allow families to file a missing person report, provide additional information to a NamUs missing persons entry and provide DNA samples to be included in the missing persons database.

If they have them, families are encouraged to bring documents related to the disappearance, X-rays, scans and/or other available medical or dental records, and fingerprints from arrest, employment, military or driver's license records. The event, which is free to attend, will be in the Medical Education and Training (MET) building at 1000 Montgomery St. on the UNT Health Science Center's Fort Worth campus.