Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Thursday, November 28, 2013
DA: "Person of interest" was last to see mom, daughter alive
Posted: Tuesday, November 26, 2013
A Bristol Township man arrested on minor drug possession charges was the last person to see a 22-year-old pregnant woman and her 4-year-old daughter alive before a fire started in the apartment, the Bucks County District Attorney confirmed.
Marcel Emanuel Johnson, 21, is described as a “person of interest” in the double murder and arson Monday afternoon at the Avalon Court apartments in the 3500 block of Bristol-Oxford Valley Road, District Attorney David Heckler said.
“We are looking at him,” Heckler said. “He is obviously a person of interest.”
Ebony Talley and daughter R'Mani Rankins
Heckler declined to say if investigators are looking at anyone else as possibly being involved in the slayings of Ebony Talley and her daughter, R’Mani Rankins.
Firefighters responding to a fire in apartment 604 at the complex found Talley, who was four months pregnant, dead on the floor with multiple stab wounds. R’Mani was found alive, but with at least one stab wound. She later died at St. Mary Medical Center in Middletown. Police believe the fire was intentionally set to cover up the murders.
Bristol Township police became interested in Johnson after witnesses claimed they saw him leaving the complex in a Cadillac, Heckler said.
Bucks County detectives on Tuesday obtained search warrants for the Cadillac, which Johnson was driving when police stopped him at another apartment complex in the 3000 block of Ford Road in Bristol Township a little more than three hours after the fire was reported, Heckler said.
Heckler’s understanding is that the car is registered in the name of the person from whom Talley was subletting apartment 604, where police say she has lived for the past three months. Talley had permission to use the woman’s car, but Johnson did not, Heckler said.
“There is no reason he would have used it,” Heckler said.
Search warrants were also obtained for DNA and other evidence from Johnson, who also lived at Avalon Court apartments, the DA added.
As a result of the police investigation into the fire, police made contact with Johnson shortly after 7 p.m. in the parking lot of the apartment complex on Ford Road.
Police found Johnson with one plastic bag containing 11 clear baggies, which police described as consistent with the packaging commonly used to contain illegal drugs, according to the affidavit. He was arraigned Tuesday morning and sent to Bucks County prison on a drug possession charge in lieu of 10 percent of $50,000 bail.
The autopsy reports for Talley and R’Mani were completed Tuesday, but Heckler did not have any details available. He would only say that “nobody found anything remarkable.”
The relationship, if any, between Talley and Johnson is unknown.
Investigators at scene of double murder, arson
Throughout the day Tuesday police and crime scene investigators continued their investigation at the apartment complex’s Building 600, which was cordoned off with yellow tape and monitored by Bristol Township police.
For hours Tuesday morning, the only sight of activity near the building — besides law enforcement — was TV news vans.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross will cover two more nights at a local hotel for five other Building 600 tenants who were displaced by the fire and subsequent ongoing police investigation, agency spokesman David Schrader said.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @jociavaglia