TAMPA — Dried tears on their cheeks, anger in their voices, but no surprise.
Jennifer Johnson's family had feared the worst, and their suspicions were confirmed Wednesday morning. The 31-year-old Tampa woman missing since Saturday had been found dead in an abandoned Lakeland house.
Johnson's ex-boyfriend, Vincent Brown, remains a "person of interest," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. He turned himself in Sunday night on an unrelated warrant and did not cooperate with investigators, police said.
He has not been charged with the killing.
But Johnson's family members arrived at their own conclusions about Brown, the 38-year-old father of Johnson's 2-year-old daughter.
"You get through with your potato chip bag, and you throw it away. That's what he did with her life," said Johnson's uncle, Eddie Dorsey.
People who live near the Lakeland house found Johnson's remains about 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. They went into the foreclosed home at 1810 Elliott St. because they were thinking of renting or buying it, said Jack Gillen, a Lakeland police spokesman.
The death was ruled "suspicious," and it took about five hours to identify Johnson.
Johnson's family members said police told them she was found partially clothed. Gillen said he could not confirm that detail, as it is part of the investigation.
Family members said they'd warned Johnson to stay away from Brown. Eddie Dorsey called him a monster. But Johnson wanted her daughter to grow up knowing both parents, her sister, Shawlett Johnson, said.
The family hasn't told Janice where her parents are. On Wednesday morning, the little girl rode a plastic tricycle back and forth across the sidewalk of Johnson's house while her aunts and uncles sat on the curb talking to reporters and crying.
"She's a baby. What could we tell her?" said Shawlett Johnson. As for the relationship between the little girl's parents, "When it was good, it was good. But when it was bad, it was bad."
In 2006, Brown was charged with domestic violence battery against Jennifer Johnson, along with possession of cocaine and resisting arrest. He was put on probation, but because he hadn't been reporting to his probation officer, there was a warrant out for his arrest. Brown surrendered at a Hillsborough County jail on Sunday, and was held without bail on the probation violation charges.
Johnson wasn't the first woman to report abuse. Court files dating back more than a decade tell of punches to the face, heads bashed through windows, shoes used as weapons and fearful children watching it all. At least one of his victims, Monica Williams, got a restraining order against him, which he later violated by breaking into her house and beating her up in 2001, according to an affidavit.
Williams declined to talk about her ex-husband out of concern for their children.
Over the course of 11 arrests since 1991, Brown has been charged seven times with battery, twice with aggravated battery and twice with probation violation stemming from battery charges. Three times, his arrests included kidnapping charges. Twice, he was charged with resisting an officer. He has been in and out of jail, and he spent a year and two months in prison on battery charges starting in November 2002.
Johnson's family members talk of death threats and slit tires, smashed windows and broken bones. They say Johnson tried to break up with Brown for the last time in October and that she warned the security guards at her apartment complex to keep watch for him.
But on Friday night, she made plans to meet him. Brown told her he wanted to give 2-year-old Janice $100 for her birthday. Johnson and Brown went to the Apollo Club on 40th Street.
Someone there saw them arguing.
About 3 a.m. Saturday, police said, the couple went to Brown's parents' home on E Cayuga Street. Johnson didn't show up to the birthday party she planned for her daughter Saturday afternoon, leading family members to call police.
Her car was found in the parking lot of Oak Park in East Tampa on Monday morning. Her purse and wallet were inside.
During Brown's first appearance in court Tuesday, before Johnson's body was found, an assistant state attorney said he was a "suspect in a murder case." A spokeswoman later said the prosecutor misspoke, and Brown was a "suspect in the disappearance of a missing woman."
Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi said Wednesday that if charges are filed, the case could be tried in Hillsborough County.
Police have not publicly upgraded Brown's status to suspect.
It doesn't matter much to Johnson's family.
"I know he did it," said sister Shawlett.
"We want him finished," said uncle Eddie.
"I want justice," said Johnson's mother, Alma Dorsey.
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Rebecca Catalanello contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.