BANGOR, Maine — Aisha Mariah Dickson was just 8 months old when she died on Jan. 6, 1995, after someone broke nearly every bone in her 11-pound body.
At the time, her parents, Sarah Johnson and DeShawn Dickson, and grandmother June Johnson denied knowing anything about her death. They had been living together at an apartment in Bangor.
Twenty years later, no one has been charged in connection with the brutal homicide, which Bangor police say remains under investigation, despite the passage of time.
“This is not an evidence-based case — it’s a people case,” Bangor police Sgt. Tim Cotton said Monday. “It’s a case where somebody needs to talk to us.”
Bangor police were called to the apartment at 41 Bald Mountain Drive on the night Aisha died and found her in her crib. She was not breathing, and was pronounced dead about an hour later at St. Joseph Hospital. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to her head.
Detective James Libby, now retired, was the lead investigator at the time. Police have spent hundreds of hours on the case, many by Libby and former Detective John Robinson, who reviewed and worked on it for seven years.
“I went through all the interviews Detective Libby had done beforehand and I conducted additional interviews,” Robinson, who is now a court officer and patrolman, said Monday with the massive case file beside him.
Two large white boxes filled with paper and other items, and several huge files, one about a foot thick, contain the evidence investigators have found over the last 20 years.
“Our goal is to solve this case and we’re going to do anything we can,” Cotton said. “If somebody out there has any information, no matter how small a tidbit it might be, we want to hear it.”
If the story seems familiar it’s because it bears a strong resemblance to the recent case of Ayla Reynolds, a 20-month-old now presumed dead who went missing from her father’s Waterville home on Dec. 17, 2011. The three adults at the residence have not cooperated with police and no one has been charged, despite pleas from Ayla’s mother for justice.
At the time of her disappearance, Ayla was staying in Waterville with her father, Justin DiPietro, his girlfriend Courtney Roberts, 27, of Portland and her son, and Justin’s sister Alisha DiPietro, 26, and her daughter.
“We believe they have not given us the full story,” Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said six weeks into the investigation when authorities released information about the toddler’s blood being found inside her father’s home.
“They know more than they’ve told us,” McCausland said Monday about the case.
Maine State Police launched the largest missing person search in the state’s history, on water and on land, but the child has not been found. Investigators say it’s highly unlikely Ayla will be found alive.
With no one talking in either cold case, police investigators are left with little to work with.
“It’s very frustrating … to have a grasp of what you believe happened,” Cotton said. “You can’t always confirm.”
Sarah Johnson, Aisha’s mother, told the Bangor Daily News in May 1996 that she was afraid of DeShawn Dickson and that her mother took medication for a lifelong psychological problem.
But Johnson couldn’t explain how she didn’t see the injuries suffered by her child, some of which the medical examiner said occurred when Aisha was just 2 months old. At the time, Sarah Johnson was under a Department of Human Services order not to reside in any homes with children.
Aisha’s grandmother moved back to her native Honduras shortly after the baby’s death and died a few years ago, said Sgt. David Bushey, who once was the lead detective on the case. The baby’s parents moved from Bangor to Lewiston and went on to have at least two more children. The state took custody of both, a boy and a girl, and they were adopted, according to a previously published BDN report.
Bushey said he’s still in contact with Aisha’s parents. The investigators declined to say where the two are living, if they are still a couple or if they have had any additional children beyond the three that are known.
There is little publicly known about Aisha’s parents, except that they came to Bangor individually after enrolling in Penobscot Job Corps, where they met.
A small, pink granite gravestone marks the little girl’s final resting spot at Mount Hope Cemetery in Bangor. The marker, paid for by an anonymous donor and an unused fund set up for another little girl killed in the same neighborhood a year before, is engraved with a panda bear and a message that reads, “We’ll see you come morning.”
Aisha Dickson’s death is one of three unsolved homicides on the books in Bangor. The others are Peter J. Bassett in 1988 and Effie MacDonald in 1965.
Bassett, 39, was an off-duty Bangor mail carrier who was shot in the head and killed outside Judy’s Bar and Grill on State Street on Aug. 13, 1988. Police found his body, still clothed in his postal uniform, several hours after he got off work.
MacDonald was a 54-year-old chambermaid at the Bangor House who was raped and strangled on March 18, 1965. She was slain in a room on the third floor of the downtown hotel that today is a retirement home. Her death sent a wave of terror through the community.
Detective Josh Kuhn is now assigned to the Dickson case, Detective Tim Shaw is in charge of the Bassett case, and the MacDonald case is unassigned.
Even though two decades have passed, the investigation into the death of Aisha Dickson will only be closed when the case is solved, Cotton said.
“It’s an unsolved case, it’s not a cold case,” Cotton said. “With any unsolved homicides, these cases are never closed no matter what.”