But police, despite ‘full search,’ fail to find woman wanted in ambush of commune leader
Like smoke in the wind, Rebekah Johnson allegedly turned up yesterday afternoon at a New Brighton apartment where she used to live.
And then vanished.
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The 11th reported sighting of the fugitive wanted in the shooting of Ganas commune leader Jeff Gross had a new twist: On every other occasion, police have been able to confirm the identity of the woman mistaken for Ms. Johnson, but this time, they found no one.
We don’t know if she was in there or not, said Capt. Richard Gutch, commanding officer of the Staten Island Housing Unit, after cops did a full search of 131 Jersey St. in the Richmond Terrace Houses, in the triple-digit heat of yesterday afternoon.
Police later spotted a woman who resembled the 43-year-old fugitive on surveillance video taken from cameras inside and outside the apartment buildings but do not believe it was Ms. Johnson, police sources said.
A worker at the city housing complex told police that Ms. Johnson entered her former sixth-floor apartment at around noon, Gutch said.
Hector Farulla, a maintenance worker for the more than 100 apartments at 131 Jersey St., also confirmed the reported sighting.
She was walking around [outside the front of the building] with a shopping cart. I didn’t think anything of it, because a lot of people walk around with shopping carts here, Farulla said.
Both witnesses told police that the woman appeared to be Ms. Johnson, who is described as about 5 feet, 7 inches tall, between 170 and 220 pounds, with gray hair that makes her look 10 years older, and a slightly hunchbacked gait.
Ms. Johnson allegedly shot Gross from ambush at the Ganas compound on Corson Avenue in New Brighton when he returned home from a movie on May 29, shortly after 11 p.m.
Police have said they believe she is still in New York, stalking Gross, the community activist whom she harassed for two years.
Minutes after the 911 call yesterday, scores of police surrounded the eight-story building, as surveillance helicopters whirred overhead. Shortly before 1 p.m., a SWAT team entered the building, wearing full black body armor and carrying rifles and shields. One officer walked in with a crowbar and a large ax.
About an hour later, they emerged from the building, bathed in sweat.
Gutch said they’ve done this a few times before — and with more and more tips on Ms. Johnson’s whereabouts coming in since the case appeared on America’s Most Wanted last weekend, police are likely to do this drill again.
We got a credible report with two witnesses. Given the nature of the crime, we have to take these reports seriously, Gutch said.