Foul Odor in Closet Leads to Infant Bone Discovery; Mom Arrested

A woman who smelled a foul odor coming from her daughter's bedroom closet called police, who found the bones of an infant stashed in a spackle bucket.

After the discovery, police arrested 21-year-old Shantaivia Johnson of Queens on a manslaughter charge.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Johnson told authorities the baby was stillborn and the remains had been there for months.

The medical examiner's office has not yet determined whether the child was born alive and, if so, the cause of death, according to spokeswoman Ellen Borakove.

The Queens district attorney's office said the initial manslaughter charge against Johnson could change, pending the outcome of the medical examiner's probe. Police and prosecutors say they don't know whether Johnson has an attorney.

The son of the landlord who owns the two-family, pink stucco home in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Springfield Gardens was reeling from the news.

Steven Jean-Charles, 18, said the baby's grandmother had called police after tracking down the foul odor and opening the closet where the bucket sat. He said police arrived shortly after midnight Wednesday, with sirens blaring.

Jean-Charles said Johnson had moved into the second floor of the house about eight months ago with her mother, Margarita Joseph. Joseph also has two sons, ages 12 and 18. The landlord's family lives on the first floor.

"The family was a bit bizarre, in a way," he said Friday. "The 12-year-old stayed home during the day, he didn't go to school."

Johnson had a job and a boyfriend who came around often, Jean-Charles said. "She looked like any 21-year-old — well dressed, she had a job, a boyfriend."