December 8, 2005

Calif. man charged in murder of Montessori heiress

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A California man was charged on
Thursday with killing 15-year-old Hanna Montessori, the
great-great granddaughter of the educational pioneer.

The arrest of Johnathan Tran, 20, comes nearly two years
after the murder of Hanna, discovered bleeding from the head in
a quiet southern California neighborhood on January 19, 2004,
four months after running away from a Georgia group home.

She died on the way to a hospital and her body lay in the
morgue as "Jane Doe," unidentified for three months before
family members spotted her photograph on a Web site.

Tran was also charged with raping two girls, one 17 and one
18, at gunpoint and sexually assaulting a third, who was 16. He
faces 55 years to life in prison if convicted.

"We've got a situation where we've got four young girls,
all working in the same area and all prostitutes," said Orange
County District Attorney's Spokeswoman Susan Schroeder.

Prosecutors say Hanna, who vanished from a Marietta,
Georgia, group home in September of 2003, had been working as a
prostitute and was seen getting into Tran's pick-up truck in
Santa Ana about 7 p.m. on the night of her death.

A few minutes later, prosecutors say, a witness heard a
loud "thump" as a truck drove by and saw Montessori lying in
the street with severe head injuries.

Hanna's grandmother told Reuters the family was relieved an
arrest had finally been made in the case and did not believe
she had been working on the streets.

"She was such a sweet girl but when she made up her mind,
she made up her mind," Anne Montessori said. "She was going to
do what Hanna wanted to do."

Maria Montessori founded her first school in Rome in the
early 1900s and developed a method of education emphasizing
independence for children that is now used in thousands of
schools around the world.

Family members have said Hanna grew up well-behaved in an
upper-middle class suburb in Maine but turned rebellious at the
age of 11, when her parents divorced.

Hanna moved with her mother to Georgia but was sent to a
group home after a judge found she had been sexually abused.
Neither of her parents was accused.

After running away, Hanna made her way to California, where
she was picked up by Los Angeles police for loitering, but
released after giving a false name. Anne Montessori said the
family's last contact with Hanna came when she called her
brother from California.

"He was begging her to come home," she said. "She told him
that she wanted to come home and would come home but not until
she was 18 because then nobody could tell her what to do. That
was the last any of us had heard from her."