Possible Links to other missing people[Thinking of 169ufpa] as a possible victim.This man was a medic in the army.He traveled around.
Killer of Heather Dawn Church revealed as serial killer
Heather Dawn Church
By PAM ZUBECK THE GAZETTE
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Special package on this breaking news story: Springs killer tied to 20 cases
The man who killed a Black Forest girl in 1991 has been tied to at least 19 other homicides in nine states and overseas by statements he made to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, making him one of the more prolific serial killers in the nation.
Robert Charles Browne, 53, who’s serving life without parole in a state prison in Cañon City for the kidnapping and murder of 13-year-old Heather Dawn Church, pleaded guilty today in El Paso County District Court to one of those additional killings: Rocio Sperry, the wife of a soldier and mother of a 3-month-old girl, whose strangled body Browne said he put in a Colorado Springs trash bin in 1987. Her body was never found.
Browne pleaded guilty to the murder in exchange for a concurrent life sentence, and has told authorities he’s killed 48 people.
During four years of interviews by El Paso County sheriff’s officials, Browne slowly revealed grisly details of at least 19 other killings that only the killer and investigators would know.
His connections to the killings will be disclosed today at a news conference in Colorado Springs. The slayings happened in Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and South Korea.
Sheriff Terry Maketa said he supported the investigation and worked with jurisdictions in other states to provide closure for families.
“A lot of people are going to say, ‘What difference does it make? He’s in prison,’” he said. “This is unlike many cases where we’re taking a threat off the streets. I recognized this three years ago and told our folks this isn’t about making the streets safer. This is an investigation that’s really about bringing closure to families and friends. We owe it to them to continue this investigation and to do everything we can to bring closure.”
Maketa said El Paso County commissioners authorized $20,000 in additional money to pay for the investigation, without knowing the details.
“We have a responsibility to work with agencies around the country,” he said. “It would kill me to say we can’t afford to continue this investigation. It shouldn’t be based on dollars and cents. Over the years I’ve seen jurisdictional issues interfere too much with the solving of crime.”
Two cases involve local women who went missing and weren’t considered homicide victims at the time they disappeared years ago.
Browne went to prison in 1995 after pleading guilty to kidnapping Heather from her rural home the evening of Sept. 17, 1991. She had been babysitting her younger brother, who was found safely sleeping in his bed.
Her disappearance launched a community search that scattered tens of thousands of posters of the bespectacled girl in store windows and on utility poles throughout eastern Colorado and western Kansas.
It was a high-profile case that gradually faded from public attention until her skull was found in a canyon off Rampart Range Road exactly two years after she disappeared.
In 1995, the Sheriff’s Office pinned the murder on Browne using a fingerprint from a window screen that had been removed from the Church family’s house. Browne had been fingerprinted during an arrest for a 1986 vehicle theft in Louisiana. He lived a half-mile from the Church home.
His arrest for Heather’s murder was the end of the line for Browne, who started his spree by killing a soldier in Korea in the early 1970s after a squabble over a prostitute. The list included more women than men and many victims who were assumed to have simply gone missing because of their transient lifestyles.
Browne told cold-case volunteer Charlie Hess in letters and sporadic meetings over four years that he strangled, shot or stabbed 20 men and women he encountered at roadside turnouts, in bars or on the street. Many of them, Browne didn’t even know their names.
Authorities have accounted for seven bodies.
Hess said Browne told him he dismembered one body in a motel room to avoid being seen carrying it to a vehicle. “He cut her up in the bathtub and put body parts in a suitcase and took them to a certain place and just threw them near the road,” said Hess, a former special agent with the FBI who was with the CIA in Vietnam in the 1960s and now works on Sheriff’s Office cold cases with two other retirees.
Maketa said the body was cut up with precision, and that Browne was trained as a medic while in the Army.
“He knew where to cut to dismantle” the body, Maketa said.
Browne escaped suspicion because many bodies were never found or there was no reason to suspect him, Hess said. He was never questioned by authorities in any cases other than Heather’s.
Browne told interrogators that his method was to choose easy targets, or “opportunities,” as he called them, during “ramblings” that took him on days-long drives across the country.
“He said he didn’t take any chances,” Hess said. “He would have to be 100 percent certain that he couldn’t be observed with the individual, couldn’t be tied to them in any way. He was with many of his victims only a matter of minutes. There was no pattern.”
Hess said women who have known Browne, who has told sheriff’s officials he wants no visitors and will give no media interviews, describe the tall man as charming, attractive, well-read, articulate and conversant on a number of topics. But as relationships progressed, he became domineering and in some cases cruel.
Browne gave Hess information about many crimes that led authorities in other states to believe Browne is responsible for the unsolved cases. He has described where bodies were left, how victims were killed and how they were dressed.
Whether Browne will be charged in other states isn’t clear.
Maketa said he believes two other cases, in Texas and Louisiana, have enough evidence to prosecute and he hopes today’s news conference generates renewed interest in other jurisdictions investigating cases.
Also unclear is whether information Browne has given would be enough to convict him or whether it would be admissible in court; he never asked for or was given an attorney before making the revelations, but always waived his Miranda rights to remain silent and have an attorney present.
He was represented in court today by public defender William Schoewe.
HOW IT STARTED
Browne’s tale began to unfold after the cold-case volunteers identified him as a possible serial killer.
Former Colorado Springs police detective turned volunteer Lou Smit had a hunch Brown had killed before. Smit, who drew headlines for his intruder theory in the 1996 slaying of JonBenet Ramsey in Boulder, solved the Church case after being lured from retirement by then-Sheriff John Anderson.
Because of that work, he was familiar with Browne but his sense for Browne’s past was “intuitive,” Hess said.
They found Browne had written to the Sheriff’s Office in 2000, two years after he lost a bid to withdraw his guilty plea in the Church case. The letter taunted authorities, Hess said, saying, “There’s a lot more out there you don’t know about.” But after exchanging a letter or two, Browne stopped writing and clammed up when a deputy attempted to visit him in prison.
On May 9, 2002, Hess wrote his first letter to Browne.
“I just wrote to say who I was, the fact we had a small group working on cold cases and our goal was to find closure in those cases, and since he had hinted or claimed to have other homicides behind him, that we would like the information concerning those so that we could bring the cases to closure,” Hess said.
Browne wrote back May 16, and a dialogue began. Early on, he wrote in riddles, such as, “Seven virgins side by side, others less worthy scattered wide.” There’s no evidence of a grave with seven bodies.
In September 2002, he gave the first concrete clue to a slaying, the Colorado Springs he pleaded guilty to today, by identifying the victim’s vehicle as a white Pontiac Grand Am.
“I didn’t really think that we had something, because we were the only ones who were really involved in it at that time,” Hess said, adding that sheriff’s officials were encouraging but not yet involved. “No one had any way of knowing whether these were legitimate, because the few scraps that he gave us were impossible to put together.”
Investigators tried, however. Detective Rick Frady compiled a list of about 170 stolen white Grand Ams from state vehicle registration records during a years-long period and began to eliminate them one by one. He narrowed it to two, and, finally, the one that belonged to Sperry.
Then in May 2003, Browne wrote a letter that listed cities and states where killings had happened, including specific locations of bodies.
Hess, Smit and Scott Fisher, a former Gazette publisher and the cold-case unit’s third member, contacted authorities, including officials in Flatonia, Texas.
“When I gave them the information that Browne had given in his letter, they immediately identified the case, and at that time said that the few details he gave us did match up with their unsolved murder,” Hess said.
Browne told Hess he was on a “rambling” in March 1984 when he stopped at a motel in Flatonia, between Houston and San Antonio. He said he met a woman, 19 or 20, in the bar. As with most of his victims, he didn’t know her name. She was intoxicated and wasn’t wearing shoes. Browne said he lured her to his room, knocked her out with ether, had sex with her and stabbed her in the heart with an ice pick. He dressed her and dumped the body in a ditch on a rural road near a small bridge or culvert.
Authorities with the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office told Hess that the body of a woman whose identity hasn’t been released was found 10 to 11 days after she was killed, barefoot.
The woman had been staying at the motel with her husband. She had become angry, marched out of the room and went to the bar, the husband told authorities at the time.
An autopsy found she died of ingesting what was believed to be acetone, although the report noted there was bleeding around the heart.
Hess said that when contacted by El Paso County, the Texas authorities couldn’t offer much detail, saying most records had been lost. Still, the deputy who dug up the case file said Browne “couldn’t know all that unless he did it or he was there,” Hess said.
In 2004, Browne stopped writing. Hess suggested a meeting, but Browne refused, saying he wouldn’t know how to relate, having not spoken with anyone for so long. Browne had had no visitors in prison.
“I wrote back and I told him, ‘Hey, I’ve debriefed people who were held prisoner where they had absolutely no contact with any other Americans and some of them almost forgot the English language,’” Hess said, referring to work he did with U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam. “He still said he didn’t want to talk in person. He said, ‘I don’t want to be interrogated or pushed around.’ I wrote back and said that’s not my style. I don’t interrogate people. I interview people. I talk with people, so there is no interrogation. He still didn’t want to see me.”
After Browne didn’t write for three months, Hess said, he showed up at the prison unannounced. “I thought there was nothing to lose,” he said.
Shackled and cuffed in a room with Hess, Browne sat without saying a word, Hess recalled. Hess said, “Do you know who I am?” Browne said, “No.” Hess said, “I’m Charlie Hess.”
Hess said Browne seemed intrigued that the investigator had actually shown up. Sitting across an office table with a guard outside the door, they chatted but didn’t discuss cases during the hourlong meeting. “I just wanted to know if he wished to re-establish contact, because it appeared he wanted to provide information,” Hess said. “After all, he contacted us originally and all letters were voluntary.”
Hess described Browne as polite and respectful but unemotional, guarded and not remorseful. “It became obvious to me that in order to discuss anything with him he would have to be talked to with respect and I would have to be nonjudgmental or the conversations and probably the communications would stop,” he said.
Hess said he visited Browne once or twice a month, and Browne gave information more freely with hopes some of his requests would be granted, such as a move to another prison and treatment by a nonprison doctor for arthritis and other ailments.
By early 2005, Browne had provided enough details of two killings in Texas that local authorities were convinced he committed them.
“What made us willing to consider this doctor and relocation was that Robert Browne stated, ‘If you can have these things happen, I will give you three murders in Louisiana, unsolved, and enough information to solve or prove I killed a lady in Colorado Springs,’” Hess said.
Browne was moved out of 23-hour lockdown when he became eligible for a rehab program that prepares prisoners to be housed in the general prison population. He also was provided a new doctor. After prison doctors changed his medications, Browne’s health improved, and so did his cooperation.
Hess said Browne provided information on the three Louisiana slayings, as promised.
Browne told Hess that in 1983 he killed two women in his hometown, Coushatta, La., in Red River Parish. One victim was a neighbor. He met the other woman in a bar.
One was found in her apartment, a cabin, that sat in view of Browne’s apartment window. The other’s body was dumped into the Red River. Her body has not been found, and she was considered a missing person until recently. Both were in their 20s.
Browne did maintenance work at the complex, and had changed the lock on the first woman’s door the day before she died, saying the owner, his brother, wanted the lock changed.
The woman told a relative about the lock being changed and expressed concern that Browne had a key.
Officials knocked on Browne’s door when the body was found. Browne and his former wife answered, looking hung over. They asked if he heard anything the night before. He said he had not. End of interview.
The third victim was a girl, 16, he picked up after a teenage gathering at a local food place. She needed a ride and a place to stay. Taking her to a front room in his mother’s house, he had sex with her and strangled her before dumping her body in a creek about 50 miles away.
Six months later, body parts and a skull were found by hunters and identified as those of the person Browne described, whom he knew only by a nickname, Fuzzy.
Browne also told of a woman in Colorado Springs — Sperry, but he didn’t know her name — who was treated as a missing person. He strangled her after a date and dumped her body in a trash bin. Sperry was alone, because her husband, Joseph, had taken their baby daughter, Amy, to Florida to visit family.
Joseph Sperry has been estranged from his daughter since then, because the girl was raised by her mother’s family, who was convinced the husband killed his wife.
“She didn’t know until we told her,” Maketa said, “so she’s gone all through her life being led to believe that it was her father who killed her mother. When we contacted him, he had some of the original (missing persons) reports he filed. That’s something he carried with him for a long time.”
In 1986, Browne stole a truck in Louisiana, drove across the country and killed three people on the West Coast. Arrested for the vehicle theft, Browne was fingerprinted. That set of prints led indirectly to his life prison term, when El Paso County officials matched a print to the Church home.
NO APPARENT MOTIVE
Hess said some dates Browne provided don’t match exactly with when someone went missing, because of his memory problems and because he dumped bodies in places he’d never been and hasn’t returned to since. He also admitted getting some slayings mixed up with others.
Getting information from Browne was a challenge. Always courteous and well-groomed, Browne seemed to look forward to the meetings, held in an office with guards posted outside the door. He never swore and sat quietly, sometimes saying little.
“It was a slow process because it was always one question, one answer. New question, new answer,” Hess said. “You didn’t get the feeling that he was enjoying providing the details, yet he wasn’t reluctant to give them.”
Maketa said FBI profilers concluded Browne is a psychopath and possesses a common serial-killer trait — an obsessive need to be in control.
“First, Robert Browne is not stupid. He would give us just enough to where we knew we had a case but it wasn’t a strong case,” Maketa said.
“He controlled the tempo of the conversations, what we could ask, when we could hold the interviews, how long they would last,” he said. “To some degree they (serial killers) want to share but under their rules. He dictated what would be talked about.”
Hess, after meeting with Browne dozens of times, can’t explain his motive.
“He said he didn’t know,” he said. “When I asked him what would trigger it, what would make you want to kill an individual, he said, ‘I wouldn’t be particularly mad about something, upset. It’s just the opportunity was there.’ I think there’s something in his psyche that says you’ve got to do away with these people. He says all women are whores, and they cheat on their husbands, they’re prostitutes, they never tell the truth, they’re always trying to get something from you.”
Last year, detectives worked with officials in other states to match unsolved cases and verify details. The work involved phone calls and visits to other states, digging records from forgotten file cabinets and testing memories.
Sheriff’s investigator Jeff Nohr was assigned. In recent months, most everyone in major crimes was involved in some way.
So far, six bodies, not including that of Heather Church, have been found — one each in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and two each in Louisiana and Texas.
Others were dumped into rivers or over cliffs. Recent searches in some states have yielded no remains, although sheriff’s officials praised authorities for their work in resurrecting old investigations and helping match details of the killings to Browne’s confessions.
In February, authorities from several states met in Dallas for two days during which El Paso County officials outlined what Browne had told them.
Some officials reportedly are willing to offer immunity from prosecution if Browne confesses, allowing them to close the case and provide closure to families. But Browne would be expected to give lots of detail to convince them he was the killer, Hess said.
Whether Browne is tried in more slayings is a secondary concern to Hess and his cohorts, because Browne is serving life without parole.
“We want to be able to bring some closure to these people. That’s what we’re all about,” he said. “The convictions, that’s up to the prosecutors. But to be able to prove he actually did that particular crime and we can go to that family and tell them, it doesn’t make up for what happened, but there’s some degree of solace in that they realize the guy’s in jail forever.”
Maketa credits Hess with persuading Browne to talk, a lesson for all investigators.
“Charlie really opened a gateway to a lesson learned on this,” he said. When Browne wrote to investigators initially, their attitude was, “Tell me what you need to tell me or don’t bother writing me,” Maketa said.
“They forget we’re dealing with people that process things, especially serials, that have this desire to control,” he said. “I fully credit Charlie. His demeanor and patience should be a reminder to all investigators, cold case or even current homicide, that sometimes you can’t control everything. Sometimes you need to let the suspect think they have control.”
Maketa said Browne has claimed credit for 48 slayings, and he believes him. “At this point, he says, ‘I’ve given you everything I can remember,’” he said. “I think he’ll continue to remember things.”
The sheriff said he’ll establish a hotline to receive calls from people who may have information on Browne’s crimes.
“We’re setting it up in anticipation of a lot of calls,” he said. “There’s still a lot of cases he’s told us about that we can’t tie him into.”
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