State: Colorado killer’s claims a tour of murder, mayhem
Denver — Robert Charles Browne says he shot some of his victims and strangled others, in one case with a pair of leather shoelaces. He knocked out one woman with ether, then used an ice pick on her. He put a rag soaked in ant killer over another victim’s face and stabbed her nearly 30 times with a screwdriver.
If Browne is telling the truth about killing 49 people across the country and abroad, his crimes practically constitute a manual on the many ways in which to kill.
In fact, it may have been the variety in his methods that kept authorities from connecting the crimes until Browne sent a taunting letter to prosecutors six years ago.
“Sometimes killers do not replicate things from one crime to the next,” said criminologist Robert Keppel, a professor at Sam Houston State University and author of the 1997 book “Signature Killers.” “That makes it hard on police.”
Colorado authorities announced on Thursday that Browne, 53, claimed to have committed scores of killings between 1970 and his arrest in 1995. He has pleaded guilty to two slayings and is serving a life sentence for murdering a Colorado girl in 1991.
Investigators so far have been able to corroborate Browne’s claims in six slayings — three in Louisiana, two in Texas and one in Arkansas, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.
In some cases, however, investigators have been unable to confirm some of his claims to have dumped bodies in certain places. And in other cases, he cannot remember enough details for investigators to check out what he is telling them.
El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who called the case like something “out of a movie set,” said Friday that investigators have to assume Browne is telling the truth unless they can disprove what he says.
“It’s like any investigation: It would be a terrible thing for any law enforcement official to sit and pass judgment whether they believe it or not,” Maketa said. “If it sounds even half-reasonable, in order to be effective in your job you have to follow through.”
Court papers paint a picture of a predator who loathed women and thought he was justified in killing them because they were cheating on their husbands and boyfriends — in many cases, with him.
Browne, who has been married six times, said he has been disappointed with women his whole life. “Women are unfaithful, they screw around a lot, they cheat and they are not of the highest moral value,” he told investigators. “They cheat and they are users.”
He told investigators he rarely if ever planned a killing, choosing his prey at random. He met his victims in everyday settings — a motel bar, a convenience store where he worked. In one case, he was familiar with a victim’s apartment because he had changed the locks there as a maintenance man.
He said he used different types of guns and sometimes beat his victims. One died after he put a rag soaked in ant killer over her face while she was asleep, he said.
An Army veteran who served in South Korea during the 1970s, Browne described killings committed with unspeakable cruelty. He said he dismembered Rocio Sperry, whose remains have never been found, in a bathtub, “just popping” her joints and taking the body apart, investigators said. He said he was worried about being spotted carrying the body outside.
The remains of Nidia Mendoza, 17, were found dumped along a Houston interstate, her legs and head cut from the body. Browne told authorities he used a dull butcher knife that was in his motel kitchenette.
He told investigators in prison interviews that he never just went “looking for someone.” When the opportunity was there, Browne said he took it — “it was just disgust with the person and some of it just confrontation.”
“No plan?” an investigator asked.
“No,” Browne replied.
Maketa said Browne probably got away with his crimes because he never spent much time with his victims before killing them and was adept at disposing of their bodies.
Vicki Woods, a lifelong friend of Browne in his hometown of Coushatta, La., said she was stunned to hear of the allegations. “This is not a side of Robert I ever imagined,” she said.
Woods said she had complete trust in Browne, who baby-sat her preteen son and daughter in the 1980s. Her children also went to Browne’s Easter egg hunts and spent weekends at a trailer he owned near the small rural town in northern Louisiana.
“I am so confused. I have no idea what’s going on, except that I feel like I have lost a friend,” she said.
After one of the killings in Coushatta — a killing now linked to Browne — he often insisted that women and children in the neighborhood stay indoors after dark, she said.
“He was so protective of us,” Woods said.
If Browne’s claims prove true, he would be one of the most prolific killers in U.S. history. Gary Ridgway, Seattle’s Green River Killer, became the nation’s deadliest convicted serial killer in 2003. He admitted to 48 murders but once said he killed as many as 71 women.
It was Browne who spurred investigators to take another look at his past when he sent a letter in 2000. It read: “Seven sacred virgins entombed side by side, those less worthy are scattered wide. The score is you 1, the other team 48.”
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who was once El Paso County district attorney, said he believes Browne’s claim to multiple slayings. He described the killer as intelligent.
“The combination of moving around a lot, picking random victims and being pretty clean about it, if he’s telling the truth about how he disposed of the bodies — that would show some pretty calculated methods to avoid detection,” Suthers said.
But Keppel was skeptical of Browne’s claim that he killed close to 50 people.
“Probably no doubt the guy’s murdered a lot of people, but numbers are just for media purposes,” Keppel said. “This guy has lied, cheated and stolen his whole life and there’s no indication he’s going to tell you the whole truth about all his victims.”
Browne’s public defender, Bill Schoewe, did not return calls seeking comment.
Associated Press writer Doug Simpson contributed to this report from Coushatta, La.
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