GARDEN GROVE — "Girls, it has to be done tonight," the balding computer whiz whispered as he roused the two teen-agers--one his daughter, the other his sister-in-law and secret lover--from a restless sleep.
Startled, the girls awoke to the cool, past-midnight quiet of their bedroom and set to work, putting months of helter-skelter, clandestine planning into murderous motion. A few last instructions from David, a few nervous second thoughts, and then:
A gunshot into the sleeping bulk beneath the blue blanket--like a car backfiring. A pillow--to muffle the sound--snagged in the .38 caliber's hammer; can't fire. What now? A baby crying. A pained moan, from the master bedroom. "She's not dead!" Footsteps, running, back to the scene. Another shot. Blood, pounding through her white T-shirt, gurgling through her mouth.
Linda Marie Brown, 23, wife and mother of a 7-month-old girl, was dead, two silver-tipped bullets lodged in her upper chest.
Within minutes, Cinnamon Brown, her 14-year-old stepdaughter, would be lying in her own vomit in the back-yard doghouse, near-comatose from pills her father had given her. A murder-suicide note would be clutched in her hand, bound in ribbon, the supposed goodby of a teen-ager fed up with mom's nagging about picking up around the house.
"Dear God, please forgive me," the note read. "I didn't mean to hurt her."
David Brown was nowhere to be found.
The man due to be sentenced this week as the mastermind of the bloody 1985 affair was buying comic books and a prepackaged fruit pie at a local convenience store in the dead hours of the morning, making sure to stop inside a few times to say hello to the clerk.
As would prove his modus operandi, he left no footprints, no fingerprints, no notes to tie him directly to the crime. It was as if Brown, like the culprit in Agatha Christie's "Curtain," was able to subconsciously drive his subjects to murder.
When police arrived on the murder scene a few hours later, they would find him "scared and upset," shaking, too afraid even to go into the bedroom alone. By all appearances, he was the shocked, grief-stricken husband so common in the detective thrillers that he loved to read and watch.
There was no sign, then, that the computer businessman would collect $835,000 from the victim's insurance, including several policies started just months before. No sign that he had pumped the girls with talk about his wife's supposed desires to "break up the family." No sign of the overpowering nature that would later prompt him to make his sister-in-law (and soon-to-be sixth wife) wear a beeper around the clock to ensure loyalty.
The Teflon Murderer, some might call him.
For nearly four years after Linda Brown's murder, the Teflon held.
Only Cinnamon Brown, the teen-ager who shot her stepmother before passing out in the doghouse, saw punishment for the crime.
She sat silently all that time in the California Youth Authority in Camarillo, claiming forgetfulness about the killing in the face of questions from parole investigators who were skeptical about her role but could not disprove it. Her father, meanwhile, bought a couple of half-million dollar homes in the Orange County area, paying cash for at least one, and lived comfortably and secretively with Patti Bailey, the victim's 17-year-old sister, investigators say.
Only after Cinnamon--and later Patti--had turned against him, part from frustration, part from legal prodding, was Brown implicated in the plot and charged with murder in September, 1988, the beginning of a tumultuous legal journey.
For Cinnamon, it was the disclosure by authorities of her father's insurance payoff and his secret marriage and child with Patti that drove her to sever all ties with him. For Patti, it was her husband's feverish attempt after their joint arrest to blame her for the killing.
Behind the damning cumulative weight of the testimony of Brown's two "puppets," as prosecutors termed Cinnamon and Patti, an Orange County jury took less than seven hours to convict Brown of murder on June 15 for orchestrating his wife's killing and and setting up his own daughter to take the fall.
Now, as wide-eyed television, film and movie writers look on, Brown, 37, faces life in prison without the possibility of parole at his sentencing this Wednesday.
Out of all the bedlam of Brown's spring trial, a single, patient, almost hypnotic line emerged to set the tone for the case. It was a line that, according to Cinnamon's testimony, her father had used repeatedly to gain her cooperation in the murder scheme: If you loved me, you would do this for me.
Brown declares his innocence to this day, maintaining he was set up through the vendetta-like tactics of prosectors and the "lies" of Cinnamon now 20, and Patti, 22.