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Killer's Claims Not Easy to Verify

Robert Browne, 53, says since his 20s he has slain dozens of people, many in his native Louisiana.

July 29, 2006|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Police around the country combed through their files Friday following an imprisoned Colorado man's claim that he killed 48 people during a cross-country spree that lasted three decades.

Robert Browne, serving a life sentence for murdering a 13-year-old girl outside Colorado Springs in 1991, has provided enough detail for the El Paso County Sheriff's Department to verify six other killings, including the 1987 strangulation of a 15-year-old here to which Browne pleaded guilty Thursday.

But even in jurisdictions where Browne is well known, it will be hard to definitively tie him to the deaths, police say.

"We need to talk to him first," said Johnny Norman, the sheriff of Red River Parish in northern Louisiana, where Browne, 53, grew up and claims to have killed three women. "I hope it is [confirmable]. At least it'd be closure for the families."

Browne's three alleged slayings in that rural area represent 75% of its unsolved homicides. Norman, a high school teacher during Browne's adolescence, recalled a "standoffish" young man with few friends and a sometimes quick temper.

"But he was not a problem kid," Norman said. "He was not someone you'd expect to do what he says he's done."

Browne claims that while working in his hometown of Coushatta, as a handyman in an apartment complex owned by his brother, he sneaked into the homes of two young women and killed them. He also claims to have lured 15-year-old Katherine Hayes from a chicken stand, strangled her with shoelaces and dumped her body in a river.

Norman said Browne was a suspect in those early-1980s deaths but the department couldn't tie him to the crimes.

Browne was the youngest of nine children. His father was a dairy farmer who also served as a deputy sheriff, and one of his brothers was a state trooper. "They're a good family; they're good people," Norman said. "They didn't have the finer things in life, but they had enough."

Browne drifted across the South and West and spent several years in the military in South Korea, where he claims he killed a fellow soldier in a fight over a prostitute in 1970.

Married six times -- including to a 13-year-old -- Browne told investigators he reviled women, according to court records.

"Women are unfaithful, they screw around a lot, they cheat, and they are not of the highest moral value," Browne said to a former FBI and CIA officer investigating as a volunteer for the El Paso County Sheriff's Department. "They cheat and they are users."

Browne claims to have killed 17 people in Louisiana, and he said in boastful letters to Colorado investigators that he committed many of his crimes in New Orleans. In one 1977 case, he claims to have picked up a woman from South Philadelphia and strangled her in a motel room; the New Orleans Police Department on Friday said it was searching homicide files from that year to find the case.

Browne also claims to have fatally shot a man and woman camping on a beach in Northern California in the 1980s. El Paso County sheriff's officials said they contacted local law enforcement but were unable to find a missing-persons report that could pinpoint the killing.

In Sugar Land, Texas, police said they were going through forensic evidence from the 1984 dismemberment of a 17-year-old topless dancer Browne said he had killed.

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