Killer’s confessions raise big challenges for small-town sheriff of Coushatta |

Killer’s confessions raise big challenges for small-town sheriff of Coushatta

Vicki Woods, life long friend of Robert Charles Browne, talks about her friend in Coushatta, La. Friday afternoon July 28, 2006. Browne, who is already serving a life sentence for killing a teenager, entered a Colorado Springs courtroom and pleaded guilty to killing another teenager, one of 48 additional people he claims to have killed dating back to 1970. Woods is standing in front of one of the small apartments that Browne stayed in during his time in Coushatta. Browne stayed in the middle cabin. (AP Photo/Bill Haber)

COUSHATTA, La. – When a confessed killer in Colorado took responsibility for three 1980s murders in this tiny Louisiana town, it created challenges for the area’s top lawman.Sheriff Johnny Norman must now investigate the cases anew, but the body of one victim has never been found. He has no crime scene evidence from any of the three killings. Many of the notes from witness interviews have also disappeared over the years, he said.”We’ve got pieces and bits of it, but not the whole thing,” Norman said Saturday.Norman’s challenges stem from last week’s confessions from Robert Charles Browne, who is serving a life sentence in Colorado for murdering a girl there in 1991. He took responsibility for 49 killings in all, across the country, and Colorado authorities said they have corroborated six of them – including three here, in the early ’80s.But to convict Browne in Coushatta, the confessions still require evidence good enough for a jury – which Norman said he doesn’t have. The killings took place under another sheriff’s watch, he said, and Norman doesn’t know what happened to evidence from the crime scenes.

“I don’t know where it went. That was two sheriffs ago,” he said.Browne has confessed to killing three young women in Coushatta, a north Louisiana farming town of about 2,500 people, where Browne grew up the youngest of nine siblings, the son of a dairy farmer who later became a sheriff’s deputy.Acquaintances and friends have said Browne had a hot temper but was overall an unremarkable kid. In his seventh-grade yearbook picture, from 1965, he is the handsome, grinning boy in a white dress shirt, the only one in his class wearing a tie.Browne joined the Army after high school and was kicked out for drug use, authorities said. He returned to Louisiana and worked for one of his brothers, a property owner, as a handyman, acquaintances said.The Coushatta killings he has confessed to started in 1980:-Katherine Jean “Fuzzy” Hayes was a 15-year-old whom Browne said he picked up at a chicken stand. They had sex and he strangled her with shoelaces, he said. Hunters found her body Oct. 16, 1980, off a highway west of Coushatta.

-Faye Self, 26, a neighbor, was reported missing March 30, 1983. Browne said he went to Self’s apartment after the two met at a nightclub. She died after he placed a chloroform-soaked rag over her face, Browne said, and he disposed of her body in the Red River. It was never found.-Investigators believe Wanda Faye Hudson, 20, was killed on May 28, 1983. She was stabbed multiple times in her apartment – a unit Browne would later move into, with one of his wives. Browne said he killed her with a screwdriver, police said.The Hudson killing was particularly vicious, police here said. Royce Killingsworth, who lived here at the time, said he convinced a sheriff’s deputy friend to let him look at the bloody crime scene – an experience he now regrets.”I’ve done a few things in my life I wish I hadn’t. Looking in that house was one of them,” Killingsworth said.After that killing, Browne began showing off a newfound concern for the safety of women and children in the neighborhood: He began insisting that they remain indoors after dark, said Vicki Woods, a lifelong friend.”He was so protective of us,” Woods said.

Browne left his hometown in the late ’80s and hasn’t been seen here since, Woods said. Browne disappeared soon after Woods said he unexpectedly began driving around in a new pickup truck. He took Woods’ son and daughter for a ride in the pickup one day, then brought the children back home. She never saw Browne again.Police later told her the truck was stolen, Woods said.”He left the next day, and he was hunted by the law,” she said.Now that Browne has announced he’s a serial killer, Sheriff Norman begins investigating anew three decades-old murders, with slim evidence.Norman said Colorado investigators informed him months ago that they were probing Browne’s connections to the Coushatta killings, but they announced it publicly without giving him warning. Reporters were soon calling him from around the country.”I knew this was in the works, but I didn’t know it was coming this quick,” Norman said. “They could have given me a little warning. It hit like a bombshell.”

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