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Of the two suspects, Tatro was by far the more obvious, having been previously imprisoned for sexual assault and other violent crimes. He had been convicted in of first-degree rape in Arkansas, after he kidnapped a woman, stuffed her in the trunk of his car, and drove her out to a remote country road, where he sexually assaulted her while holding a knife in her mouth. But she escaped, and Tatro was subsequently convicted of attempted rape. I spoke with Sharon Kaye Villines-Tatro, who had been married to Tatro in the s, and she sounded sad but unsurprised to hear that her former husband had been connected to another violent crime.
Tatro used to tie her up and rape her, she said. But the new DNA revelations also caused two major problems for the department. The first was that the genetic evidence required detectives to retreat from the long-held theory that Hough and Nantais had both been murdered by the same person: Tatro had still been in jail for rape in , when Nantais was killed. A records custodian for the Arkansas Department of Corrections confirmed for me that Tatro had not escaped or been furloughed.
Brown, too, seemed an improbable perpetrator for the Nantais killing: In , he was a college student living in Sacramento, more than miles away. Ray Surette, a criminal-justice professor at the University of Central Florida, agrees that the Hough killing could be a classic example of a copycat crime, a phenomenon he has studied extensively.
The other possibility, he says, is that there is no connection and the similarities are merely coincidental. The other major complication caused by the results of the DNA tests was that they pointed toward two possible suspects, not just one. Both were, the detectives decided: The criminal and the crime-lab employee had somehow committed the act together.
Despite their efforts, though, police have never been able to find any evidence connecting the two men. From their very first interrogation of Brown, on January 9 of last year, detectives repeatedly tried to get him to admit that he knew Tatro. But Brown always maintained that the two had never met.
By the time the police got the hit on his DNA, he was dead, having drowned in a boating accident in Tennessee the previous year. If so, he was, after Wheeler, the second suspect in the case to have committed suicide. Brown had arrived in San Diego in to start his job with the police. Geils Band. Stuff that we consider taboo now was everywhere. Brown pumped iron and studied karate. He was handsome and educated, and he carried a badge. The outgoing Sheldon played wingman for Brown when they went out. Brown was nonetheless intensely interested in women. He liked to go to strip clubs.
He liked to talk about going to strip clubs. She told Detective Lambert that Brown had once shown a sickening porn movie at work.
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Another time, when Peer and Brown were alone, he read aloud from a report that he said was funny—but that in fact described a brutal sexual assault. Peer says that she never felt comfortable being alone with him again. The organizer would hire female models, and anywhere from half a dozen to photographers like Brown would show up to take pictures.
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But Brown began setting up his own shoots, too. According to a police affidavit, he told Lambert and Adams that the women performed sex acts with one another at some of the shoots. The police portrayal of Brown as a pervert was disturbing enough. He said that he now recalled meeting a woman in the s who was possibly named Claire. She was visiting from out of town with a friend.
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Brown continued to maintain that he had never killed anyone, and he repeatedly volunteered to take a polygraph test. And so that same day, Lambert and Adams drove him to a nearby police station, where an interrogation specialist wired him up. Asked whether he had ever known Tatro or had committed a crime with him, Brown said no. The lie-detector results were inconclusive. But when he replied no to questions regarding whether he had had sex with or killed Claire Hough, the polygraph readings were clear: Deception indicated.
As bad as that looked for Brown, what followed was more damning still. After the lie-detector test, Lambert left the room, and Brown sat alone with Adams. I n mounting a defense for the guilty-seeming Kevin Brown, his wife and friends acknowledged that he had been no Boy Scout in the past. So what? In any case, his friends told me, the X-rated Kevin cleaned up to PG after he married Rebecca, in And everyone who knew him in the s agrees that he was almost comically incapable of aggression.
Yeah, that surprises the hell out of me. Jon Dahlberg, a friend since junior high school, says that Brown, far from being a rapist, bragged about having developed an evidence-collection kit for hospitals to use with rape victims.
Can DNA Evidence Solve a 30-Year-Old Crime?
There was, for instance, the failed polygraph test. Not long after he took it, Brown went to lunch with another old friend, Ed Pierce, for reassurance.
By all accounts, Brown was an exceptionally nervous person. Testifying about crime-lab results in court, he was easily unnerved and would get tongue-tied, his former boss, Stam, recalls. Friends say it is easy to imagine Brown getting bullied by police interrogators to the point of wrongfully incriminating himself, and they feel he never should have spoken to the detectives without a lawyer present.
Moreover, there are questions concerning two statements in an affidavit that, in addition to the DNA evidence, appear to be the core of the case against Brown. The first statement is his shocking admission that he had slept with a woman named Claire who was visiting from out of town with a friend. The person he described in the affidavit does not otherwise resemble Hough. Brown told police that she was staying at the Holiday Inn in downtown San Diego and that he had visited her in her hotel room. Hough, by contrast, was staying with her grandparents.
Brown said he met this Claire through a friend, whom police later determined was named Mike Newquist. Newquist declined to speak with me for this article, but when I asked Wick whether he remembered anything about someone named Claire from the s, he told me that he and Newquist had discussed this.
They both recalled knowing a Claire who was not Claire Hough and who was closer to 30 years old, although they did not remember Brown meeting her.
That evidence alone might have sunk Brown. But Wick repeatedly insisted to me that Brown had never told him this. How could the police have gotten this vital fact wrong? Wick guesses that he speculated to the police about ways Brown might have met Hough—and that somehow, one of his pie-in-the-sky hypotheticals was rendered by the police as fact. In December, hoping to discuss some of these uncertainties, I met with Lieutenant Rorrison in a small, windowless room. Brusquely cutting off my inquiries, he said the police were closing out the case. The most confounding question in the case is how the meek Brown and the hyperaggressive Tatro—the ultimate odd couple—might have gotten to know each other, let alone become accomplices in a grisly crime.
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