July 27, 1966: The Abduction and Murder of 11-Year-Old Brenda Sue Brown


WHAT HAPPENED?


On July 27, 1966, an 11-year-old North Carolina child named Brenda Sue Brown was abducted and murdered by blunt trauma. Her body was found by rescue workers in the woods in Shelby, NC. Unfortunately, there were no leads and not much evidence, and her case went cold.


A series of newspaper articles 40 years later brought new attention to the case, and with it, new evidence. In 2007, a man was arrested in connection with the murder, but as of 2020, no one has been convicted for the crime.

ABDUCTION AND INVESTIGATION


The morning of July 27, 1966 started just like any other for an 11-year-old girl: with a fight over a powder-puff make-up compact with her younger sisters. After that, Brenda Sue was asked to walk her 6-year-old sister Patricia to her Head Start class, a mere 2 blocks away. That was the last time she was ever seen alive.


By 10:15 AM, Gladys Brown, Brenda Sue's mother, began a door-to-door search for her daughter all around the neighborhood. She asked all of her neighbors and any passing motorists if they had seen her. By noon, a search team was put together by the Shelby Rescue Squad.


At 6:45 PM, less than 12 hours after Brenda Sue went missing, her parents received the worst news they could have possibly imagined: their daughter's naked body was found in the woods, covered in freshly cut leaves and brush. The dress she had been wearing was folded and placed neatly on top of the branches, and a bloody rock was found nearby. Their daughter who had just been arguing with her little sister that morning had been murdered.


Authorities concluded that she had been beaten to death with the rock found at the crime scene. Her skull had 12 different fractures. They also determined that, despite being nude, there was no sign of sexual assault. Due to the heavy traffic on the street near the woods she was found in, police did not believe someone in a car would have been able to get out and force a child into the woods without being seen, so they believed he was on foot.


Several suspects were immediately noted. First was an unidentified bald white man who had just exposed himself to Brenda Sue's sister the day before. However, he could not be found. Their next suspect was Robert Roseboro, a 13-year-old black mentally disabled child. He was questioned, but remained silent during the interrogation which made him "more suspicious" according to the officer.


Roseboro lived close by where the body was found and refused to answer questions, which made him a suspect. However, he only didn't answer questions after he had been brought in, meaning he was originally a suspect because he lived kind of close to the woods. Which brings me to the reason I included his race in the paragraph above: at the time, he was probably questioned because he was black.


Apparently, he had been seen in the area the morning of Brenda Sue's murder (because he lived close by) and the public was shocked he wasn't interrogated further. Some believed he may have been protected by organized crime that dominated the area in the 60s. Police did not have enough evidence to hold him, so he was let go. However, many investigators believed he had done it.


And they may have been right.


Fast forward 2 years, on June 22, 1968, a woman and her daughter arrived at a Towel Outlet in Shelby, owned by Mary Helen Williams. The sign said "CLOSED", but when they peered inside, they found a woman on the floor covered in blood. When the police arrived, none other than Robert Roseboro walked out of the crime scene with his hands in the air. Inside, Mary Helen Williams was found nude, beaten and stabbed by a pair of scissors. Like Brenda Sue, she had not been raped. Her dress and underwear were found in the bathroom.


Because it was the 60s, racial tensions were high. The Ku Klux Klan allegedly threatened to harm Roseboro so severely for his actions that he was secretly transferred to a different jail until his trial. The trial lasted only 2 days. Roseboro denied killing Mary, saying that police lied during the investigation and that he had no motive for the murder, given there was no rape and no robbery. He explained where he was in the building when police arrived, and had an explanation for how her blood was on his clothes.


He was ultimately found guilty of her murder and sentenced to death, which was reduced to life in prison.


Besides the potential relation to Brenda Sue's murder, there is not much information on the murder or the trial anywhere. It is extremely unclear if he did it or not, or if this was just a classic case of the police blaming a white woman's death on a black man. I had assumed because it said he came out of the murder scene with blood on him and his hands up that he did it, but the fact that he plead not guilty and provided explanations for everything makes it seem less likely. There just is not enough information to be able to tell what actually happened to Mary Helen Williams, and what happened at the trial.


It does not say how old Mary Helen was, but she operated her own store so she definitely wasn't a child, like Brenda Sue. Still, people noted similarities between the cases and believed, again, that Roseboro was responsible for Brenda Sue's death.

REOPENING OF THE CASE


On the 40th anniversary of Brenda Sue Brown's murder, The Shelby Star ran a 13-part series about the child's 1966 death. As attention sparked again in the case, Lori Lail came forward and claimed her grandfather, Earl Michey Parker, had told her before his death in 2002 that he and a man named Thurman Price had killed Brenda Sue.


Price was still alive at age 79, and was arrested on February 12, 2007 on the charge of first-degree murder. His home, too, was near where Brenda Sue's body was found, but it was not clear if he lived there back in 1966, as he didn't purchase the house until 1973. He denied any and all involvement in the murder, and was released on a $50,000 bond from jail on February 16, 2007.


Authorities believe that Earl Mickey Parker had been telling the truth. He had described how she had died, in detail, and police said it was consistent with the crime scene. Records indicated that Lori had called Brenda Sue's family back in 2006 and told her sister that Thurman Price had killed her, but did not mention her grandfather.


Parker's body was exhumed from the cemetery to see if his palm print matched a palm print that was found on Brenda Sue's shoe, but because the hands were too deteriorated, the tests were inconclusive.


It wasn't entirely far out to believe the 2 were involved. In 1954, Parker and Price were 26 and 25 respectively, and they had been indicted together for raping Shirley Morrison, a 12-year-old girl in North Carolina. They plead guilty to assault to commit rape. They were given a 3-5 year suspended prison sentence, and were ordered to keep a job, not drink, and pay the court costs of $240. Ah, justice.


In 2010, it was ruled that Parker's deathbed confession would be admitted as evidence at trial. Lori testified at the hearing that her grandfather had told her in 2002 that he killed Brenda. According to Lori, she was alone with her grandfather when he told her he had done some bad things, and had to get them off his chest. While walking home the next morning after a night of drinking, he claimed the 2 men sneaked up behind the child with the intent to rape her. He claimed to have seen a "little black boy" and screamed at him to go home. Brenda Sue had fought hard, and so Price picked up a rock and hit her with it. They felt they had to kill her because they'd actually go down for their crimes this time.


Thurman Price died on August 4, 2012, while awaiting trial, maintaining his innocence all the way through.


What is really insane and sad to think about is... regardless of who killed Brenda Sue Brown, she crossed paths with so many horrible people. Roseboro (if you believe the Mary Helen story) was a murderer. Price and Parker were sexual offenders who targeted children around her age. Some other dude had recently exposed himself to a child. It is so very terrible that she was murdered, but also, it is so terrible to think about how many awful people children cross paths with on a daily basis. If Roseboro did it, there were still 2 adult men in town who were willing to rape a child. If Price and Parker did it, there was a man living nearby who would go on to kill a woman in cold blood. There was also a man who flashed himself to a 6-year-old days before. Not everyone did it, but everyone could have. You send your 11-year-old child to walk your 6-year-old to school and don't realize that she'll cross paths with a flasher, a duo of sex offenders, a future murderer, and certainly other horrific people on the way.


Personally, I think that Parker and Price did it. The deathbed confession seems legit, and his knowledge of the crime is a little bit too suspicious if he had nothing to do with it. It is not a stretch to believe that 2 men who had recently tried to rape a 12-year-old would do the same with an 11-year-old, and would need to "dispose" of the witness in order to not serve the time they avoided last time. (That's another thing... a 3-5 year suspended sentence with rules not to drink and to hold a job is the tiniest little tap on the wrist I can imagine. Ew.)


Regardless of who did it, they probably aren't still out there. The flasher was never found, and I suppose he is certainly a suspect. But if you believe Roseboro did it, he is in prison for life for another crime, and if you believe Price and Parker did it, they're both dead. One has to hope that her killer isn't still walking free.


However, if the latter did it, it absolutely sucks that they continued to live their lives until they died at an old age while Brenda Sue's life was stripped from her at 11. Whoever did this took the life of an innocent, sweet child who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and did not deserve this. I hope her family has been able to live their lives without their beloved Brenda Sue, and without the knowledge of what happened to her.

REFERENCES:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Brenda_Sue_Brown



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