November 14, 2003: The Murder of Mary Lynn Witherspoon


WHAT HAPPENED?


On November 14, 2003, 53-year-old teacher Mary Lynn Witherspoon was brutally murdered. The culprit was her ex-boyfriend's kid, Edmonds Tennent Brown IV, who was obsessed with her for over 22 years.


Edmonds, who went by "Tennent" had been in prison, and once released, broke into Mary Lynn's home, raped her, and killed her. Her death sparked "Mary Lynn's Law", which requires reporting to the victims of criminals who are released from prison.

BACKGROUND


Mary Lynn Witherspoon was a school teacher from Charleston, South Carolina, who taught French. She loved children, and she loved the language and the culture of France. She had taken students on trips to France as a chaperone before, something she loved to do.


When she was younger, she married a doctor, and the couple had a daughter named Jane. She didn't let the divorce stop her from going out and meeting new people. She dated many men after her divorce, but also liked being independent. She was a part of the community, and a truly liked and adored one at that.


In 1981, one of those men that Mary Lynn dated was Edmonds Brown III. He was the father of 2 children, Tennent and Molly. Edmonds' wife had left the family when Tennent (heretofore referred to as "Brown") was 10 and Molly was 8. Mary Lynn dated Edmonds for about 7 years, a relationship that was pretty strong. He treated her really well, and truly loved her. In fact, he had proposed to her multiple times, but she always refused, believing that Jane and his children wouldn't blend well as a family. Specifically, Brown, who was socially awkward and extremely desperate to be loved.


When Mary Lynn and Edmonds finally broke it off, Brown continued to visit his father's ex-girlfriend. Brown was fascinated by her, staring at her at all times, even breaking into her home a few times to steal clothes and make up. When she called and asked that the items be returned, Brown did. Eventually, Brown stopped coming around and Mary Lynn was free to go back to normal life.


That was until 2001, when Brown suddenly appeared in her life again. But now, a 10 year old wasn't stealing her makeup. A 30-year-old was standing in her backyard, staring at her. Time and time again, she spotted Brown in her yard. When she continued to find her underwear missing from the dryer, she installed an alarm system in her home. She even went to a gun store and asked for help, and they said she should carry mace.


She eventually reported Brown to the police after continued burglary and stalking. Brown was charged with burglary, and was put in jail. This wasn't the first brush with law enforcement, having served time for car theft and breaking & entering. The stalker was carted away to jail, and Mary Lynn was told that she would be notified upon release.

THE MURDER


On November 14, 2003, Mary Lynn's French students became a little bit worried when their teacher didn't show up. The principal and her colleagues were worried, as well. It was extremely out of character for her to just not show up. She always arranged for a substitute if she couldn't make it. This had never happened. So to check on her, the principal and another teacher went by her house.


They noticed her car was gone, and thought perhaps she had gone away somewhere - but it was still very out of the norm for her. There were no signs of a break-in, but they still felt like something was up. They called Jane, who also worried. It wasn't like her to not be in touch with anybody if she planned to skirt her normal day. She drove to her mother's house with her husband straight away.


On the way to her mother's house, Jane gave the police permission to break into the home. They could tell something was wrong upon entering. They found shoes, an apple, and a watch on the floor in the foyer. In the kitchen, breakfast was made, but untouched. She had either left in a hurry, or had been interrupted while getting ready for her day.


As the police continued to search, they found what they were likely expecting, but hoping they wouldn't: Mary Lynn's body.


She was naked in the bathtub, dead. Her feet and hounds were bound with tape and she had been raped and strangled to death. A knife was left near her body. When police informed Jane of the horrific discovery, Jane immediately believed Brown was involved, because she knew her mother was terrified of him. However, she believed he was in prison. But soon after, Jane discovered to her absolute horror that Brown had been released, but nobody informed her mother of it.


DNA results quickly identified Brown a the murderer. Police pieced together the scene. On the morning of the 14th, Mary Lynn was getting ready for work, and Brown entered her home. Because there was no sign of a break in, police believe that she opened the door to find her stalker, to her horror, and Brown pushed his way in. They believe a struggle occurred right inside, and then she was forced her upstairs into the bathroom. The struggle likely continued up the stairs, until she was bound and could no longer fight back. Then, she was raped and strangled her to death, leaving her body behind in the bathtub.


Then, Brown made breakfast in her kitchen.


Brown was arrested the same night. But here is where the absolute horror gets even worse.


The night of November 14th, the police found Brown walking toward his victim's home. It was at that point that the sinister intentions were totally revealed. When stopped, Brown had Mary Lynn's keys in his pocket, a new driver's license with Mary Lynn's address... and was wearing the 53-year-old's clothes.


The killer had also stolen her car and left a paper inside of it with a practice paper of trying out Mary Lynn's signature, and a detailed plan of her murder. Later, a package arrived at Mary Lynn's house, addressed to Brown, who had ordered it after the murder, using her credit card. Inside was a wig that looked like Mary Lynn's hair, breast forms, makeup, and a video about drag queens.


Brown wasn't just obsessed with her, and didn't just want to kill her because she had gotten him thrown in jail. Brown wanted to be her, having planned to completely emulate her life with her name, clothes, car, and house. Brown wanted to become Mary Lynn, and disposing of her was just the first step.

AFTERMATH


Mary Lynn was failed by the justice system. She had reported Brown for breaking in and stealing her clothes, 2 things that should have indicated that the stalker was obsessed with her and a risk to her wellbeing. Still, when released, she wasn't notified.


Even worse, Brown had been released to an outpatient mental health center. The counselor decided upon release, even when Mary Lynn's address was provided as Brown own. They failed to notify authorities when the next appointment was missed. Mary Lynn should have been well aware that her tormenter was out, and likely after her, but nobody thought to tell the stalking victim that her stalker was back.


Brown pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The state would have sought the death penalty, but Mary Lynn's family did not want to go through a trial.


After the murder, Mary Lynn's family fought tirelessly on Mary Lynn's Law, which improves notification procedures and victim's rights, as well as provides stricter penalties for stalkers. They know that if there had been tighter controls and better regulations in place, that Mary Lynn would likely still be alive today.


To add yet another layer to this crazy story, Brown came out in 2019 as a transgender woman. (I did not know this until I got to this section of the story. Though Brown is a horrific person, I did not want to misgender them. I tried to update throughout all instances of he/him, and changed most mentions of the killer to "Brown", except to mention the first name where needed.)


Brown now goes by Katheryn Brown. In 2019, she is a 47-year-old inmate serving a life sentence. She said that she had already been using hormone therapy to "feminize" her appearance during the murder of Mary Lynn. Brown has begged the state to allow her to complete her transition with a gender-affirming surgery, and believes she would be a productive member of society, something not possible in the wrong body.


I want to say that I feel genuinely terrible for people who feel they were born in the wrong body. And thus, at the outset of someone telling me (or publicly claiming) that they are not their birth gender, I will do my best to use their preferred pronouns, even if their "look" doesn't match. You do not need a gender affirming surgery for me to respect what you want to be called. And, I will even respect your pronouns even if you are a murderer, not because I respect you, but because I respect anyone else who may be transgender stumbling upon this.


However, that comes with 2 caveats from me. First, I do not think that Brown should get any state-funded gender affirming surgery. And, I think that she is a really bad blip on the trans community's radar. It is not common for a transgender person to murder someone else because of their internal struggles with their gender, and it is absolutely and 100% not reflective of the broader "T" in the LGBTQ+ community. The decisions Brown made were not because of being transgender. If she wants to transition after the fact, cool, I'll use she/her pronouns and respect the name. But gender reassignment surgery is a privilege that many trans people who are genuinely struggling and, you know, not cold-blooded murderers are not even granted, so for the state to pay for it during incarceration for an unthinkably brutal crime, that's a no from me.


The state does provide continued hormone therapy to inmates who enter prison with the treatment underway, but will not green-light new treatments.


Secondly, I think it is fair if the family of Mary Lynn chooses not to respect Brown's transition. Brown has used being transgender as a reason for raping and brutally murdering an innocent 53-year-old sister and mother, and I absolutely understand if they do not wish to give that excuse validation. For me, I don't know if Brown really is transgender or just using it as an excuse in prison. I err on the side of caution. But if Mary Lynn's family chooses not to, I think that is respectable.


"I really don't know if it's a real thing with him or if it's just some sidebar he's come up with to draw more attention to himself," Mary Lynn's sister, Jackie Olsen, said, and I truly believe that is an extremely fair way to feel when your sister's killer remains in the limelight.


"I have no statement at all," Brown's father, Mary Lynn's ex-boyfriend, said of his son's gender. "That's totally beyond me. I have no involvement in that whatsoever."


To me, it does seem like a distraction. Again, I'll use the correct pronouns and name, but it really sucks that Brown's battle for validation behind bars are some of the first articles to pop up when you search Mary Lynn's name. I understand that transgender people to feel like victims, their own body the bars that they are held back by... but Mary Lynn was raped and murdered in her own home by her longtime stalker. She is the victim, and she is the story.


Rest in peace, Mary Lynn Witherspoon.

REFERENCES:

https://www.chillingcrimes.com/blogs/news/mary-lynn-witherspoon

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Lynn_Witherspoon

https://www.womenarehuman.com/man-who-stalked-raped-killed-female-teacher-seeks-sex-change-katheryn-nee-edmond-tennent-brown/

https://www.postandcourier.com/archives/sex-change-battle-behind-bars-transgender-inmates-turn-to-courts-in-quest-for-treatment/article_cf1e1f24-f70b-59c4-a22a-2dc45008469c.html


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