BIRTH: July 7, 1978
DEATH: September 17, 1991
Heather, 13, disappeared from her family’s house. Heather was one of four kids, and on the night she went missing, she was home baby-sitting for her 5-year-old brother, Sage. There was little chance she’d run away. As she’d written on a Mormon Church questionnaire that eventually made its way into a police file her “short-term goals” were to be nicer to her brothers and get straight A’s. She liked animals, dollhouses, swimming, biking, playing the violin and tag. Her favorite passage of Scripture was “Love one another.”She wasn’t a likely case of a run-a-way.
Two years later, her skull was found down a hillside about 30 miles from her house. More than 40 suspects had been considered, including Heather’s father, Michael Church, who separated from his wife around six months before Heather’s death.
The best piece of forensic evidence the investigators had was fingerprints lifted off the frame of a window screen. The prints had been sent out to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and the F.B.I., but no match had turned up. The police mailed the fingerprints to 52 other jurisdictions, hoping someone would make a match.
The effort paid off in March 1995, four years after Heather went missing and two years after her skull was found. The authorities learned that it was a man who had been convicted of motor-vehicle theft and burglary in Louisiana. Further investigation disclosed he was living in a mobile home in Colorado Springs, about a half-mile down the road from Heather Church’s house.
His name was Robert Charles Browne.
When Robert Browne was brought in four years after the murder for a videotaped interview, the El Paso County detectives were at pains to establish whether he’d ever been at the Church house before Heather vanished. Ever done any construction there? Ever cleaned out a gutter, or put up a screen? Ever dropped by for a visit? No, no, no. He said he had never been there in his life. Then the question came, how did your fingerprints get on the screen? There must be some mistake, Robert Browne insisted; they should run the prints again. There was no mistake. He murdered Heather and tossed her body out in the middle of no where like garbage.
Other than the fingerprints there was no physical evidence, which is why law-enforcement officials were surprised when Robert Browne changed his story and pleaded guilty to first degree murder of Heather Church. He told a placement counselor that he had surprised the girl and killed her in her house by strangling her or breaking her neck.
He was sentenced to life without parole.
NOTE: After Robert Browne’s conviction on Heather’s murder, he wrote a letter confessing to killing 48 more women. He told investigators that his 48-person killing spree wound through nine states – Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas – and even to South Korea.
Robert Browne told police the killings were triggered by his “disgust” with the women’s “lack of morality.”
“Women try to present themselves to be one thing, and then always prove to be something else,” he said in an affidavit. He went on to describe them as “low … unfaithful … cheats … users … not of the highest moral character.”
There still remains doubt in some of his confession; in the majority of the cases. Some did, according to reports, pan out.
Most states and police departments have dropped the cases and moved on to something else. If he is telling the truth, I wish he could be tried and convicted of all 48 and put to death for the horror he inflicted on so many people. Some people ask, does it really matter? He’s in prison with life without parole. Regardless, I feel the families want to know that the person who killed their loved one has been caught and is being punished. I know I would.