Case Closed

How Dallas police detective Shari Degan solved the grisly murder that rocked Dallas--in 1913

"Everything of the (Florence) Brown murder points to insane cunning. Many things point to the cold-blooded, merciless and supernatural strength and madness of a morphal lunatic..."

--The Daily Times Herald, 1913

The brutal daylight murder of Florence Brown horrified the city.
The brutal daylight murder of Florence Brown horrified the city.
The Daily Times Herald front page, July 28, 1913, which informed readers that "the man cut the girl's throat with a single slash."
The Daily Times Herald front page, July 28, 1913, which informed readers that "the man cut the girl's throat with a single slash."

On Sunday, the last full day of her life, Florence Brown had, as usual, sung in the choir of the McKinney Avenue Baptist Church. Then, in the afternoon, she joined her brother and his wife on a drive to nearby Cleburne. Arriving home before dark, she spent the evening talking with her parents with whom she still lived in the 2700 block of Cedar Springs. Then, with the promise of a busy day ahead in the real estate office of her uncle, she went to bed early.

Normally, Jeff Robinson, senior partner of the Robinson-Styron Realty Company, stopped by the Brown home each morning to give his niece a ride to his downtown office. But since he was vacationing with his family at a northern Colorado resort, he had left instructions for S.B. Cuthbertson, a member of his sales staff for the past seven months, to take his niece to work during his absence.

On Monday morning, Cuthbertson arrived to find Brown's father, already in uniform, sitting on the front porch, smoking his pipe and reading the paper. Florence's mother stepped outside to say that Florence would be ready shortly. As he waited, Cuthbertson offered patrolman J. Randolph Brown a ride, but he declined, saying he wanted to finish reading his paper, then would take the trolley into town.

He would remember that his daughter and Cuthbertson drove away from his house at 8:05 a.m.

En route to work, Brown seemed in good spirits, talking of the trip to Cleburne and plans for a vacation she was scheduled to begin in just a few days. Arriving at the Field Street office, in what was then the heart of Dallas' business district, the salesman unlocked the front door. Inside, he said, Miss Brown removed the hat she was wearing and began turning on lights and ceiling fans while he gathered papers from his desk for a quick trip to the nearby courthouse and City Hall. He would later tell police that it was approximately 8:20 a.m. when he left the office. Minutes afterward, three employees in an adjacent office saw Brown standing in the doorway as her uncle's salesman left.

Cuthbertson recalled to investigators that he returned at approximately 9 a.m. and was seated at his desk when Robinson's partner, W.R. Styron, and G.W. Swor, the company's tax manager, arrived. It would be Swor who made the grisly discovery. Walking into the rear of the storefront office, he found Brown lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the rest room, her face covered with blood, her hair disheveled, her clothing torn. "We heard him scream," Cuthbertson told police. "Mr. Styron and I rushed back to where he was and found him supporting her head on his arm, wiping blood from her face with a towel. He was yelling for us to get a doctor."

It was the salesman who ran to the nearby Southland Hotel Drug Store where he located Dr. Wilford Hardin.

There was, in retrospect, no need for the men to rush. Dr. Hardin estimated that Brown had been dead for at least 15 minutes before their arrival. Her throat had been cut so deeply that she was almost decapitated, her jugular vein severed. There were trauma marks to her head, indicating that she had been struck several times above her right eye and temple by a blunt object, and deep scratches on her face, neck and upper portions of her chest. And there were defensive wounds that suggested Miss Brown had struggled with her assailant. On her right hand, two fingers were cut to the bone, indicating she had attempted to grab the blade of the weapon used to kill her.

As the doctor examined the body, it fell to Cuthbertson to locate Brown's father and alert him to what had occurred. Aware of the officer's assigned beat, the salesman quickly located him directing traffic at the corner of Main and Lamar. "I hesitated, thinking how I would break the news to him," Cuthbertson recalled to the police. "He was talking to a man at the time, and I called him aside. I thought it best to tell him right away, so I just said, 'Florence is dead. She has been killed.' I remember him looking at me as if he didn't believe it, then grabbing my arm for support."

By the time Cuthbertson and the woman's father arrived at the office, Miss Brown's body already had been taken to the Weiland Funeral Home. In a time before securing a crime scene was standard procedure, police Chief John Ryan and Chief of Detectives Henry Tanner were summoned to the realty office only after the victim had been removed. By the time they arrived it was obvious that a number of employees and curious passers-by had made their way into the office. There were even bloody footprints, which investigators assumed were left by one of the firm's two other women employees. "There is no way," Chief Ryan assured the press, "that the footprints can be established as those of Miss Brown's slayer."

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I have new information about this case. I discovered this case while investigating a 1917 case in El Paso.  I have written a book about it all, Last Train to El Paso--the mysterious unsolved murder of a cattle baron, (OU Press, in process).