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For several days, Williams reviewed Degan's findings. Ultimately, he came to the same conclusion she had secretly kept.
"This was one of those over-the-top kinds of homicides," Degan says. "It was a classic case of overkill. Obviously, one heck of a struggle took place in that bathroom. The biting, the scratches, the brutality suggested a highly emotional exchange."
Williams agreed. "The motive for this type of murder is usually very personal," he says. "The killer was obviously extremely angry at the victim." From the descriptions of Brown's wounds, he speculated that a left-handed person inflicted them. The blows to the head, he felt, might well have been from the handle of the knife that was used on the victim. It seemed likely, in fact, that Brown was already unconscious when her throat was cut.
"So," Degan finally asked, "who killed Florence Brown?"
"A woman," Williams replied. "A very angry, left-handed woman."
Degan nodded. "That's what I think, too."
But why? And who?
Detective Degan, the weekend genealogist, had one long-shot avenue of research left to pursue. Brown's obituary had listed surviving members of her family. It was time to put the hobby she'd been pursuing for five years to work. She began tracing the victim's family history on the off chance that someone with information about the crime still might be alive. In time, her research led her to the name of a distant cousin for which she found no death record.
One day last fall, she placed a long-distance call and heard the frail voice of a woman named Lucille Samcaster. In her 90s and in bad health, she agreed to talk about the crime that had haunted her family for generations. What she had to say in a conversation that lasted no more than 15 minutes caused the detective's heart to pound.
"She told me that Florence Brown had been going out occasionally with a young man in the weeks before her death," the detective recalls. "Previously, he had been seeing another woman but had broken off the relationship. She didn't know the ex-girlfriend's name but had been led to believe that she was from a wealthy Dallas family. She said that the story she'd been told years ago was that this woman had hired someone to kill Florence."
Jealousy, then, was the elusive motive. And, in a socially fragile time when such matters as romantic involvement were carefully guarded, the family had never spoken publicly of the matter. The issue, Samcaster told the detective, was soon resolved when the woman moved to Denver and committed suicide. Her memory failing, Samcaster could not recall the woman's name.
Soon after their brief conversation, Samcaster, the last surviving member of the Brown-Robinson family, died.
"Some day," Degan says, "I'd like to go to Denver and research the old newspaper files there to see if there are reports of any suicides at the time. If I could find a name, then trace it back to Dallas, I'd be satisfied."
And would it finally show that it was not a "large, very strong" male killer--not a hired hit man--but, rather, an enraged, jealous woman who committed the crime?
"We'll never know for sure," Degan admits, "but I think this is what happened: The woman, knowing when Florence Brown went to work, was probably watching the realty office from some nearby location. When Cuthbertson left, she saw her opportunity and went inside. Since she obviously had a weapon with her, the crime had to be premeditated.
"In all likelihood, the struggle began in the room where the button was found, then continued into the bathroom where the murder took place. I think it is very likely that Miss Brown had already been knocked unconscious when her throat was cut.
"And, I believe, the ring probably had some significance. The killer could have assumed that it had been a gift from the boyfriend. She removed it from the dead woman's finger, then stomped on it.
"That done, she took time to wash up and even change clothes. Then she placed her bloody clothing and the murder weapon into some kind of bag she was carrying, walked out the front door, down to Commerce and caught a trolley."
Those women's footprints, found 88 years ago on the bathroom floor of the realty office, were not those of some curious onlooker, Degan suggests. They were, in fact, left by the person who killed Florence Brown.
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