Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Enigmatic Case of Robert Charles Browne

Close to a Killer

Browne was the son of a sheriff's deputy and brother to a former state trooper. His was a family that cared about public safety and the law. However, Browne developed differently. He was the youngest of nine children in Coushatta, La., dropping out of high school to go into the Army. In 1976, he was dishonorably discharged for using drugs. If he's telling the truth about one of his murders, he used a position as handyman at an apartment complex owned by his brother to kill at least one of the tenants. He had no shame or sense of family loyalty.

Robert Charles Browne
Robert Charles Browne

The fourth of his five ex-wives, Rita Morgan, gave an interview to The Charlotte Observer, providing details about the kind of man Browne is. For one thing, he often flew into rages and made frightening threats. He would tell her how easy it would be to kill her with no one the wiser. Yet when he had wooed her before they were married, he'd been compassionate, even "doting." This behavior is called compartmentalization, something psychopaths are good at. They morph into whatever they need to be to gain their ends, and once they have it, they let their true personalities show. "Before, he held the car door open for her," wrote one reporter about Rita, "after, he smashed her to the floor for a misplaced set of keys."

Most of his marriages lasted three years or less, and several wives alleged abuse. Rita said she'd had "no inkling" of what Browne might be like. They met when he was on leave from the service and she was just a teenager. They took up a brief correspondence, and when they encountered each other a few years later, she had married and divorced another man. He began to show up where she worked as a waitress and finally they went out. He came with flowers. They got married, and, within a week, Browne had become a bully. He was already yelling at her that he could kill her. She was stunned. But then he apologized and assured her this behavior would not be repeated. He lied. Almost anything could set him off, and he seemed to go into a trance before he started beating her.

He believed he could treat his wife like property. He once put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger, but the gun was unloaded. He also choked her once so badly she had to go to the hospital. But once he actually asked her to shoot him, as if he knew he was bad and he wanted someone to kill him. He said he knew he had a problem, but when she got him to a clinic, the psychiatrist was so confrontational it ended any hope she had of intervention. Browne was furious.

Another woman with whom Browne was involved said he enjoyed thinking of himself as a master, with her the slave, and that he watched a lot of pornography. His final wife filed for divorce and went into therapy for victimization issues. She was reportedly afraid of him.

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