Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Enigmatic Case of Robert Charles Browne

Trans Am Lady

In 2000 Browne began dropping hints. He sent a letter to El Paso County prosecutors, writing, "The score if you one, the other team 48." This seemed to have been inspired by the Zodiac messages in which an unknown killer in San Francisco in the late 1960s taunted police with his score vs. theirs. Among other things, Browne also wrote, "Seven sacred virgins, entombed side by side, those less worthy, are scattered wide.... If you were to drive to the end zone in a white Trans Am, the score could be 9 to 48. That would complete your home court sphere." Again, it sounds like he was reading a book about the Zodiac and trying to copy his style.

Rocio Sperry
Rocio Sperry

Smit was already aware that two women were missing from Browne's home town of Coushatta, La., both from an apartment complex where he had worked as a handyman. Hess began correspondence, and he and Browne played a cat-and-mouse game for about four years before the effort paid off, but only after promises and a few gifts. They were finally able to solve the murder of young Rocio Sperry, only 15.

Detectives set to work on "the Grand Am Lady." Hess got Browne to provide more details, including that the woman had been an army wife who had once lived in Florida. From her he'd taken a specific type of ring, which he described. He also pinpointed the apartment complex and said it was the victim had lived at either unit 107, 108, or 109.

They got a list of Pontiac Grand Ams and Trans Ams registered in Colorado between January 1987 and December 1988. There were 172. This was further narrowed down until they located a Grand Am owner named Joseph Sperry. He had lived near Pike's Peak during the right time period; he'd served in the Army, and his apartment number was correct: 109. His wife at the time had vanished in November 1987. Her name was Rocio and she'd had a ring like Browne had described.

Joe had been away and upon his return, he found her gone and her clothes piled into garbage bags. A ten-inch length of her hair, cut off while still in a ponytail, lay on a dresser, and while his television was gone her purse was still there. He called the police but became an immediate suspect. It was he, not the police, who found the car abandoned, but he could not get them to process it.

Unfortunately, a clerk had mistakenly written that Rocio had been found so the evidence had been tossed. That made corroboration difficult, but most of the circumstances matched what Browne had finally described. Once the victim was identified (although her body was never found), he pleaded guilty and received a second life sentence.

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