DNA leads to Md. man in killing

Ex-soldier arrested in 1984 murder of woman in Germany

March 09, 2007|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

More than 20 years after a young nursing apprentice at a U.S. Army base in Germany was raped and murdered, DNA evidence has led to the arrest of a suspect in Baltimore.

Robert L. Brown Jr., 46, of Baltimore, a former U.S. soldier, was linked to the killing through a comparison of trace evidence with DNA from the suspect's daughter in Germany - a country he left soon after the 1984 killing, authorities said.

Later, he boasted about raping and strangling the 19-year- old apprentice to a fellow inmate at a Pennsylvania prison where he served time in the mid-1980s, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

FBI agents arrested Brown about 12:30 p.m. yesterday in the management office of Wellington Gate apartments in Northeast Baltimore, where he works as a maintenance man. He lives at the complex in a $755 per month rental unit.

Hours later at the federal courthouse, Brown faced Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey in his first appearance in what could be a lengthy extradition process to send him to Germany for trial. She ordered that he be held in federal custody.

Brown told the judge he understood the charges.

The evidence for a murder charge was noted in a German arrest warrant dated Jan. 13, 2006, included in the extradition request filed in the court: "A cross-comparison of the DNA found on the victim's trousers with the DNA pattern of the daughter of the accused ... resulted in a clear match of the DNA patterns."

In addition to the DNA from semen, according to the German warrant, authorities said other evidence linking Brown to the murder includes the victim's diary entries, fiber and tire tracks at the crime scene, and the alleged jailhouse confession.

German authorities have been dogged in pursuing the case, going in 1988 to the Pennsylvania prison where Brown was incarcerated, to interview him. He refused to talk to them, according to court documents.

On July, 11, 2003, according to the documents, a letter was sent to U.S. authorities seeking saliva and blood samples from Brown. It is unclear whether the request was granted. Last year, German authorities issued an international arrest warrant.

Reached at her West Baltimore home yesterday, Brown's mother, identified in court documents as Martha Ellison, and a woman who identified herself as Brown's sister declined to comment.

"We don't even know anything. We've been calling the police all day. We're just still trying to understand this," the sister said.

The use of DNA evidence to solve crimes emerged as a tool in the early 1990s and has been used in numerous older cases as investigators examine outstanding cases, said Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky, a forensic expert who teaches at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

"DNA as forensic evidence is universal evidence," Kobilinsky said. "It's really thought to be the ultimate in forensic testing. With either a fingerprint or DNA, that will facilitate the extradition process. From a medical or scientific perspective, they have more than enough evidence to push the extradition.

"The real oddity is, they were able to keep that evidence and not throw it out when so much time lapses," Kobilinsky said. "A lot of police agencies cannot afford to store evidence, so a lot of time they'll just dump stuff."

The German woman, Nicola Stiel, studying to be a nurse at the now-closed Bad Kreuznach Army Air Field in Central Germany, wrote in her diary on Aug. 2, 1984, that she had "gone for a meal with a black American called `Robert'" the day before, according to court documents. She wrote of a planned meeting with him the next day.

On Aug. 5, 1984, according to court documents, Stiel was found dead in a wooded area about 30 minutes from the base. She had been raped and strangled.

Brown was driving a Volkswagen Golf rental car that witnesses said they saw Stiel riding in before the murder, according to German authorities. They said tire tracks matching those from the car were found in the area where her body was discovered.

"Traces of fibers from the victim's clothes were recovered from the vehicle of the accused before trial. Furthermore, fibers were recovered from the victim's clothes that come from the vehicle and from a blanket with a horse picture found in the vehicle. Apart from that, traces of paint found on the victim's trousers match traces of paint on the said blanket," German documents said.

Brown left the Army in January 1983, and after the killing left Germany - where his former wife and his daughter, Denise Brown, still live, authorities said.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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