“Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”
-Cheryl Lacey Donovan
It was the 10th of September 1998. A Thursday. Seven year old Amanda Brown had spent the day at school. She was in the second grade. When she got off the school bus at the stop closest to her home, her mother, Kathryn Hartman, was there waiting for her. Amanda had spent the previous night at her father's house.
Her father, Roy Brown, was married to Sylvia Brown and he had custody of Amanda every other weekend and every Wednesday. He lived in Lakeland and had a car painting business. Amanda had a great time at her father's house. They spent the evening playing Nintendo and watching TV. They made plans to go to Daytona for the weekend. Roy brought Amanda to school in Brandon on the Thursday morning. She couldn't wait for Daytona and he told her it would be only two more sleeps before he would see her again. That was the last time Roy ever saw Amanda again.
When Kathryn collected Amanda from the school bus on Thursday, they went back to Kathryn's trailer. Amanda loved living there as she had friends on the street and that day, she went outside to play with her friend Monique. Monique lived across the street from Amanda and they played for around three hours. Kathryn then told Amanda to come back inside so she could do her homework. She promised her she could play again when her homework was finished. Amanda sat at her kitchen table and began working on her homework. There was a knock on the trailer door at that point.
Kathryn opened the door. It was fifty two year old Willie Crain. Kathryn had just met Willie the night before when Amanda was at Roy's house. Amanda had never met him. He was a crab fisherman. Kathryn and Willie met at a bar . Kathryn knew Willie's daughter Cynthia and she introduced them. They spent the Wednesday night talking and Willie dropped Kathryn back to her trailer. She asked to see him again so Willie called over on the Thursday. Willie went straight to the kitchen table where Amanda was sitting doing her homework. Kathryn noticed a smell of alcohol and Willie had a plastic cup with a drink in it with him.
Willie sat beside Amanda and gave her a few dollars to do her homework. As he was leaving, Kathryn invited him back for dinner and he arrived back at their trailer shortly after 7pm. After dinner, Wilie played a few games with Amanda and they drew on a notepad, tracing each other's hands. Willie invited Kathryn and Amanda to his trailer to watch movies. Amanda wanted to go because she really wanted to watch Titanic. Kathryn was unsure due to how long the movie Titanic is and Amanda had school the next day but she agreed and they got into Willie's pickup truck to go to his trailer. It was just a three minute drive away.
As they began watching movies in the living room, Willie received a call from his daughter Cynthia. He asked Kathryn to speak to her. She went into the kitchen to talk to her on the phone and was on the call for around twenty five minutes. After the call, Kathryn noticed that Willie and Amanda were not in the living room. They had moved to the master bedroom at the back of the trailer. Amanda was on the bed sitting in front of Willie between his legs and facing away from him and he had his arms around her. They were watching a movie.
Kathryn asked Willie if he had anything for pain. She was addicted to pain pills. He gave her valium and she took five of the five milligram pills he gave her. Kathryn then wanted to go home. Amanda asked if she could borrow a movie. Willie gave her a movie and dropped them back to their trailer. He went inside the trailer with them and began drawing with Amanda. The words "I like Willie" were later found on her notepad in unfamiliar writing.
As it was late, Kathryn helped Amanda get ready for bed. Amanda had a shower and Kathryn put her pyjamas on her. Willie dried Amanda's hair and Amanda got into Kathryn's bed. It was around 2.30 am. Amanda had her own bed but often liked to sleep with Kathryn as she was afraid of the dark. She did the same at Roy's house too. The only way she would sleep alone was if the door was open and the light was left on.
Kathryn told Willie he could stay and either sleep on the floor or the couch. Just five minutes after Kathryn went to bed, she saw Willie enter the bedroom. He got into bed with her and Amanda. Amanda was asleep and she was in the middle of Kathryn and Willie.
At 6.15 am , Kathryn woke up. Her alarm bell was ringing. There was no sign of Amanda or Willie. Kathryn searched the trailer and the area outside but she couldn't see either of them. Willie's pickup truck was gone. She called him and he said he did not know where Amanda was as he had left early to go crab fishing. Kathryn called the police. The police searched the trailer and area outside and spoke to Amanda's father. He had not seen or heard from her since he dropped her off at school on the Thursday morning.
Roy and Sylvia
The police wanted to speak to Willie. They went to the Courtney Campbell boat ramp. Some of the other crab fisherman saw Willie that morning. They found him to be acting in a somewhat unusual manner. When they said hello, he did not respond and he backed his boat straight into the water, something he never did. That was very unusual as salt water destroys brakes. He then went out on the water at 6.30 am. It was still dark. By the time police reached him on his boat it was 8.45 am.
Willie knew why they were there. He knew Amanda was missing. The police observed some scratches on him. There were scratches on his right arm, just below the elbow area, there was a wound on his left arm and a wound on the back of his left hand wrist area. Willie told them he got the scratches from crab fishing.
Willie told the police that he did not know where Amanda was. He claimed he was home at 1.30 am that morning. When he left Kathryn's trailer, Amanda was still in bed asleep. He told police that from 1.30 am to 5.30 am, he spent that time cleaning his bathroom, mainly the tub, as he spilled bleach. When police searched his trailer, they immediately noticed the strong bleach smell. They performed a Luminol test in the bathroom. Luminol reacts to blood and bleach even when it is not visible to the naked eye. When Luminol was sprayed in Willie's bathroom, the whole area lit up. The floor, the bathtub and the walls lit up.
Willie was charged with the kidnapping and first degree murder of Amanda.
Even though Amanda's body had not been found, police believed that Willie took her from Kathryn's trailer, sexually assaulted her and killed her. They believe that he disposed of her body in Tampa Bay. It was an area he was familiar with. He had fished there for over forty years. He even told others that he knew where he could dispose of a body so it would never be found.
Dr Russell Vega, Associate Medical Examiner for Hillsborough County, testified at Willie's Trial that he examined photographs of the scratches on Willie. Dr Vega testified they were consistent with having been made by a human fingernail and he believed they were made from a child's fingernail.
There were two blood stains found on Willie's toilet seat and a small blood stain on toilet paper inside the toilet. A further bloodstain was found on Willie's boxer shorts. Police obtained Amanda's DNA from Amanda's panties and toothbrush . The blood found on Willie's boxer shorts matched to the DNA profile of Amanda. The bloodstains on the toilet seat and paper matched both Willie and Amanda's DNA.
The Prosecution called a witness to testify, Maryann Lee ,at Willie's Trial. Maryann told the Court that she saw Willie at Cynthia's trailer soon after Amanda went missing. Linda Miller was in the trailer too. Linda told Willie not to worry and "you didn't do anything, you didn't hurt that little girl." His response stunned them. He said "Yes, I did do it." He tried to correct himself and insisted he didn't but Maryann got chills throughout her entire body.
Willie maintained that Amanda was still asleep when he left Kathryn's trailer that morning.
At the sentencing hearing, the State submitted Judgments for five sexual batteries and one count of aggravated child abuse involving five young girls that were abused before Amanda went missing. It was their case that abusing young girls was a pattern for Willie and if he didn't receive the death penalty, he would likely do it again.
Willie was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Amanda's case is devastating. The little seven year old girl was a happy girl and looking forward to plans with her father at the weekend. Even though her parents shared custody, she loved spending time with them both. Amanda probably felt safe around Willie earlier in the evening as he was invited into her home by her own mother. Children are often told to run from strangers and never speak to them but in this case, the predator in Amanda's life was introduced to her by her mother. Willie should never have had the opportunity to enter Amanda's life, her home, her bed but often , men like Willie seek out vulnerable mothers so they can manipulate them. That is what happened in this case. It is clear Willie had no interest in Kathryn. He only wanted access to her daughter.
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