"And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
It was the 14th of November 2003. A Friday. Fifty three year old Mary Lynn Witherspoon was getting ready for work at her home on Tradd Street, Charlestown, South Carolina, United States. Mary Lynn was a teacher and taught French. It was a perfect job for her as she loved children and loved the French language and the culture. She loved to take the children on trips to France when she could.
Mary Lynn Witherspoon's House on Tradd Street
Mary Lynn was married to a Doctor and had a daughter Jane but the relationship ended when Jane was a child. She dated other men afterwards but enjoyed being independent and was very much a part of the community. She was popular and well liked. That day, she was due to work as normal and the children were waiting for her. But she never arrived.
The school principal and Mary Lynn's colleagues were immediately concerned. It was not like Mary Lynn to just not show up for work and even if she needed a day off, she would always arrange a substitute teacher. There was no substitute teacher arranged for that day. So the principal and one of Mary Lynn's colleagues went to her house. When they noticed that her car was gone, they thought she may be away somewhere. Nothing looked unusual in the garden or outside the house. There were no signs of a break in. They notified Jane. Jane knew it was not like her mother not to be in touch with anybody so she drove to Charlestown with her husband straight away.
Mary Lynn Witherspoon
On the way to Mary Lynn's house, Jane gave police permission to break into her mother's home. When they entered, they knew something was wrong. They found shoes, an apple and a watch on the floor in the foyer. The police went into the kitchen and there was a plate with eggs on it. Upstairs, in the living room, cabinets had been emptied and the contents were thrown across the floor.
The police continued looking through the house. On the second floor there was a bathroom and it was there that they found Mary Lynn.
Mary Lynn was naked and in the bathtub. She was dead. Her feet and hands were bound with tape and she had been raped and strangled. There was also a knife left near the bathtub. Police informed Jane of the devastating discovery. Jane instantly knew who they needed to speak to. Thirty two year old Edmonds Tennent Brown IV.
Edmonds Tennent Brown IV
Jane knew her mother was afraid of Tennent but they believed he was in prison. He was the son of a man Mary Lynn dated years before, in 1981. She began a relationship with Edmonds Brown III, an attorney in Charlestown, after her divorce. He was a father of two children, Tennent and Molly, and his wife had left them. At the time, Tennent was ten years old and his sister Molly was eight years old. Edmonds treated Mary Lynn and Jane really well and the relationship lasted around seven years. Even though Edmonds proposed to Mary Lynn multiple times, she didn't feel that she could marry him as the three children did not blend well as a family together. Tennent was socially awkward and seemed desperate to be loved which caused him to do some unusual things.
When the relationship ended, Tennent still visited Mary Lynn. He seemed fascinated by her every move and she would find him standing and staring at her at times. A year after the relationship between Mary Lynn and Edmonds ended, Tennent broke into Mary Lynn's home and stole her clothes and makeup. Mary Lynn's mother called him and told him to return them and he did. Mary Lynn didn't really see him much after that until 2001. He suddenly appeared again in her life and was standing in her back yard. That's when the situation changed from unsettling to terrifying. Tennent was no longer just a child. He was thirty years old.
He continued to show up in her back yard time and time again. When she found her underwear missing from her dryer, she had an alarm system installed at her home and had a panic button connected to her key chain. Mary Lynn was so frightened that she went to a gun store to ask for help and they advised her to carry mace. Mary Lynn eventually reported Tennent to the police when he continued showing up at her house and continued stealing her clothes. He was charged with burglary. It wasn't the first time he had been arrested. She discovered he had served time for car theft and breaking and entering.
Mary Lynn was told that she would be notified when he was released. But she had received no notification so while Jane told police she believed Tennent was involved in her mother's murder, she thought that it was impossible because he was in prison. But as Jane soon discovered, to her horror, he had been released from prison but nobody had informed Mary Lynn.
DNA results identified Tennent Brown as the killer. Police believed that on the morning of the 14th of November, as Mary Lynn was getting ready for work, Tennent entered her home. There was no sign of a break in so they believed she opened the door and he forced his way in. The position of her belongings that were on the floor in the foyer suggested there had been a struggle just inside the door. They believed he then forced her upstairs into the bathroom. It was clear that the struggle continued up the stairs as one of the spigots had been kicked out.
When Tennent had Mary Lynn upstairs, he bound her, raped her and strangled her. Her body was then left in the bathtub.
Mary Lynn (on the right)
After Tennent raped and strangled Mary Lynn, he made breakfast for himself in her kitchen.
It didn't take long for police to make an arrest in the case. That very same night, the 14th of November, Tennent was found walking on Tradd Street towards Mary Lynn's home. It was then that his full and true sinister intentions were revealed. When police stopped to question him, he had Mary Lynn's keys in his pocket and had a new driver's license that he had just changed that day. The address used on it was Mary Lynn's address. Police discovered that he was wearing Mary Lynn's clothes.
Mary Lynn's car was later found. Tennent had stolen it and he left paper inside it. He had practised signing Mary Lynn's name over and over again. There was also a booklet found that he had written detailing how he would murder Mary Lynn.
A package arrived at Mary Lynn's house for Tennent. He ordered it after the murder and used Mary Lynn's credit card. The package contained a wig , similar to Mary Lynn's hair, breast forms, makeup for men and a drag queen video. It was clear that Tennent wasn't just fascinated and obsessed with Mary Lynn, he wanted to be her. He wanted to look like her, have her name, her looks, her clothes, her car, her home and her entire life.
Mary Lynn should have been protected by authorities but wasn't. She reported Tennent when he broke into her home and stole her clothes and even though he was arrested on foot of that, he was released from prison and she had no idea. He was released into an outpatient mental health center and spoke with a mental health counselor. That counselor released him even though when she asked for his address, he gave Mary Lynn's address. The mental health center failed to promptly notify authorities or Mary Lynn when Tennent failed to return for an appointment two days later.
Tennent pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Even though the State would have sought a death penalty, Mary Lynn's family did not want a Trial. Tennent, who is now known as Kathryn Brown, wants the State Department of Corrections to provide assistance for a sex change. They refused.
Jackie (Mary Lynn's sister) at the signing of the bill into law
After Mary Lynn's murder, her family wanted changes made so that other people would not suffer like she did. Mary Lynn’s bill was signed into law by Governor Mark Sansford on the 26th of May 2005. The law improves notification procedures, increases victim's rights and provides stricter penalties for stalkers.
Mary Lynn tried to deal with Tennent herself for a number of years. She refused to report him to authorities on multiple occasions because she hoped that he would just stop one day and leave her alone. When she eventually reported him , she should have been safer but she wasn't. He was released without her knowledge and angry that she had reported him. Tennent spent his time incarcerated writing a manifesto and plotting her murder and yet, even though when asked to provide an address for where he would be staying after his release and he gave Mary Lynn's address, he was just allowed to walk out the door as a free man. If there had been tighter controls in place, Mary Lynn may still be alive today.
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"When someone just disappears for no reason, it's shocking, it's devastating. I just feel like my life stopped that day and I've just been in a tailspin ever since."
- Adam Vaughan, Janine's brother
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