Fate of missing woman remains unknown

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Staff Writer

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Elizabeth “Betty” Brown's car was found abandoned in 1977 along an isolated stretch of beach in Kitty Hawk. The Rocky Mount woman has never been seen again.

Often times in such cases, very little information can be found years later for detectives and reporters to sift through. But Betty's family, especially her daughters Cherie and Susan, have taken important steps to preserve case-breaking information in hopes that someone someday will be able to recover Betty's remains. The family wants her to receive a proper burial.

The family created a DNA profile for Betty to compare with unidentified bodies. They also hired private investigators to run down every possible lead while generating extra clues for police.

Betty, 57, was last seen Feb. 21, 1977, in Manteo. Her 1976 red, white and blue Chevy Vega was found deserted in nearby Kitty Hawk.

Betty's family dismissed her second husband Lee Brown as a suspect for years because he had recently undergone surgery for cancer at the time Betty vanished. The case has more twists than a ride at the state fair with investigative rabbit holes including a murderous biker gang and infamous serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. But the truth of murder is that it's almost always committed by someone the victim knows.

About five years after Betty disappeared, her family hired private investigators, including the famed Pinkerton's Detective Agency. The Pinkertons tracked down Lee Brown. By 1984, he was living in Daytona, Fla. He told the Pinkertons he had a new wife and didn't want to be harassed.

A few years later, Betty's family hired another private investigator. The investigator submitted a 23-page report with extensive attachments to Betty's daughters in Feb. 23, 1989, a dozen years after her disappearance and nearly three decades ago. However, the report sheds light on the circumstances of Betty's disappearance and raises questions into the lack of thoroughness during the subsequent police investigation.

The Manteo Police Department never investigated the case beyond the initial report of an abandoned vehicle. A police captain in Rocky Mount initially told the investigator all records that old had been destroyed. But some reports later surfaced.

The captain put the investigator in contact with Charles Ramsey, a retired police officer who in 1977 lived next door to Betty on Pelham Road.

Although Betty's house had been sold and maybe even resold, Ramsey still lived next door in 1989. He told the investigator he knew Betty and Lee for about three years. Ramsey said the couple kept to themselves except a few times like a night Betty ran outside their home shouting, “He's going to do it.”

Ramsey found Lee in the living room with a .38-caliber revolver in his mouth. Ramsey took the pistol but returned it about three weeks later. Lee was sent to rehab by his employer, all according to the investigator's report.

Once Betty's car was returned to Rocky Mount, Lee washed and cleaned it inside and out before later reporting to police that Betty had been missing for a week.

Ramsey said Lee never once asked for an update in Betty's disappearance. Shortly after she vanished, Lee packed up and moved.

"Mr. Ramsey stated he suspected Lee had something to do with the subject's disappearance but he never had any hardcore proof where Lee could be charged," according to the report.

Lee Brown died soon after speaking with the Pinkertons. Ramsey died in 1996.

Anyone with information about Betty's fate can call Twin Counties Crime Stoppers at 252-977-1111. Calls are anonymous. A financial reward is available.