Fate of missing woman remains unknown

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Staff Writer

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The suspects in the 1977 disappearance of a Rocky Mount woman range from a drunken second husband to a biker gang to an infamous serial killer.

Elizabeth “Betty” Turvey Brown, 57, was last seen in Manteo on Feb. 21, 1977, asking for directions to Virginia Beach. Her car was found later at Kitty Hawk.

Betty, originally from Charlotte, went to college, once worked at NASA, married a career airman and had five children. She was a great mother, said Cherie Mathews, who now lives on the Carolina coast. Mathews described her mother as both beautiful and elegant; strong and courageous.

“She took time for each one of us,” Mathews said. “She would tell us things like, 'you are a worthy person.' The last time I spoke with her she was giving me dating advice. She was so smart, funny and classy.”

Betty's relationship with her first husband, Mathews' father, eventually soured. Betty remarried Army Ranger Lee Brown, and the couple moved to Rocky Mount. She was working at Nash County Mental Health when she took her 1976 Red, white and blue Chevy Vega and left her Pelham Road home and alcoholic husband. It's believed she planned to stay with a friend in Virginia.

Betty's car was found between Kitty Hawk Fishing Pier and Southern Shores Hotel. The keys were in the ignition, her purse, hat and coat were still inside the unlocked car.

Lee Brown reported her missing a week after she left. He showed up apparently intoxicated to identify her car. Within months of her disappearance, Lee Brown sold their house and moved to Florida. He died of cancer a few years later.

Although many investigators who've worked the case over the years suspected Lee Brown, Mathews said she doesn't believe it because Lee Brown had undergone surgery at the time and seemed too incapacitated to be able to carry out a murderous deed.

Betty married her first husband in Kitty Hawk and it's been speculated that she returned to the area to kill herself. However, she didn't believe in suicide and authorities said the ocean would have been so cold at that time of year, it would be very hard for someone to walk into the water.

Betty's case was received by the FBI in the late 1980s. Investigators thought she could be a possible victim of Henry Lee Lucas, a prolific serial killer who drifted around the South in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He's believed to have been in the coastal Carolina area around the time of Betty's death.

While Lucas confessed to many homicides he didn't' commit, he was convicted of 11 murders and died in prison in 2001.

“Anyone who came into his path was pretty much was gone,” Mathews said about Lucas.

A biker clubhouse was located very near to where Betty's car was found back in 1977. Betty may have been taken by the bikers, abused then disposed of, some family and detectives believe.

“So we're looking at the bikers, Lucas or Lee Brown,” Mathews said.

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.

“At this point, we just want to find out what happened to our mother,” Mathews said. “She might be an unidentified body out there somewhere.”

Editor's Note: In part two of this story, the Telegram will follow the roller coaster investigation from 1977 through recent weeks to see how the case has progressed and where it's at now.