On September 11, 1998, convicted pedophile Willie Seth Crains, Jr., 52 kidnapped and murdered Amanda Brown, 7. She had been taken from her mother’s house in the middle of the night. Her remains have never been found.
Amanda Victoria Brown was born on March 13, 1991 in Tampa, Florida, to Roy Brown and Kathryn Hartman. The couple had ended their relationship three years prior. Roy Brown had remarried and lived in nearby Lakeland, Florida. Brown had a custody schedule with Hartman to have Amanda every other weekend, plus every Wednesday. Amanda was described as a “happy-go-lucky” child. She was a second-grade student at Lopez Elementary School.
The Disappearance of Amanda Brown
On September 9, 1998, Amanda had spent the night at her father’s house. They played Nintendo, had dinner, and watched some television before going to bed. They also discussed the plans for the upcoming weekend. The next morning, Roy Brown drove his daughter to school as they normally did on Wednesday. While Amanda had been at her father’s house, Kathryn had gone to a local Tampa bar for a few drinks. That is where she met Willie Crain, Jr., 52, a local crab fisherman. Kathryn had known Crain’s daughter, Cynthia, who had introduced the two. After enjoying the evening out, Willie gave Kathryn a ride home because they live in the same mobile home park and roughly a three-minute drive from each other.
The next day, September 10, 1998, Kathryn picked up Amanda from the school bus stop for the Tampa, Florida mobile home park where they lived. They went home and Kathryn allowed Amanda to play with her friend, who lived across the street, for a few hours before calling her home to finish her homework.
While Amanda was doing her homework, Willie Crain stopped by. He paid close attention to the girl and even gave her a couple of dollars as an incentive for finishing her homework. Kathryn invited Crain back for dinner; he returned a couple of hours later. After finishing dinner, Crain suggested they go to his house to watch a movie, as he had an extensive movie library. Shortly after arriving at Crain’s home, he received a telephone call from his daughter, Cynthia. Crain put Kathryn on the phone while he got the movie set up. After 20 minutes, the call ended and Kathryn found Crain in the bedroom with her daughter, watching a movie. He had stated that he preferred the bedroom because the air conditioner was in that room.
While watching the movie, Kathryn mentioned that her back was hurting and asked Willie if he had anything that she could take for pain. Kathryn admitted she had struggled with a painkiller addiction problem. She took 5 valium at 5 milligrams each then returned to their home because it was getting late and Amanda had school the next day.
Willie drove them home and Kathryn insisted he stay until he sobered up a bit. Kathryn got Amanda showered and ready for bed. She would recall that Amanda had climbed into her bed in the middle of the night, which was something she normally did. Kathryn , herself, went to sleep at approximately 2:30 a.m.
When Kathryn woke up around 6:30 a.m., Amanda and Caine were gone. She searched the house quickly, but Amanda was not there. Kathryn called the emergency dispatch. An extensive search began for Amanda. Police did not discover any clues. Amanda’s physical description was given as 3′ 10″, 45 pounds, a Caucasian female with blonde hair and blue eyes. She also had scars on her forehead and her ears were pierced. Kathryn stated Amanda had been wearing a blue and white nightgown.
To follow up on all people associated with Kathryn and Amanda, investigators performed a background check on Willie Seth Crain, Jr. His record showed an extensive convicted history of sexual battery on minor children. Crain had been sentenced in 1985 to 20 years for 3 counts of sexual battery on a minor under the age of 11 years. The courts released Crain after only serving 6 years of his 20-year sentence.
Investigators wanted to ensure that there were no other possible suspects, so they went to extensive lengths to exclude anyone who may have known or had any ties to Amanda. Kathryn willingly submitted to a polygraph and passed with no issue. Roy Brown was equally ruled out as a suspect. Brown became very involved in public outreach efforts concerning the search for Amanda.
Investigators went to Willie Crain’s home to see if they could interview him to either establish or rule out any suspicion regarding Amanda’s disappearance. Crain was not home. A neighbor told them Crain had left earlier that morning and assumed Crain was going to work. Kathryn later said that Crain had told her the night before that he had intended to go crab fishing.
Investigators went to the closest dock to Crain’s home, but they did not spot his pickup, trailer, or boat. Other patrons at the dock, who knew Crain, had an idea where Crain may have gone. They offered to take investigators by boat to the suspected location.
Investigators found Crain in his crab boat, fishing in an area called Devil Branch. They noticed he wore nicer clothes and loafer dress-style shoes which were not a style that a crab fisherman would normally wear. They also noticed scratches on Crain’s arms. Crain agreed to come into the station for an interview. The details and timeline that Crain offered differed from Kathryn ‘s. So much so that investigators were able to obtain a search warrant for his mobile home in the 10600 block of Leanne Drive, although Crain also gave consent to a search.
Investigators discovered the heavy smell of bleach in Crain’s mobile home bathroom. When crime scene technicians applied Luminol, they discovered an extensive amount of evidence on the bathtub, walls, and floor. Faint blood smears were also found on the toilet bowl rim. They immediately arrested Willie Crain on charges of kidnapping and first-murder. Investigators took possession of the clothes that Crain was wearing and noted small amounts of blood on his underwear, in addition to various scratches on his arms. It was also during this time that two women came forward to report that Crain had repeatedly sexually assaulted them when they were children between 1965 and 1971. He was charged for those assaults, as well.
The Trial and Sentencing of Willie Crain, Jr.
The trial for Willie Crain, Jr. lasted for nine days. Witnesses testified Crain had made a comment, eighteen months prior, that he could dispose of a body so nobody could find it. The jury also heard testimony from a forensic scientist for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. They stated the DNA recovered from the toilet seat and Crain’s boxer shorts were consistent with Amanda Brown’s DNA, which her family provided. They further stated that one DNA sample from the toilet seat and one from a discarded piece of tissue held combined DNA samples from Amanda Brown and Willie Crain, Jr. The probability of a random match to anyone else was 1 in 388 million.
On September 17, 1999, after two hours of deliberation, a jury found Willie Crain, Jr. guilty in the kidnapping and murder of Amanda Brown. They recommended a death sentence. Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer gave Crain the death penalty. Crain was never charged in the additional rape charges because the judge had given him the maximum sentence for Amanda Brown’s death.
The defense had filed several appeals over the years; each one requests a reversal of Crain’s original verdict. The courts have denied his appeals.