Curtis Don Brown


Curtis Don Brown

A.K.A.: "Bandit"

Classification: Serial killer
Características: Kidnapping - Rape
Number of victims: 3 - 18
Date of murders: 1984 - 1986
Date of birth: September 2, 1958
Victims profile: Terece Gregory, 29 / Sharyn Kills Back, 18 / Jewel Woods, 51
Method of murder: Shooting / Strangulation
Location: Tarrant County, Texas, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison in 1989. Sentenced to two life terms in 2009

Brother of victim angered by plea deal for suspected serial killer

January 8, 2009

FORT WORTH — A suspected serial killer serving a life sentence for killing a Fort Worth nurse in 1986 pleaded guilty Wednesday to the kidnapping and killings of two other Tarrant County women in exchange for avoiding the death penalty.

Curtis Don Brown, who police have called a "person of interest" in several unsolved killings of Tarrant County women in the mid-1980s, testified Wednesday and admitted to killing Terece Gregory, 29, and Sharyn Kills Back, 18, in separate kidnappings in 1985.

In exchange for his plea, Brown will be sentenced to two life terms that will run consecutively.

The plea agreement incensed at least one relative of the one of the victims, who called the deal "a crime in itself."

The agreement came less than a week before jury selection was to begin in the Terece Gregory case, in which prosecutors intended to seek the death penalty.

Jim Gregory, Terece Gregory’s brother, did not attend the hearing but had harsh words for the district attorney’s office regarding the plea deal, stating he could not have been more emphatic that the death penalty be pursued in his sister’s case. Gregory, who lives in Arizona, accused prosecutors of doing "absolutely nothing" in regard to the case, other than to reschedule it.

"The scum is already serving a life sentence for the murder of Jewel Woods," Gregory said in an e-mail to the Star-Telegram on Wednesday. "Another life sentence is the equivalent of his receiving no punishment for this crime. It is disgusting, and, as far as I’m concerned, a crime in itself."

Meanwhile, Suzanna Kills Back, Sharyn Kills Back’s older sister, said her family is pleased with the plea agreement and grateful that they will not need to attend Brown’s trial. Kills Back said she did not care whether prosecutors sought the death penalty, "as long as he paid for what he’d done."

"I was kind of getting scared the closer we were getting to the trial," Suzanna Kills Back said. "I told my sister I didn’t know if I could handle it."

Prosecutor Christy Jack, who prosecuted the case along with Alan Levy, defended the plea agreement.

"I can understand Mr. Gregory’s anger. There are some wounds that will never heal even after 20 years, and certainly losing a beloved sister is one of those wounds," Jack said.

"But he’s eligible for parole right now in the Jewel Woods case and so, with the addition of these two capital life sentences, there’s no doubt he’ll stay in prison the rest of his life. He’ll die in prison, and it’s no longer left up to the Board of Pardons and Parole."

Tim Moore, who, along with attorney Bill Ray, defended Brown, said he believed that the plea was a "very wise decision" on Brown’s part.

"I thought there was a strong possibility if a jury convicted him that . . . he would get the death penalty," Moore said.

The cases

Brown had served 19 years of a life sentence for killing Jewel Woods, a 51-year-old nurse, outside her east Fort Worth apartment when police learned in February 2005 that a DNA database had linked his profile to semen found in the body of Terece Gregory, a waitress.

Her body was found floating in the Trinity River on May 30, 1985, a gunshot wound to her face. She was last seen alive a day earlier while driving away from a downtown Fort Worth bar.

Gregory’s death had been one in a string of homicides of women in Tarrant County in the 1980s that sparked fears that a serial killer was on the loose.

The link prompted Fort Worth police to re-examine 25 unsolved homicides that occurred while Brown lived in Tarrant County, and determined that more than a dozen required a closer look.

Arlington detectives also re-examined their cold cases for possible links to Brown. In September 2005, they received confirmation that Brown’s DNA matched semen recovered from the body and clothing of Kills Back, an Arlington resident and member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. She was found strangled with a rope around her neck in a south Arlington storm drain on March 23, 1985. She had disappeared a week earlier while walking to a friend’s house.

Dressed in a green Tarrant County Jail jumpsuit and wearing glasses, Brown offered little insight Wednesday into the murders of the two women when he twice took the stand. He answered "yes sir" as Levy asked him whether he was responsible for shooting Gregory in the face and strangling Kills Back.

When asked where he had met Terece Gregory, Brown paused several seconds before replying, "I don’t remember the name, but the area was Woodhaven." Brown was not asked for, nor did he offer, any additional details about how he encountered Kills Back in Arlington.

Other homicides

Though police had called Brown a "person of interest" in the other unsolved slayings, prosecutors say Brown had not been scientifically linked to them.

Homicide Sgt. J.D. Thornton declined to discuss the status of evidence in those homicides but said Brown has not been eliminated as a suspect.

"The proximity and time and details surrounding the death of Ms. Gregory and Ms. Kills Back indicate a possible connection to the other cases," Thornton said. "We certainly will not rule out such a relationship and will continue to pursue those investigations for the benefit of the victims and their families."

Moore would not comment on the other unsolved cases.

"My gut feeling is, they’ve had 3 1/2 years to investigate those other homicides and if they haven’t linked him to them yet, I doubt they will," Moore said.

Gregg Woods, Jewel Woods’ son, is among those who believe that Brown may have had more victims.

"For the past three years my heart has gone out to both the Gregory family and the Kills Back family," Woods said Wednesday. "Today it is being extended to the surviving family members of his other unknown victims. Those families will always be held in my prayers."

Woods said he was disappointed in 1986 when prosecutors in his mother’s case struck a deal with Brown, allowing him to plead guilty to murder and burglary of a habitation in exchange for two life sentences to run concurrently. Brown snuck into Jewel Woods’ apartment, ambushed the woman and then dragged her to a weed-filled lot where she was raped and beaten to death with a rock.

Still, Gregg Woods said he believes that the plea agreement reached Wednesday is positive because Brown will never be released from prison.

"This result is a big improvement over what was accomplished in 1986 with two concurrent life terms and eligibility for parole after seven years," Woods said.

Levy said prosecutors had offered the plea agreement to Brown, which he had initially rejected, with the top priority of keeping him off the streets.

"Here’s what you have to ask yourself: 'What’s in the public’s interest?’ " Levy said. "Is it better to make sure this guy never, ever gets out and you have a sure thing, or is it better to the roll the dice? Because if you miss, you’re done."

Suspected serial killer indicted in third slaying

March 25, 2008

A 49-year-old convicted killer who is already serving a life sentence for one murder and awaiting trial in a second slaying has now been indicted in a third.

Curtis Don Brown -- who has been called a "person of interest" in more than a dozen unsolved homicides from the 1980s -- was indicted this week in connection with the strangulation of Sharyn Kills Back, 18, who disappeared March 15, 1985.

A plumber discovered Kills Back's body on March 23, 1985, in a south Arlington storm drain near the 1400 block of Bandera Drive. Her face and the front of her body were caked in mud. A rope was around her neck.

Kills Back, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, moved off the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota at age 16 and was living and working in Arlington when she was killed, relatives have said.

Her slaying went unsolved for more than 20 years, until September 2005, when police learned that Brown had been linked through a DNA database to Kills Back's rape and strangulation.

Kills Back's case had been reopened several months earlier, after Fort Worth Detective Manny Reyes and homicide Sgt. J.D. Thornton told Arlington investigators that they suspected Brown might be responsible for several slayings in the Metroplex in the mid-1980s.

At the time, Brown had served 19 years of a life sentence for the murder of Jewel Woods, a 51-year-old nurse, in 1986 outside her east Fort Worth apartment. He had also recently been linked by a DNA database to the slaying of Terece Gregory, 29, whose body was found floating in the Trinity River on May 30, 1985. The day before, Gregory had disappeared after driving away from the Caravan of Dreams, a downtown Fort Worth nightclub. She had been raped and shot.

In July 2005, Brown was indicted on a capital murder charge in Gregory's death. He was brought back to Fort Worth from prison and remains in the Tarrant County Jail, awaiting trial in the Gregory case. With his recent indictment in the Kills Back case, he can now be prosecuted in that slaying as well.

The courthouse was closed Friday, so prosecutors were not available for comment. Neither was Brown's attorney, Tim Moore.

But Alan Levy, chief of the criminal division of the Tarrant County district attorney's office, has said that he plans to seek the death penalty against Brown.

Levy was quoted in the Star-Telegram in 2005 as saying that Brown's criminal past and the randomness with which he selected his victims "certainly puts him in a category of murderers likely to have multiple homicide victims."

Caught Cold

By Jesse Hyde -

October 12, 2006

Shortly after police announced that Brown was a suspect in 18 unsolved slayings, most of them taking place between 1984 and 1986, a relative named Betty Phenix contacted the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to speak in his behalf. According to Phenix, Brown had a troubled childhood, marked by tragedy and crime. His mother was burned in a house fire in 1972 that killed two of her children. One was 3 years old, and the other was just 5 1/2 months. Brown, who was 13 at the time, escaped unharmed.

When he was in his mid-20s he came to Texas to live with his mother, who had moved to Fort Worth from their native California. By then, he had already served time for armed robbery.

In 1984 he married, and a year later he had a daughter. He worked sporadically as a laborer and as a machinist.

In 1986, he pleaded guilty to raping and killing Jewel Woods, a 51-year-old nurse, in her Fort Worth home. Police say he beat her to death with a rock. He was found about a half-hour later, out of breath and sweating, carrying two purses wrapped in a towel. One carried Woods' identification. Her body, nude from the waist down, was found the next morning near her apartment in a patch of tall weeds.

Police believe that wasn't the first woman Brown killed. His first victim may have been Catherine Davis, an aspiring model who went missing on September 30, 1984. By December of that year, eight women were missing. Throughout the city, but especially in the neighborhoods near Texas Christian University, there was a growing fear that a serial killer was among them.

The murder that drew the most attention was that of Cindy Heller, a TCU graduate and former beauty contestant, who vanished on October 22, 1984. That night she stopped to help a stranded motorist and ended up sharing drinks with her. At about 11:30 p.m., they parted ways. Heller was never seen alive again.

On January 5, just days after police had found another body, a group of children playing near a creek on the TCU campus noticed something odd floating in the water. Tangled in the branches of a fallen tree, it appeared to be a headless corpse.

The children ran to tell their parents, who sent an older boy to check it out. When he confirmed their story, the parents called the police.

The press immediately speculated that it might be Heller's body, because she had lived a half-mile away from the creek. Identifying the body was difficult because it had been decomposing for months. Most of the upper body, including the head, the right arm and the chest had separated from the rest of the torso.

Firefighters pumped the creek and drained the three-acre Worth Hills Lake the creek fed into. Eventually, they found enough to identify the body as Heller's. Two hours later, another body was found, that of a 20-year-old waitress named Lisa Griffin.

Most cops already thought there was a serial killer on the loose. Reyes was a patrol officer at the time, and he was instructed to stop and help any stranded female motorist. Some women that he came upon were so scared they wouldn't even open their windows to talk to him until he could prove he was a cop.

Shortly after Griffin's body was discovered, Fort Worth police held a closed-door meeting and decided to form a task force to look into the serial killings. But they never caught the killer. Until now, Reyes believes.

While Brown has not been linked through DNA evidence to the murder of Davis, Heller or Griffin (or any other woman who disappeared through that four-month period between 1984 and 1985), Reyes and others think he could be responsible for those slayings and more. So far, DNA evidence has linked him to the murders of Terese Gregory, a 29-year-old waitress killed in 1985, and Sharyn Kills Black, an 18-year-old also killed that year.

"I can't pinpoint the exact number he may be responsible for," says J.D. Thornton, who heads the Fort Worth homicide division and is leading the investigation into whom Brown may have killed. "We have eliminated him as a suspect in some of the murders--we can't say which ones--but we're confident there's more. They're similar enough in the victim's background, the m.o. and everything else. The only ones I'm going to eliminate him on are the ones that occurred while he was in prison."

Until Fort Worth police finish their investigation of Brown, which has been going on for more than a year, no trial date will be set. Brown's attorney, Tim Brown (no relation), says there has been no talk of a plea bargain.

"He maintains his innocence. They've made him out to be the serial killer of the '80s, and they only have DNA evidence linking him to two murders. It's completely inaccurate."

There is, of course, the possibility that Brown and Segundo are innocent of the murders Reyes has linked them to, or the ones he suspects them of committing. After all, DNA evidence has been successfully challenged across the country, often because the methods used to test it were faulty.

But Reyes feels confident that both are guilty. "I'd say it's about a one in a trillion chance we're wrong."

Convict charged in Arlington woman's 1985 death

Prosecutor says Curtis Don Brown is likely a serial killer

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

September 28, 2005

The letter arrived at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota on March 14, 1985.

Sharyn Kills Back, 18, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, wrote that she was coming home in two weeks to visit.

The next day, Sharyn disappeared.

A week later, members of her family received a phone call from Arlington police, who informed them that Sharyn was dead, found strangled with a rope in a south Arlington storm drain.

"She did come home in two weeks, but in a different way," said Suzanna Kills Back, Sharyn's older sister.

For 20 years, the family prayed for an answer.

On Tuesday, another phone call from Arlington police finally brought one. Curtis Don Brown, a convicted murderer recently charged in another Fort Worth woman's 1985 slaying and a person of interest in more than a dozen others, had been linked through a DNA database to Sharyn's rape and strangulation.

Arlington police obtained a capital murder arrest warrant Tuesday against Brown, who remains in the Tarrant County Jail.

"It's just a big relief," Suzanna Kills Back said. "I want to go someplace and just holler out loud."

Alan Levy, chief of the criminal division of the Tarrant County district attorney's office, said he plans to seek the death penalty against Brown.

He said that Brown's criminal past and the randomness with which he selected his victims "certainly puts him in a category of murderers likely to have multiple homicide victims."

"It has all the earmarks of a serial killer," Levy said. Asked whether he considers Brown a serial killer, Levy replied, "I do now."

Tim Moore, Brown's attorney, said Tuesday he would not discuss the latest accusation against his client until seeing the evidence.

Fort Worth police "went to great lengths when these murders were happening to assure the public that this wasn't a serial killer," Moore said. "Now they want everyone to think it's the same person, so I don't know where they're coming from."

Sharyn's case was reopened after Fort Worth cold case Detective Manny Reyes and homicide Sgt. J.D. Thornton met with Arlington investigators in March, sharing their suspicions that Brown may be responsible for several slayings in the area in the mid-1980s.

Brown had already served 19 years of a life sentence for murdering Jewel Woods, a 51-year-old nurse, outside her east Fort Worth apartment in 1986, when Fort Worth police learned in February that a DNA database had linked his profile to semen found on the body of Terece Gregory.

Gregory, 29, was found floating in the Trinity River on May 30, 1985, one day after she had disappeared after driving away from a downtown Fort Worth bar. She was raped and shot.

Brown was charged with capital murder in connection with her death in May.

Fort Worth police immediately began re-examining 25 unsolved homicides that occurred while Brown lived in Tarrant County, determining that more than a dozen required a closer look.

At their suggestion, Arlington homicide detectives Jim Ford and John Bell did the same, reopening Sharyn's case and 6 others.

On Friday, Arlington police received confirmation from the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office that Brown's DNA matched sperm taken from Sharyn's body and clothing, Sgt. Mark Simpson said. The link did not surprise Fort Worth police.

"Similar results from other Fort Worth cases or out-of-state cases would not be surprising either," Thornton said. "His MO [method of operation], the fact that he targets strangers and the amount of traveling he was doing during that period makes it highly likely that he has not been caught for every crime of this type that he has committed.

"There are other victims out there," Thornton said.

Sharyn disappears

Sharyn Kills Back, the youngest girl among 9 siblings, longed for a life outside the Pine Ridge reservation where she had spent her life. At age 16, she set out for the Clearfield Job Corps Center in Utah, undergoing 2 years of vocational training in a program for minorities.

"I was happy for her because she was happy," said Blanche Kills Back, another sister. "Life on a reservation is hard. She wanted to go and explore the world."

When she had completed her training, Sharyn was given an option of 3 places to work in: Stockton, Calif., Atlanta or Arlington.

"I told her to take Stockton, California," Blanche Kills Back recalls. "She chose Texas. I don't know why."

Sharyn's mother was apprehensive. Audrey Ione Bad Hair constantly warned her daughter not to walk by herself. Sharyn assured her mother that she was safe and had friends who gave her rides so she would not have to walk.

But that wasn't always the case.

On the evening of March 15, 1985, it was already dark when Sharyn asked her roommate, Barbara Bouknight -- a friend she had met in the Clearfield Job Corps Center in Utah -- to walk with her to a friend's house.

About a block from the apartment near East Park Row Drive and Texas 360, Bouknight changed her mind. She turned to head back to the apartment, but within a minute or two changed her mind again. "When I turned back around, I didn't see her," Bouknight recalled Tuesday in a telephone interview from New Mexico. "She was already gone."

When Sharyn didn't return home that night, a worried Bouknight called police. Bouknight said she was told she had to wait a span of hours before a missing-persons report could be filed.

"I couldn't wait," Bouknight said. "I didn't know what to do. I kept going out looking for her. I couldn't sleep."

2 days later, on March 17, Bouknight filed a missing-persons report with police.

A week later, with still no word, Bouknight spotted a story on the news about an unidentified woman whose body was found in Arlington. Fearful that the body was Sharyn's, Bouknight called Arlington police again.

"That's when the detective came out and talked to me, then showed me some pictures," Bouknight said. "I said, 'Yes, that's her.'"

When discovered by a plumber on March 23 near the 1400 block of Bandera Drive, Sharyn's face and the front of her body were caked in mud. A 2-foot length of rope was knotted around her neck. She was fully dressed.

The Fort Worth police crime lab examined trace evidence in the case but could find no clue to the woman's attacker. "Using 1985 technology, they were not able to detect any sperm," Ford said.

Because of the string of disappearances and slayings of other young women at the time, many in southwest Fort Worth, Ford and other detectives from area agencies met with a Fort Worth police task force to discuss the cases.

"Sharon Kills Back was among the many cases we looked at and compared," Ford said. "There was not any physical evidence to match it to any other cases at that time."

Two decades later, after meeting with Fort Worth police in March, Arlington police asked the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office to look at the evidence again. Using new technology, the office was able to extract a DNA profile from sperm found in the sexual assault test kit and Sharyn's clothing, Ford said.

"It is amazing what modern technology can do," Ford said.

Thornton said DNA tests on the unsolved Fort Worth cases have only ruled out Brown's involvement in one of the deaths, an elderly woman found slain inside her house on Jan. 25, 1985.

"We have received some results and have been unable to exclude Brown in any of those cases. They require further testing," Thornton said. "On some of the other cases, we have not yet received initial results."

Coping with the loss

While other families still wait, friends and family of Sharyn said they're grateful to finally have an answer but still struggle with Sharyn's loss.

"I blame myself now," Bouknight said. "Maybe she would still be alive today if only I had gone with her that day. I don't think this guy would have gotten both of us if I were there."

Sharyn's mother also struggled with guilt, her daughters said. "When she passed away, my mom blamed herself," Suzanna Kills Back said.

Less than 3 years later, Sharyn's mother died of complications from diabetes.

"It took a toll on her," Suzanna Kills Back said. "She just really went downhill fast. She was only 45 years old when she died."

3 summers ago, Sharyn's father, Mowis Kills Back, died, also from complications of diabetes.

"It's just sad that Mom and Dad aren't here to hear it," Blanche Kills Back said.

Cold Case Detectives use new technology to solve 1985 murder case

Arlington Police Department

September 27, 2005

Arlington Cold Case Detectives have solved the 20-year-old murder of Sharyn Killsback after matching DNA evidence to a suspect currently serving a life sentence for another unrelated murder in Fort Worth. Ms. Killsback was 18 when her body was found in an east Arlington creek on March 23, 1985.

Curtis Don Brown, 49, is being held in the Tarrant County Jail in Fort Worth. Today, detectives issued an arrest warrant charging Brown with capital murder in the death and sexual assault of Ms. Killsback about a week before her body was found.

On March 23, 1985, a plumber found a woman's fully-clothed body inside a storm drain in the 1400 block of Bandera Drive near a residential neighborhood that was under construction. A rope had been wrapped tightly around her neck. Because there was no identification found on her body, police released her description to the news media, including the tattooed initials "SKB" on her left hand. One of Ms. Killsback's roommates, who had previously reported her missing on March 17, 1985, called investigators after seeing news reports of the body and recognizing Ms. Killsback's tattoo. The roommate told police that she had last seen Ms. Killsback walking near Texas 360 and east Park Row Drive at about 8 p.m. March 15, 1985.

This past March, Fort Worth Cold Case detectives contacted Arlington Cold Case detectives to share information, said Detective Jim Ford. "They told us that Brown was serving a life sentence for the May 29, 1986 capital murder of Jewel Woods and that they had recently matched him through DNA evidence to another woman who was found dead in a river on May 30, 1985," he said. "They also gave us a timeline of when he was not in prison, and we realized Ms. Killsback's murder - about March 15, 1985 - fell into that period. The suspect's method of operation was also similar."

This information prompted Detective Ford to immediately begin reviewing investigative reports and evidence complied by the original detectives in Ms. Killsback's case. He requested that forensic scientists in the DNA lab of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's office obtain a DNA profile of any body fluids from the evidence collected at the 1985 crime scene. Fluids were found and the DNA profile was entered into the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). A comparison revealed that DNA evidence taken from the victim's body and clothing matched Brown's DNA.

The evidence had previously been tested using 1985 technology, Detective Ford said. "The technology we are using today was not available at the time of this victim's death," he said. "But fortunately, the evidence was obtained, stored properly and remained intact so that today, we have what we need to make an arrest and to bring justice to this victim and her family."

Since the Cold Case Unit formed in November 2004, detectives have cleared three other murder cases by arrest. Additionally, they cleared eight other murder cases in which there were enough facts and information to substantiate issuing a warrant for the suspects' arrest. In each of those eight cases, however, the suspects are deceased so the cases are now closed. Investigators will continue to review about 60 cold cases dating back to 1968.

Curtis Don Brown 1979

Curtis Don Brown 1979

Curtis Don Brown 1986

Curtis Don Brown

Curtis Don Brown


Sharyn Killsback, 18.