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Police Continue Probe Into Regina Brown's Disappearance

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Police Chief James Viadero said this week that town police are working with the state's attorney's office in their continuing probe into the unexplained disappearance of Regina Brown, a 35-year-old American Airlines flight attendant who went missing from her 18 Whippoorwill Hill Road home in 1987.A History Of ViolenceNewtown Bee reporter seeking comment contacted Mr Brown by telephone and immediately identified himself, after which Mr Brown hung up the phone.Disappearance

Starting on May 31, and continuing for four weeks, police thoroughly searched an approximately 1.5-acre section of a 102.7-acre tract adjacent to the former Brown residence in seeking any remains of Ms Brown that might be in the area, in what is now considered a murder investigation.

Police were aided by multiple cadaver dogs, which were handled by a Monroe-based group of volunteers known as Resources in Search and Rescue, Inc. Town public works staffers wielding various equipment removed densely overgrown vegetation from the area to allow the cadaver dogs access to the terrain.

"The excavation is done," Chief Viadero said of the extensive digging that occurred.

The advanced techniques and methods being used in the dog search did not exist when Ms Brown was reported missing in 1987, according to a police report on the investigation. This is the first time that cadaver dogs have been used to search that area for human remains, according to police.

Police used a small backhoe to dig in areas where the cadaver dogs had indicated that human remains might be buried. The several dogs used in the search are specifically trained to detect the scent of human remains, even those which are buried.

"The investigation is still very active," Chief Viadero said, acknowledging that Willis Brown, Jr, is a "person of interest" in the case. Mr Brown was an American Airlines pilot when he was married to Regina Brown.

Mr Brown is now in his early 80s. He no longer lives in the area. He has residences on Block Island, R.I., and in the Houston, Texas, area.

Through a recent court application for a search-and-seizure warrant to allow police to search the tract, police Detective Jason Frank and Lieutenant Richard Robinson sought and received court approval to remove overgrown vegetation there to provide the dogs with direct access to the terrain.

Police are seeking physical evidence in what they are calling a "murder" investigation, according to court documents.

According to those documents, "Regina Brown has not been located or heard from in over 29 years… Knowing that Willis Brown had been physically violent with Regina during the course of their relationship…[police]…believe that there are human remains buried in the area where all four K-9s are alerting." The term "alerting" refers to the dogs physically indicating that they have smelled odors which they are trained to detect, such as human remains.

The court papers state that four cadaver dogs had showed a distinct change in behavior at a 1.5-acre section of the tract, which lies about 200 feet away from the backyard of the property where the Browns once lived.

Chief Viadero did not disclose if police found any pertinent evidence in the Brown murder investigation through the excavation work.

The warrant application describes a history of domestic violence, in which Willis Brown had threatened his wife with violence and death.

During their September 1986 divorce proceedings in Danbury Superior Court, Regina Brown had testified that her husband had started to strangle her during an argument, according to the court papers.

"He then said, 'Regina this is it - You're dead,'" according to the documents.

Also, in court testimony, Ms Brown had stated that her husband had threatened to kill her during an argument on another occasion.

According to a Newtown police report, on April 10, 1984, Mr Brown was involved in a physical fight with Ms Brown. In that incident, he grabbed his wife by the neck and attempted to strangle her, according to police. He also struck her in the face and tried to grab her throat again, according to police.

That incident resulted in police arresting Mr Brown on a third-degree assault charge.

In 2008, Det Frank reopened the police's cold case investigation into Regina Brown's disappearance and traveled through the United States in interviewing Ms Brown's family, friends and peers, according to the court papers.

In stating the rationale for seeking the search-and-seizure warrant, Det Frank stated in the court papers that police have probable cause to believe that Ms Brown was murdered.

In 1995, Ms Brown was declared legally dead by probate court, but her body has never been found.

On June 29, a

In early April 1987, Ms Brown, who had three children, was reported missing to police by friends, family and her estranged husband, who was no longer living with her at Whippoorwill Hill Road.

As a flight attendant, Ms Brown had not missed a flight in five years, so her having missed two flights without giving any notice led those who knew her to believe that "something had happened to Regina," according to the court papers.

"Regina Brown was involved in a divorce, and had dropped off her daughter and babysitter at LaGuardia Airport. She was then supposed to have returned home to Newtown," according to a police summary of her disappearance.

At the time of Ms Brown's disappearance, the Browns were going through a contentious divorce and child custody battle. They had been married for less than five years, living all of that time in Newtown.

After Ms Brown disappeared, Newtown police and state police searched the Brown residence on Whippoorwill Hill Road and also searched surrounding properties, including the large nearby undeveloped tract, but found no evidence of foul play.

Ms Brown's 1980 Honda was found on April 6, 1987, in New York City with the keys in the ignition. The vehicle had several parking violation tags on the windshield. Police transported the Honda back to Connecticut for forensic testing, but it yielded no significant evidence.

Police questioned Mr Brown when they learned that he had come to Newtown from Queens, N.Y., on March 26 for a dental appointment. He told police that he went to his Queens apartment immediately after the appointment.

Mr Brown agreed to take a polygraph test - provided that it was administered after the divorce proceedings were concluded - but he later changed his mind and refused.

After Regina Brown disappeared, police and news reports noted similarities between her case and that of another Newtown flight attendant, Helle Crafts, 39, who had disappeared several months earlier, in November 1986.

While the Brown case remains unsolved, Ms Crafts' husband, Richard, who is now 78, was convicted of killing his wife, cutting up her body with a chainsaw, and then disposing of the parts with a rented woodchipper. Mr Crafts was an airline pilot. He is serving a 50-year prison sentence on a murder conviction.

Police are continuing their probe into the disappearance of Regina Brown in 1987, treating the case as a murder investigation.
Police have searched a 1.5-acre section of a 102.7-acre tract off the dead end Whippoorwill Hill Road in seeking the remains of Regina Brown, a resident of that street who went missing in 1987. Police needed to clear dense vegetation from the site to allow cadaver dogs to search the area. In this June 23 view that looks northward, a small backhoe, which was used at the site, is seen at the left-center section of the cleared area. (Bee Photo, Gorosko)
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