TAMPA — Roy Brown wanted to see into the heart of a killer. But when he got a peek recently, he decided that he had seen enough.
For nearly a decade, Brown has wanted to talk to his daughter's killer and look him in the eye. He wants to know where 7-year-old Amanda Brown's remains were left. She has been missing since 1998.
Willie Crain was convicted of her abduction and murder based on testimony and blood found on his underwear and toilet. Prosecutors believe Crain, a crabber, dumped Amanda's body in Old Tampa Bay. He sits on death row in prison in Raiford.
At his 1999 sentencing, lawyers told Brown to rein in his comments so Crain couldn't use anything in a future appeal. It left Brown pent up ever since.
In 2006, he tried to hand Crain a letter at an appeal hearing but the court system stopped him. He tried again at Crain's prison but a warden took the letter and read it to Crain instead.
Three years later at his home in Zephyrhills, Brown finally received a response. Crain wrote him a message in September agreeing to meet.
"I will answer Roy Brown's questions as best as I can," Crain wrote.
When Brown tried to schedule something, state prison officials told him their administrative rules prohibited victims and prisoners from meeting because of safety concerns. Up in arms, Brown sought help from reporters and lawyers.
Crain, now 63, was diagnosed with spots of cancer on his lungs almost two years ago, and Brown figured Crain might soon go to the grave with his secrets.
Brown, 57, thought if Crain saw his haunted face in person, he might be moved to confess. A killer would come clean in his last days and an anguished father could finally rest.
Brown soon found out Crain had his own ideas about the meeting. Last month, the inmate wrote Brown again.
"I just want to clear my name and get you to make the detectives reopen the case to get the real persons that took your daughter," he wrote. "Mr. Roy Brown, I'm going to get my name cleared. You can bank on that."
Friends had warned Brown that corresponding with Crain — let alone meeting with him — would open him to more misery and manipulation. Carole Bernhardt told him so, and she can relate to Brown's plight. Her 8-year-old grandson, Zachary Bernhardt, disappeared from a Clearwater apartment in 2000 and has never been found.
"Me and my daughter both," she said. "But we support him wherever he wants to go."
Crain's letter was full of claims about a tainted investigation and it made Brown burn. Already suffering from emphysema, he spent Tuesday in an emergency room with headaches.
"He's twisting my head," Brown said. "His name is in my mouth more than my daughter."
On Wednesday, Brown called a news conference at the Hillsborough County Courthouse to send Crain a public message:
Don't write me anymore unless you want to come clean.
"If he wants to see me, tell me where Amanda is," Brown said. "Otherwise, I'll see him in the death chamber."
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]