Austin
7:43 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Suspect in Esme Barrera Murder Identified, Dead

At a hastily called press conference this afternoon, the Austin Police Department confirmed they had a suspect in the New Year’s murder of Esme Barrera, a widely known, well-liked member of Austin’s music community.

They also said that their suspect, James Loren Brown, is dead, apparently of a suicide.

The Austin Chronicle reports more details:

At a press conference tonight police said that they believe the man, 25-year-old James Loren Brown, has been linked through DNA to a series of attacks on women – including one attack around 5am on New Year's Day in the 300 block of East 31st Street, which happened just hours after Barrera was killed in her King Street cottage, just blocks East.

Brown has also been linked to four additional assaults in Central Austin – including three in July on South Congress and on Barton Springs Road, and a fourth in September at Comal and Haskell Sts.

Police say Brown was found earlier this month in his home in the 3000 block of Guadalupe St. – not far from the King Street home where Barrera was murdered just after 2:30am on Jan. 1. Brown was found dead by his roommate; Brown had apparently committed suicide.

An APD incident report from Jan. 12 records a suicide in an apartment complex at that address.

While the Austin American-Statesman reports that police referred to Brown as a “serial predator,” the Chronicle notes APD’s statement “considerable” work remains to definitively link him to Barrera’s murder.

Below, a press release from the APD on their findings:

Update on January 1, 2012 E. 31st Street Burglary with Intent to Commit a Felony

On January 1, 2012 at about 5 a.m. in the 300 block of E. 31st Street, a woman was attacked by an unknown male suspect in her home. The Austin Police Department DNA Laboratory conducted a thorough examination of all the evidence recovered from the crime scene. During the examination, DNA scientists were able to locate a male DNA profile from evidence at the scene. Sex Crimes detectivesrecognized similarities between one of the events that occurred during the early morning hours of January 1, 2012 and a series of attacks that occurred in South Austin last summer. Detectives requested DNA comparisons from APD’s DNA laboratory using the evidence in the E. 31st Street case. DNA scientists manually compared the DNA profile that they obtained from E. 31st Street and were able to link that (unknown) suspect profile to four assaults that occurred in South Austin: 

1.      Assault with Injury that occurred July 1, 2011 at about 3:43 a.m. in the 4300 block of S. Congress Avenue

2.      Attempted Sexual Assault that occurred July 8, 2011 at about 5:37 a.m. in the 1400 block of S. Congress Avenue

3.      Assault with Injury that occurred July 8, 2011 at about 6:41 a.m. at S. 1st Street and Barton Springs Road

4.      Assault with Injury that occurred September 11, 2011 at about 8:30 a.m. at Comal and Haskell Streets

The suspect description in each of the four earlier unsolved cases involved a Black male suspect with a similar physical build described in each.

On January 12, 2012, Homicide detectives responded to the 3000 block of Guadalupe on a deceased person call. The decedent’s roommate returned home after a holiday break and found his roommate James Loren Brown, Black male, 11/20/1986, deceased from an apparent suicide. During the investigation, the Homicide detective and a Crime Scene Unit (CSU) specialist noted that the residence was a short distance from the 3100 block of King Street, which is where Esmeralda Barrera was murdered on January 1, 2012. There had also been an assault with injury about 30 minutes before the murder in the same block. The victim in that assault described her assailant as a Black male and provided information for a composite sketch. The Homicide detective and CSU specialist observed that a photograph of Brown at the scene resembled the composite sketch and Brown had a similar physical build. No apparent reason for the suicide was found during the preliminary investigation.

On January 13, 2012, Homicide detectives returned to Brown’s residence and seized several items. APD DNA scientists were able to isolate a DNA profile from one of the seized items and compared it to the unknown male profile from the E. 31st Street case. On January 25, 2012, DNA scientists were able to confirm that the tests results linked Brown to the E. 31st Street case. Therefore, Brown is also a suspect in the four other unsolved cases that have been connected through DNA evidence. The circumstances of the four unsolved cases are similar to the circumstances of the assault with injury that occurred about 30 minutes before Esmeralda Barrera’s murder and in the same block.

The Austin Police Department Homicide Unit is investigating James Loren Brown as a suspect in the two other cases that occurred on King Street during the early morning hours of January 1, 2012. This includes Esmeralda Barrera’s murder. We consider Brown a suspect, but there is a considerable amount of investigative work to be completed. The DNA scientists are examining a significant amount of items that were seized from Brown’s residence. APD’s Digital Analysis Response Team is also examining electronic items seized from Brown’s residence. Homicide detectives are conducting interviews to learn more about Brown, and Sex Crimes detectives are re-interviewing and presenting photograph lineups to victims in possible other cases where no DNA evidence was present.

Homicide detectives will maintain all investigative efforts to either continue to include Brown as a viable suspect in Esmeralda Barrera’s murder or exclude Brown from further consideration.

We are still very early in the investigation into this new lead, and we are asking for assistance from the public. First and foremost, we are asking anyone who saw or had contact with James Loren Brown on New Year’s Eve or during the early part of January 2012 to contact the Homicide Tip Line at (512) 477-3588. Homicide detectives are also seeking information from anyone who knew James Loren Brown, especially anyone who may have received or bought property from Brown.

The Austin Police Department wishes to express its gratitude to the Austin community for all the help and support received over the last few weeks. We will continue to work diligently to identify who murdered Esmeralda Barrera and hopefully bring some closure to her family, many friends, and those in the community who have grown to know Esmeralda and embrace her memory.