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Police identify skeleton as pastor Wanted for assault: Henry County man disappeared on the way to turn himself in.

BYLINE: R. Robin McDonald, Staff
DATE: 08-04-1999
PUBLICATION: The Atlanta Journal and Constitution
SECTION: Local News

Little remained of the body when DeKalb County police first saw it but a skeleton clad in a black nylon jogging suit and black dress shoes. But this week, DeKalb forensic investigators confirmed through dental records that the skeleton was that of the Rev. Thomas Brown III, the former pastor of Bentley Hill United Methodist Church in Stockbridge. Brown disappeared last November on his way to turn himself in to Henry County police.
When Brown jumped from his wife's car last November, he was wanted for aggravated sodomy, aggravated assault, armed robbery and burglary in an Oct. 24 attack on an 17-year-old female, said Henry police Lt. Roger Stubbs.
Brown's skeletal remains were found behind an abandoned barn at 5951 Covington Highway about 2 p.m. July 27 by a man looking at the property for possible purchase, DeKalb police said.
DeKalb medical examiners have, so far, been unable to determine the cause of Brown's death, said Jim Mabe, a medical examiner's investigator.
Nor have they been able to determine whether Brown was killed, died accidentally or took his own life, Mabe said.
No bullets were found at the scene, and the skeleton showed no overt sign of foul play, he said.
After Brown disappeared last November, he was suspended from his ministerial post, said Alice Smith, a spokeswoman with the United Methodist Center in Atlanta. Brown continued to receive both salary and benefits until January, when the Methodist Board of Ordained Ministry recommended his removal as a minister of the United Methodist Church, she said.
That recommendation became final in June at the annual meeting of the North Georgia United Methodists.
Neither church officials nor parishioners had any word from Brown after his disappearance, Smith said.
Not only was Brown wanted on felony charges, but he also had abandoned his church, she said.
A new pastor, the Rev. Robert Manley, became Bentley Hill's minister last spring.
On Tuesday, North Georgia Methodist Bishop Lindsey Davis issued a formal statement of sympathy to Brown's family.
"We have tried to stand with the family in their time of need and join with them in grief and loss for this very tragic end to Dr. Brown's life," he said. "We've been deeply concerned about him since he disappeared in November, and we share our heartfelt sadness with his family."
The felony charges that Brown faced before his death stemmed from an Oct. 24 attack on an 18-year-old Stockbridge woman who recognized him as the pastor of Bentley Hill, Stubbs said. Police would not release her name because the identity of sex crime victims is confidential under Georgia law.
Smith said neither she nor Davis know whether the teen attended Bentley Hill Methodist.
After the attack, the teenager told police that a man she identified as "Pastor Brown" came to her house, asked if her parents were home and forced his way inside when he told that they were not, Stubbs said.
Then the teen's attacker forced her down a hall and into a bedroom, Stubbs said. When she fought with him, he pulled a knife on her and threatened to cut her, Stubbs said.
The teenager broke away and grabbed her father's gun from a bureau, Stubbs said. But her assailant wrestled it away from her, then struck her several times in the back of the head with it, Stubbs said.
The man then threw the teenager on the bed, paused to smoke some crack cocaine, then cut her clothes from her with the knife and began sexually assaulting her, Stubbs said.
The assailant stayed nearly two hours before he took the teen's car keys and her car.
A month later, Henry police filed charges against Brown in connection with the assault. As his wife was taking him to surrender to police, Brown leaped from the car and ran, leaving behind his credit card, his checkbook and his driver's license.
"We have not seen him since," Stubbs said. "We were shocked. He just totally disappeared."
On Nov. 30, DeKalb police --- acting on an anonymous tip --- found the 18-year-old victim's stolen car at Winston Manor Apartments on Candler Road. Police arrested a woman in a nearby apartment who said a man named "Red" had given her the teen's car. She told police she was in the parking lot of a nearby liquor store with Red when he acquired the teenager's car from a man she later identified as Brown.
But Brown --- who eventually was placed on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's "Most Wanted" list --- continued to elude authorities.
Brown was a student pastor in 1994 when he was assigned to Bentley Hill United Methodist, which has 246 members. In 1996, he was ordained as a probationary minister of the church's North Georgia Conference, Smith said. Brown was never fully ordained as a minister, she said.


Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution