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Crime News Cold Justice

DNA Aids Investigators in Examining 1982 Double Murder of Texas Mother, Young Daughter

Kelly Siegler heads to Abilene, Texas, to investigate whether a man strangled his common-law wife and her 8-year-old daughter. 

By Jax Miller

Kelly Siegler and the Cold Justice team, alongside the Abilene Police Department, close in on a suspect accused of murdering his wife and stepdaughter more than 40 years ago.

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In 1982, the brutal double murder of 30-year-old Susanna “Susan” Flores Brown and her 8-year-old daughter, Francesca “Cha Cha” Martinez, occurred in the city of Abilene, Texas, about 180 miles west of Dallas. Mother and daughter were found strangled to death in their home in a case that would go unsolved for more than four decades.

“As a mom, I can’t even imagine the horror that Susanna had to have felt during those last minutes of her life,” Kelly Siegler told Cold Justice, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. “Knowing that her baby was defenseless in the next room and there was nothing she could do to protect her.”

Siegler and homicide investigator Lt. Lesa Hodgkins teamed up with Detectives Jeff Cowan and Shawn Montgomery of the Abilene Police Department, eventually leading to an arrest captured by Cold Justice.

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A Mother and Daughter Found Dead

On the night of March 8, 1982, Flores Brown attended a Tupperware party while Francesca played at the home of neighbor Kathy Spivey. The mother picked her child up at around 8:30 p.m. before heading back to their Abilene home, which they shared with Flores Brown’s common-law husband, Billye Brown.

Billye Brown was reportedly at work that evening, but when he returned home at around 3:20 a.m. on March 9, he found mother and daughter dead.

Susanna was found face-up in her bedroom with a lamp cord — still attached to the lamp — wrapped around her neck. The daughter also died of ligature strangulation and was found in her bedroom with a phone cord that had twice been cut.

Who Was Susanna Flores Brown?

“The ligatures used to kill Susanna and Francesca were both items that were already in the house, which suggests that this was a crime of opportunity and there was no intent on the killer to commit murder,” said Lt. Hodgkins. “Strangulation is a very expressive and personal means of homicide, which leans more toward the suspect knowing the victim.”

Three lacerations on Flores Brown’s head suggested she was also struck with the lamp. Meanwhile, the positioning of Martinez’s body indicated she was hiding under her bed before the attacker dragged her out and killed her.

Billye Brown told police at the time that he found the back door was cracked ajar and a window was open five to six inches. However, investigators wondered if the crime scene was staged, as the screens remained in place. Furthermore, there were no other signs of a break-in, and nothing seemed to be missing from the home.

Witnesses point to a rocky relationship

Flores Brown’s sisters, Linda Flores and Rita Flores Lafferty, described Flores Brown as a devoted mother with her daughter involved in the Girl Scouts and ballet.

“Susan was a very strong young woman; everybody loved her,” Linda Flores told Cold Justice. “She had lots of friends, and then Cha Cha came along, and oh my goodness, she was just a little bundle of joy from the day she came into our lives. Just very curious about everything and everyone; she was just an angel.”

Loved ones said Flores Brown met Billye Brown at a nightclub. From the get-go, the sisters weren’t crazy about the new love interest based on his reputation of being “a womanizer.” Linda Flores also recalled a time when she saw Billye Brown push her sister while at the club, which contributed to the sisters becoming estranged in the year leading to Flores Brown’s death.

Several relatives pointed to the couple having a rocky relationship, supported by a police report that showed Flores Brown and Billye Brown fighting in November 1981 — four months before the murders — after Flores Brown reportedly learned Billye Brown was seeing another woman.

However, Billye Brown had an alibi for the time of the double murder, claiming he left for his job at the NuCorp manufacturing company at around 4:30 p.m. on March 8, 1982, clocking in at 5:00 p.m., and clocking out at 3:00 a.m. the following morning.

D.N.A found at the crime scene

The Cold Justice team examined seminal fluid found in Flores Brown’s mouth during the initial investigation. Though testing in 1982 couldn’t determine who the D.N.A. belonged to, later testing by the Texas Department of Public Safety labs confirmed that the physical evidence belonged to Billye Brown.

However, according to Forensic Pathologist Kathryn Pinneri, it was impossible to determine if the semen came from a consensual act or by force. Since the fluid had not been washed away by drinking or rinse, experts concluded oral sex took place within hours of the time of death.

“The presence of his sample suggests that they engaged in oral sex that day, but there’s no mention of that in his initial statement,” said Siegler. “Maybe nobody asked that specific, hard question of Billye Brown, or did Billye Brown leave that out for a reason?”

A lack of injuries and trauma to Flores Brown’s body led investigators to conjecture that no sexual assault took place.

More allegations of intimate partner violence

Kathy Spivey — who watched Francesca Martinez while Flores Brown attended the Tupperware party — told Cold Justice that on the night of the murder, Martinez asked to sleep over. Spivey regretted saying no, owing to it being a school night.

Looking back, Spivey recalled Flores Brown being “matter of fact” with the child about returning home.

“She was really, really, really, extremely scared of her boyfriend,” Spivey told Det. Cowan. “I guess he was just possessive of her; he didn’t want her having any relationships outside them.”

Flores Brown’s half-brother, Richard Flores — who arrived at the crime scene after hearing news of the double murder — told Cold Justice that Billye Brown “didn’t show no remorse at all” and was “laughing and joking about a bottle of whisky I had left there about a week before.”

“She was trying to leave him, and he didn’t like the idea, and next thing I knew, she talked to me and told me she wanted a pistol,” said the half-brother.

Roanne Flores Beets, Flores Brown’s half-sister, also said she remembered the victim talking about not being excited about having sex with Billye Brown “because it can go either way.” The victim allegedly said Billye Brown could get “ugly” or “moody” and make “short and snotty remarks” throughout the day if Flores Brown didn’t sexually perform to his liking.

Between news of Flores Brown wanting to exit the relationship and Billye Brown’s alleged anger over sex, investigators felt closer to identifying a possible motive.

“Billye Brown told the police back then that he was trying to call Susanna for quite a while before he was finally able to get ahold of her,” Siegler said. “Is it possible that their ongoing sexual problems emasculated him, and when Susanna didn’t answer the phone, his feelings of insecurity, jealousy, and control took over, sparking an argument that escalated into murder?”

Flores Brown’s close cousin, Sara Soto, told investigators that in the summer of 1981, she escorted Flores Brown to the hospital. Flores Brown allegedly claimed she and Billye Brown got into a fight that led to Flores Brown suffering a miscarriage.

“Listening to Sara’s account of that night, it makes you wonder if there was more physical abuse in this relationship than we originally thought,” said Lt. Hodgkins.

Investigators look into Billye Brown’s alibi

Investigators met with Josie Landeros, a NuCorp coworker and a woman with whom Billye Brown was allegedly in a romantic relationship with. According to Lt. Hodgkins, Flores Brown learned about Billye Brown and Laderos’ relationship just months before the murders.

Landeros claimed it would have been easy for Billye Brown to slip out of work unnoticed, making it possible for him to make the 18-minute drive home, kill Flores Brown and Martinez, and slip back into work undetected.

Other employees, including coworkers James Coffey III and Larry Skiles, confirmed it was very plausible, which diminished Billye Brown’s alibi.

“Up until this point, we knew he had the motive and the means, and now it appears he had the opportunity to commit this crime as well,” said Lt. Hodgkins.

The Cold Justice team confronts their prime suspect

How Was Susanna Flores Brown Killed?

Lt. Hodgkins and Det. Montgomery were filmed visiting Billye Brown just outside his home, confronting their prime suspect about the 1982 murders of his common-law wife and stepdaughter. However, Billye Brown denied having a role in the crimes and further denied any turbulence in the relationship.

“We got along fine,” Billye Brown maintained. “I messed up one time – I partied one time and didn’t come home, and she came and put dirt in my gas tank ’cause she was mad at me. I go home, and she was afraid that I’m gonna be all mad, so she calls the police.”

Billye Brown denied reports that Flores Brown suffered a miscarriage in 1981, claiming that she had an abortion around that time. He also claimed that since his work breaks were only 30 minutes long, he couldn’t have made the drive back and forth to their Abilene home to commit the murders.

But perhaps most telling for investigators was when Billye Brown — as recorded and published by Cold Justice — denied that Flores Brown performed oral sex on the date of the murder. He claimed he “wasn’t very fond” of the sexual act, which investigators didn’t buy.

“Billye Brown is saying that they definitely did not have sex the day of the murder, but that is not what the D.N.A. says,” said Siegler. “That is huge. He may be a smooth talker, but how’s he gonna talk his way out of this?”

When Hodgkins and Montgomery confronted him about the D.N.A. results from the semen in Flores Brown’s mouth, Billye Brown repeatedly stated, “It’s not mine.”

Will this case get justice?

Investigators felt they had a “really good” case against Billye Brown after reviewing the evidence, which included the D.N.A., new witness statements, and finding holes in the suspect’s alibi. Billye Brown’s denial about Flores Brown performing oral sex only furthered their suspicions.

Authorities believed Billye Brown murdered his common-law wife and then killed 8-year-old Francesca Martinez for being a witness to the crime. They then presented their evidence to the prosecutor’s office.

Siegler and company sat with Flores Brown’s sisters, Linda Flores and Rita Flores Lafferty, announcing police intended to arrest Billye Brown on two charges of first-degree felony murder. 

“I didn’t have my hopes up ’cause it’s been so long, and I just thought, ‘there’s no way they can do this; it’s been 41 years,’” a tearful Linda Flores said of investigators. “To hear this news, it’s just unbelievable. It’s like a dream.”

On October 27, 2023, two days after speaking with Flores Brown’s sisters, police arrested Billye Brown on murder charges. According to court records reviewed by Oxygen.com, he was released on bond.

A trial date has yet to be set.

Watch all-new episodes of Cold Justice on Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.