Financially-Troubled Husband Stood To Gain Millions From His Wife’s Death, Authorities Say

JoEllen Browning was killed in April right before she had been planning to meet with a financial representative to talk about discrepancies she’d found in the couple’s accounts.

By Jill Sederstrom
Roy Browning Jr Pd

An Iowa man accused of killing his wife to hide his financial troubles had stood to gain $2.6 million from her death, according to court records obtained by The Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Roy C. Browning Jr. was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of his wife of 43 years wife late last month after investigators said JoEllen Browning had been planning to meet with a financial representative to discuss discrepancies she had discovered in the couple’s accounts the same day she died.

Her husband called authorities to report he had found her unresponsive in the couple’s home on April 5, just an hour before the scheduled financial meeting.

As the main beneficiary of her life insurance policy and retirement accounts — along with being the partial owner of joint accounts and property the couple had shared — Browning could have assumed sole control of the $2.6 million in capital and assets, the local paper reports.

It’s not clear how much of that money Browning spent or had access to prior to his Oct. 28 arrest.

A criminal complaint filed in the case by the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation suggested the motive behind the murder may have been financial secrets Roy had been hiding from his wife before she was stabbed to death, local station KCGR reports.

The complaint highlights one instance where Roy allegedly created a fake bank statement showing a joint account the couple had together contained a balance of $97,830.17—when in reality financial documents show there had been just $88.76 left in the account at the time, according to the station.

Roy had also allegedly taken out four separate loans for $4,000 each from a title and loan company with interest rates of more than 300 percent before JoEllen died and instructed the title company not to contact his wife about the loans.

However, JoEllen, who had worked as the director of operating budgets at the University of Iowa Health System, had realized that there were discrepancies in the couple’s accounts and had planned to meet with a financial representative to discuss her concerns.

But she’d never get the chance.

"The representative was prepared to tell JoEllen at this (April 5) meeting that ... Roy had taken out loans of which JoEllen was not aware," the criminal complaint in the case said, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen. "The representative was prepared to tell JoEllen that an account JoEllen thought was active never actually existed."

JoEllen’s death meant she never was able to uncover the true extent of her husband’s alleged financial secrets, but it also paved the way for Roy to benefit financially from her death.

Throughout her lengthy career, JoEllen had amassed $1.5 million in retirement accounts and had a $400,000 life insurance policy in her name. The couple also owned two properties and two cars —and JoEllen had received an inheritance from a relative, according to the local paper.

At the time JoEllen died, Browning Jr. “did not have a revenue source,” according to the complaint against him.

But when questioned about the financial elements of the case, Roy’s attorney Leon Spies disputed that his client did not have a source of revenue and said he had at least one business, along with real estate and personal property in eastern Iowa.

“Those are allegations, and they can be addressed appropriately in court or in an appropriate hearing,” he said Friday, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen

Browning’s next court appearance is scheduled for Dec. 9. He has yet to enter a plea to the charges against him.

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