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‘She Was Almost Decapitated’: DNA Technology Proves 'Privileged' Kid Killed Teen On Night Out
It would take decades and DNA advancements to learn who had killed Janean Brown, an Ohio 19-year-old, on her night out with friends.
On November 19, 1983, the nearly naked body of 19-year-old Janean Brown was found in a shallow grave in the village of Whitehouse, Ohio. Her injuries were shocking.
“She was almost decapitated,” Lt. Robert Liest, former detective with Lucas County Sheriff’s Office, told “Murdered By Morning,” airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
The extreme level of overkill suggested to police that the victim may have known her killer.
At the time, Brown was living with her friend Pam Rader, 20, and Pam’s brother Larry Rader. On November 17, Brown and Pam had gone to a local bar with Brown’s boyfriend, Harold Estep. A local survivalist who was known as Crazy Horse and Andy Gustafson, a local rich kid who flaunted and used his privilege, were also there, according to Pam.
Decades later, Pam remembered two events that would seal Janean’s fate. One was that Gustafson had remarked that Janean had “a cute butt,” she said. The other was that at closing time a barmaid kissed Estep good-bye and Janean was devastated when she saw that happen.
After going home, Janean decided to take a walk to confront her boyfriend about the kiss. That was the last time Pam Rader saw her alive.
Around the makeshift grave used to hide Janean’s bruised and battered body, police found her clothes and a pack of Merit cigarettes. A rape kit revealed that Janean had been sexually assaulted.
Estep told producers that at the time of the murder he had spoken with authorities and had said he didn’t even know the barmaid.
“I turned around and Janean gave me a strange look,” he said. “And I just stuck my hands up in the air and said, ‘I dunno.’”
Estep’s sister confirmed that he had come home alone on the night Janean disappeared and that no one else had visited their home that night.
The bartender’s alibi checked and she was cleared as a suspect. Crazy Horse also said he went home alone and didn’t give anyone a ride, but had no one to corroborate his claim.
Police learned that Larry Rader, who was battling alcohol and drug issues, loved Janean. While that raised some suspicions it didn’t connect him to the crime.
“I kept telling the detectives he didn’t do it,” said Pam Rader. “He was out cold when we got home.”
Investigators caught a break when a resident at a local nursing-home where Janean worked reached out. He told them that he had seen Janean climb into a van hours before she was killed. She’d gotten into the vehicle without hesitation or a struggle. Detectives learned that Gustafson drove a van.
“He was a privileged child. His father was president of a big company here in town,” said Chris Anderson, prosecutor, Lucas County Prosecutor’s Office.
Gustafson refused to speak with authorities and hired a powerful attorney to represent him.
The Lucas County Sheriff's Office proceeded to secure a search warrant for his van. Despite the fact the crime scene was bloody, investigators failed to turn up any traces of blood in Gustafson’s van. They did, however, find a Merit cigarette butt. That was the same brand found near Janean’s body. It was secured as evidence.
However, science wasn't at the point yet where it could aid the investigation, according to “Murdered by Morning.”
The case went cold for decades. As years passed and DNA technology advanced, Janean’s rape kit was periodically retested. But the clock was ticking because DNA can deteriorate over time, investigators said.
In 2013, DNA technology finally evolved to produce an unknown male DNA profile from the 1980s. Whose was it?
A few years prior Larry had succumbed to his alcoholism. However, detectives were able to rule him out using familial DNA from his sister and father.
“We had nothing to hide,” said Pam Rader. “We knew Larry didn’t do it.”
Crazy Horse agreed to be swabbed for DNA and was cleared as a suspect. Harold Estep also willingly obliged to give a DNA sample that cleared him.
“Over the course of 30 years people look at you, they think you might have had something to do with that young girl’s murder,” he told producers. "That's a horrible feeling.”
Investigators went to Birch Run, Michigan to ask Gustafson to be swabbed for DNA. His refusal immediately raised red flags.
It was doubly frustrating because an updated DNA test finally confirmed with total certainty that the Merit cigarette butt discovered in Gustason’s ban had been smoked by Janean.
In a stroke of good luck, a detective from the Lucas County Sheriff's Office shared with investigators on the Brown case that a sexual assault complaint had been made against Andrew Gustafson about six years earlier. He had allowed himself to be swabbed for DNA at that time.
After 30 years of denials and a ticking clock, investigators confirmed that Gustafson’s DNA matched the genetic material on Janean Brown’s rape kit. He was charged with murder in May 2013.
“There may have been a sexual motivation” in the “brutal, brutal” slaying, said Rob Miller, chief of the special units division of the Lucas County Prosecutor's Office, officer.com reported.
Gustafson’s attorney knew the power of DNA evidence and lobbied to make a plea deal. On December 28, 2014, Gustafson pled guilty to manslaughter and felony rape in the first degree. He was sentenced to 10 years on the manslaughter and five years on the rape.
To loved ones, the sentence was too light but it still brought justice.
“It was the best way to go for a surefire conviction,” said Janean’s brother. “The length of the sentence was not as important to us as the admission.”