MOUNT PLEASANT, SC (WCIV) — Evidence from the investigation of a Mount Pleasant woman's death suggests she was murdered in her home by a rejected love interest to whom she'd loaned tens of thousands of dollars as part of an alleged business investment, police records show.
Documents released Thursday by Mount Pleasant Police say Norman Browne, 44, weaved a convoluted story about his final encounter with 60-year-old Ann Witherspoon, only for investigators to conclude Browne had lied to try covering up the fact he murdered her.
Police formally charged Browne with Witherspoon's murder on Wednesday, Feb. 27. Police believe the murder happened sometime between Feb. 6 and Feb. 7. Police say the evidence suggests Browne hit Witherspoon in the head with an unknown object, then shot her.
Witherspoon's body was found in her home Feb. 9, after friends called police to report her missing. Police say Witherspoon was found underneath blankets in her bed with both a large gash and bullet wound to her head.
A pistol was next to her body. The bedding beneath her was covered in blood. According to police documents, investigators believe Witherspoon's body had been there for quite some time by the time she was found.
The wound on top of Witherspoon's head came before her death, police said. Additionally, investigators believe the severity of that injury would've incapacitated her. Police thus ruled the gunshot Witherspoon suffered couldn't have been self-inflicted.
Police also say Witherspoon's body appeared to have been intentionally positioned on the bed, further leading them to believe her death was a homicide.
Witherspoon's longtime friends told police they became worried for her safety when they tried to reach her on Wednesday, Feb. 7, but were unable to do so. Police say Witherspoon's friends told them they all typically talked every day.
Even when she missed calls, friends told police it was unlike Witherspoon not to promptly call back. Yet police say when Witherspoon's friends would try to call her, they'd be forwarded straight to her voicemail, and would never hear back.
Police say friends' suspicions were further heightened when they went to Witherspoon's home. They found the mailbox full, and two editions of The Post and Courier still in the driveway. Witherspoon read the paper daily, police say friends told them.
Acting on the suspicions of Witherspoon's friends, police contacted her job, leading to more alarm. Coworkers told police Witherspoon handled their payroll, but had failed to send employees' checks that week, and hadn't been in contact.
Police initially visited Witherspoon's house the morning of Feb. 9, finding her 2003 Cadillac sedan missing, but her second vehicle still in the driveway and the house locked. When asked about this, friends insisted Witherspoon was not a spontaneous traveler.
Sources stressed this to ABC News 4, saying Witherspoon rarely spent the night away from home and was even reluctant to take day trips because of obligations as a primary caretaker for a relative in Mount Pleasant.
But the day her friends and coworkers last heard from her, police say Witherspoon had taken one of those rare long-distance trips. She'd planned to travel from Mount Pleasant to Myrtle Beach Feb. 6 to meet Browne about money she'd loaned him.
It's unclear from police records exactly how Browne had become acquainted with Witherspoon, but friends say their relationship was such that Witherspoon had reportedly invested $15,000-$25,000 in Browne's tool delivery business.
Police say Witherspoon's friends told them she reportedly had entered the business deal with Browne without a contract. The meeting near Myrtle Beach on Feb. 6 was to rectify this, and get their agreement on paper, Witherspoon's friends told police.
But Witherspoon's friends told investigators Browne didn't view their relationship as strictly business. In fact, Witherspoon's friends said she'd confided in them about Browne wanting a relationship with her, and that once he'd even tried to forcibly kiss her.
Witherspoon had rebuffed Browne's romantic advances, friends told police. Their business relationship remained intact, however.
According to Mount Pleasant Police, Browne said he and Witherspoon had become friends over time, and their relationship was a professional one. Besides, Browne said, he already had a girlfriend who was upset about all the women he was in contact with through his job.
Police claim Browne told them Witherspoon was looking to invest in his tool business, and possibly another business. Police say Browne did not mention an existing loan between himself and Witherspoon, despite what others had told them.
MEETINGS IN MYRTLE BEACH & WILMINGTON
Police contacted Browne over the phone. During their conversation, police say Browne told them he'd met Witherspoon at a storage unit where he kept his tool delivery truck. Browne said he and Witherspoon talked for a while, then went to his apartment for dinner.
After a meal of chipped steak, peas and carrots, Browne told police he and Witherspoon returned to the storage facility. While there, Browne told officers Witherspoon suddenly fell from his truck, striking her head and suffering a large gash.
Police say Browne told them Witherspoon's injury was bleeding significantly, but that he didn't take her to an emergency room or urgent care center. Instead, Browne told police he drove her home to Mount Pleasant. Browne said the bleeding stopped along the way, police say.
Once he reached Mount Pleasant around 11-11:30 p.m. Feb. 6, Browne told police he helped her inside and she went to bed, after which he got in her car and drove back to Myrtle Beach.
Browne ended up being pulled over for speeding (69 mph in a 45 mph zone) by S.C. Highway Patrol around 1 a.m. near Myrtle Beach early the morning of Feb. 7.
Browne says he called Witherspoon later on the 7th, and she told him she was in Wilmington, NC. Browne says he then drove Witherspoon's car to Wilmington and met her at a Waffle House, where she and and another man appeared to be in a heated discussion.
Browne claimed he gave Witherspoon the keys to her car and hopped in a taxi that happened to be parked nearby. Browne says that was the last time he saw Witherspoon or spoke to her.
When questioned more about his last contact with Witherspoon, police say Browne told them again he hadn't heard from or tried to contact her since Feb. 7 in Wilmington, but police say Browne also told them he somehow knew Witherspoon's cell phones were "turned off."
Meanwhile, investigators say Witherspoon's friends cast further doubt on Browne's story by revealing they weren't aware of any business she might have in Wilmington, or any friends she had there she'd be visiting.
Investigators say surveillance video gathered from Wilmington also refutes Browne's story. The video shows Browne never went to the Waffle House where he claimed to meet Witherspoon.
Deputies later found Witherspoon's car parked at Cape Fear Community College. There was no blood in the car, despite Browne's story about the injury WItherspoon suffered, and him saying she bled in the car on the way to Mount Pleasant.
Finally, investigators say an autopsy revealed undigested peas in Witherspoon's stomach, which Browne said they'd had for dinner the night of Feb. 6. Police say the undigested food means Witherspoon's time of death was likely before Browne claimed to have met her on Feb. 7.
Magistrate judges cannot set bail on murder charges in South Carolina, so Browne remains in jail at the Charleston County Detention Center following a bond court appearance Thursday.
Browne had been out of jail since Feb. 11, when he was released on $50,000 bond set after Mount Pleasant Police initially arrested him on grand larceny charges related to the theft of Witherspoon's car.