Ronald Brown, the Largo, Florida puppeteer accused of plotting to cook and eat children, appeared briefly in court on Wednesday, August 1, 2012 and waived his right to apply for bail. Brown awaits trial in U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida, on federal charges of possessing child pornography and conspiring to kidnap a child.
Brown, 57, was arrested on July 19, 2012, after U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents searched his trailer at the Whispering Pines, Florida mobile home park. The agents say they found “lewd images of children bound and gagged, a flier for a missing child and images of children that appear to be deceased.” Officials said, “one image showed a naked child in a roasting pan.”
The prisoner is being held at Pinellas County Jail, Florida Jail. Although Brown may apply for a new bail hearing at any time, it appears that he will remain in jail until his trial. Prosecutors have said they consider Brown to be a danger to the community and a flight risk. They have requested the prisoner remain in custody.
He appeared in the courtroom of Magistrate Judge Thomas Wilson wearing prison clothes and ankle shackles, with disheveled hair and glasses askew on his face. His lawyer, Eric Kuske, insisted on his clients innocence. According to the Tampa attorney, “He’s not involved with this, he wouldn’t do something like this. At this point, he doesn’t believe he’s done anything.”
Mr. Brown was known to his neighbors for many years as a slightly odd man who performed puppet shows, took children to church and held pizza nights for neighborhood kids at least once a week. Brown was active in his local church and performed or mentored for many community organizations including the Tampa Bay Rays, the Pinellas County School District, the Christian Television Network, the city of Largo and the Gulf Coast Jewish Family Community Services.
Stunned Gulf Coast Church pastor Randy Morris spoke about Brown, when he said, “We’re incredibly shocked and saddened by the news. It’s a very sobering thought that he’s been around our congregation for years. The charges against him are mind-boggling.”
This entire case might never have come to light had Brown not attracted the attention of investigators who were monitoring Internet chat rooms during an international child pornography crackdown that has led to 40 arrests in six countries. Brown and another man, Kansas resident Michael Arnett, who was also charged with in the case, were alleged to have held several conversations about eating children. Ross Feinstein, spokesman at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said, “In my time here at this agency, I’ve never seen anything this gruesome.”
According to the affidavit supporting the criminal complaint, Brown and Arnett “did discuss killing, dismembering and eating a specific boy at Gulf Coast Church.” Brown is alleged to have told agents, “it was just a fantasy and he could never and would never hurt anyone.” Investigators are also investigating alleged statements Arnett made to Brown that “he had cannibalized a child.”
Brown had no prior criminal record, which explains how he was able to work around children performing his puppet shows for so many years. He did come to the attention of police for two separate incidents but he was never arrested. In one case, in 1998, a Pinellas County sheriff’s deputy stopped Brown for a traffic violation and noticed boy’s underwear in the front seat of Brown’s car. Brown explained he used the underwear for his puppets and no charges were filed. In 2010, a neighbor complained to police that Brown was spending a great deal of time driving around with young boys, but again no charges were filed when Brown told police that he was taking the kids to church.
The accusations against Brown are eerily reminiscent of the notorious case of convicted serial killer, child murderer and cannibal, Albert Fish, who killed at least 4 and is suspected of several other murders and acts of cannibalism. In one horrifying case, Fish killed 10 year old Grace Budd and ate her cooked remains over a 9 day period. Six years later, Fish sent a letter to Grace’s family describing the murder and the pleasure he took in his meals. The letter proved to be Fish’s undoing. He was finally tracked down and on January 16, 1936, Albert Fish was strapped into “Old Sparky” and electrocuted at the infamous Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
Stacy Gaughan, who lives across the street from Brown, summed her feelings about the case with these comments: “We all thought he was weird,” Gaughan said. “But we had no idea the things he was thinking. It’s not just gross, it’s beyond any concept. Where do you come up with things like that?”
The good people of Largo and Whispering Pines, Florida are still trying to make sense of Brown’s arrest and the frightening charges. They talk quietly about the case with their friends and neighbors in the shade, while avoiding the glare of the bright Florida sunshine. Perhaps they will get some answers if, and when, the case comes to trial, but their lives will never be the same.