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Jerome Brewster

April 12, 2019 - 3:13pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Jerome Brewster, Sheriff's Office, video.
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July 14, 2010 - 12:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, Jerome Brewster, unsolved murders.

unsolvedmurders_brewsterandbook.jpg

It's as if somebody is whispering in his ear, "you're getting warmer."

Of all four mysterious death files on his desk, the murders of Kisha Sullivan and Bill Fickel are the ones Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster is least likely to call cold cases.

While arrests may not be imminent, Brewster has a "person of interest" in each case.

Now, it's just a matter of putting the pieces in place that will lead to indictments.

As Brewster is fond of saying, "Mere suspicion isn’t enough and if that’s all you’ve got, you really don’t have anything."

Kisha Sullivan's body was found at least two weeks after she was bludgeoned to death in a wooded area of Gulf Road, Le Roy.

Nobody had reported the deaf young mother missing, even though she had a boyfriend, whom she wasn't living with at the time.

After extensive interviews in the Rochester area, where the 27-year-old lived, Brewster said investigators concluded that everybody who knew her liked her and the only person she ever had cross words with was her boyfriend.

Early on, he was a logical suspect.

"He came up with an alibi but we were never really satisfied that he wasn’t involved," Brewster said. "But through our investigation, we concluded there was really a strong possibility that he was telling us the the truth and he wasn’t involved."

Sullivan's body was found Oct. 27, 2002. Her last known location while she was alive was at an ATM machine at a convenience store in Rochester on Oct. 5.

Her body decomposition, Brewster said, was consistent with somebody who had been dead in those weather conditions for that period of time.

The wooded area where she was found is owned by the Dolomite Group. It was a Dolomite supervisor, who was giving a tour of a new logging operation on the property to a friend, who found Sullivan's body.

It was clear from the scene, Brewster said, that Sullivan tried to flee from her attacker, but that she was killed in that wooded area.

She wasn't sexually assaulted.

Nobody saw her get in a car, nor was she seen with another person prior to her disappearance.

Investigators were unable to find anybody in Le Roy or Bergen with any connection to the St. Mary's High School graduate.

As for DNA evidence, Brewster said he recently learned from the criminal lab that, with recent advances in the DNA technology, he should resubmit DNA samples. In the first go around, no DNA that might be tied to a suspect could be found. With the new technology, Brewster suggested, maybe something might turn up.

The only thing Brewster revealed about the person he thinks killed Sullivan is that it is somebody she knew prior to her death.

"The one thing I can tell you, I’m fairly confident that we know who is responsible for her death," Brewster said, "but I guess you can read between the lines that I don’t have enough to make a charge yet."

unsolvedmurders_inset2.jpgOn Brewster's book shelf is a very thick, full binder. On its spine: Fickel Homicide. You can't miss it when you walk into Brewster's office. It draws your eye faster than the stunning photograph of a lone tree in the midst of an expansive landscape on one wall, or the beautifully carved birdhouse atop his credenza.

Brewster has amassed more than 500 leads in the Fickel case, and more than 300 of them are filed in the Fickel Homicide binder.

But the most important lead of all may have come in mid-June when Steven Rebert, a former Oakfield resident, was arrested as a suspect in a double murder in Pennsylvania.

State Police in that case reported finding evidence on his computer that indicated he had more than a passing interest in the death of Fickel and the unsolved murder of Kevin Smith in Orleans County.

All four people were shot to death.

Bill Fickel was killed outside his home in November, 2005, less than mile from where Rebert lived at the time. The two men knew each other.

In the Fickel murder, there was DNA found at the scene. It could be the DNA of the killer or the DNA of an associate, but Brewster has spent years looking for a match, because a match could crack the case.

Of all the mysterious deaths in Genesee County in the past 30 or 40 years, the murder of Bill Fickel has gotten the most attention. Fickel was well known and well liked, and he was gunned down in front of his own home with his wife inside -- for no apparent reason.

Since the arrest of Rebert, Brerwster said he's been working the case daily. There have been steps forward, and steps backward.

"You have to be able to roll with the punches," Brewster said. "Some days are good, and some days are bad."

But, he said, "I'm optimistic on that case, and that's probably all I'm going to tell you."

Previously:

For audio versions of these stories, tune into WBTA today, Thursday and Friday.

July 13, 2010 - 12:00pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, Jerome Brewster.

Annie Lee and Eddie Freson probably never met. One lived in Batavia, the other in Brockport. One died in 1997, the other in 2000.

But when media coverage turns to unsolved deaths in Genesee County, Lee and Freson are inseparably linked.

Both deaths are officially listed as accidental drownings, but in both cases, Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster says he still has questions.

In both cases, somebody was obviously with them before they died. Lee did not get herself to Little Tonawanda Creek (there was no car at the scene and Brewster said she obviously didn't walk), and Lee never drove anywhere, so somebody had to take him from his home in Brockport to Buttermilk Falls.

In both cases, somebody knows something, and Brewster is eager to talk to anybody who can shed light on how Lee and Freson died.

The partially clothed body of Ann Katherine Lee, aka Ann Griffin, age 41, was spotted by a motorist in Little Tonawanda Creek, off West Bethany and Brookfield roads at 11:56 a.m., April 23, 1997.

She had not been sexually assaulted, nor was there signs of any signficant trauma to her body, according to a medical examiner.

There was no significant amount of alcohol or drugs in her blood system.

Lee drowned in only a few inches of water.

"She appears to have walked into the water under her own power," Brewster said.

Lee had a lot of friends and acquaintances around town. She was last seen near her apartment at 511 E. Main St., Batavia, around 11 p.m., April 22.

The area where Lee's body was found is a "well-known parking area," as Brewster put it.

"There was a considerable number of people who knew Ann Lee, who knew her lifestyle, who knew who she hung around with – because of that, I have no doubt that people have been talking," Brewster said.  "It’s quite likely that there is somebody out there who knows at least who she was with, maybe not what happened, but who she was with."

If Brewster could find that person, he thinks he would be much closer to solving the mysterious death of Ann Lee. It might not be murder, but the case could be closed.

Like Lee, Edward Charles Freson, 42, of West Avenue, Brockport, was well known in his community. He was a member of a club in Brockport and investigators talked to a lot of people who knew him.

Freson didn't have a car, he didn't drive and he would never accept rides from strangers, but he knew Buttermilk Falls. He talked of Buttermilk Falls occasionally and mentioned trips as a kid there with his family.

Brewster thinks he found a friend to drive him to the falls on May 5, 2000.

His body was found by four boys playing in the area. Freson's corpse was partially submerged in water at the brink of the falls.

Investigator John Dehm, in what Brewster called a "brave job,"  climbed out on a long ladder extended over the falls and dragged Freson's body from the precipice.

When his body was examined, he was missing his glasses and jacket (his shoes were recovered downstream), and he had a black eye.

Was Freson hit by somebody, or did he hit his eye on a rock? Brewster wishes he knew.

The medical examiner ruled the death an accidental drowning.

“He could have (hit his eye on a rock)," Brewster said. "This is pretty much a quote of what the ME said. He said, ‘Cause of death accidental drowning. Now, if you can tell me that you found someone who says he hit him in the head and threw him in the water, I’ll go with that, too.'"

Out there somewhere is somebody who was with Eddie shortly before he died. He may not be a killer, but he has some idea what happened.

Investigators questioned everybody possible in Brockport in the months -- the case was worked daily for seven months -- after Freson's body was found. Brewster thinks its likely they even talked to the person who drove the victim to Buttermilk Falls, but so far, Brewster still doesn't know how Eddie Freson got there that day.

Freson was known as a nice guy, but he did drink, and on just a couple of occasions, when he got drunk, he got into fights. He could piss people off.

Maybe, Brewster speculates, Freson got a friend to drive him out to Buttermilk Falls and Freson, who had been drinking, said something to upset his friend, so his friend left, and then somehow Freson fell into the water.

"Somebody out there knows more," Brewster said. "We just haven’t found the right person to tell us yet."

And Brewster adds, “He (the person who knows) may say, 'Hey I picked the guy up. He turned into a jerk. I left him there and then I found out he was dead and I said, sure as hell, I’m going to come out and tell the cops that I gave him a ride and then they’re going to try and convict me of murder. So I’m just going to keep my mouth shut.'"

"He could be totally innocent," Brewster said. "I don’t know, but I have some questions."

Previously:

Tomorrow: Kisha Sullivan and Bill Fickel

July 12, 2010 - 5:17pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in crime, Jerome Brewster, unsolved murders.

jerome_brewster.jpg

As Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster and his investigation team in the Genesee County Sheriff's Office get seemingly closer to making an arrest in 2005 shooting death of Bill Fickel, that headline-grabbing, unsolved murder isn't the only mysterious death that keeps the 35-year veteran awake at night.

The other names that haunt his memory include Annie Lee, Eddie Freson and Kisha Sullivan.

“I live with every single one," Brewster said during an interview in his office last week. "My personality type is that I need to know. Good, bad or indifferent, I need to figure it out. So, when I have cases like these that you can’t figure out, they bother me."

Brewster said he constantly turns over in his head whether the right questions were asked, who said what, what the available evidence means. Is there anything that's been missed? But mostly, he wonders if he and his staff are looking at the case from the right perspective.

"A lot of times what I question is, are we looking at this thing the right way?" Brewster said.

A murder investigation begins as soon as a death is called in -- it doesn't matter if it's an apparent suicide, a drug overdose, a drowning, a hunting accident or granny finally expired in her bed. Every reported death begins with the question, "was it murder?"

Often, it's quickly obvious that there was no crime committed. But it's important that in the initial moments when law enforcement is on scene, that nothing be overlooked.

"That’s a pretty good way to operate because then hopefully you don’t miss anything," Brewster said.

Sometimes, it's obvious that there's been a homicide. The death of 66-year-old Joseph Benaquist might be a case in point.

Besides the fact that Scott F. Doll (who was convicted of the murder in May) was found with blood on his clothes wandering on a road near the victim's house, when Benaquist's body was found, it was pretty obvious the retired corrections officer had been beaten to death only hours earlier.

There was ample physical evidence at the scene (though Doll's defense attorney continues to insist, ample evidence of reasonable doubt, as well) and a suspect already in custody.

When Brewster has physical evidence, a body found at the scene of the crime and a suspect, he says making an arrest is just a matter of "getting our ducks in a row."

Even on such "smoking gun" cases, Brewster wants to make sure the charges stick.

With eight investigators at his disposal (all of whom have other duties), as well as the cooperation of the State Police and other agencies, Brewster supervises the investigation and makes sure all of the proper procedures are covered.

"Just because a guy says he killed his wife doesn’t mean you will get a conviction if you don’t do your job," Brewster said.

But what happens when the body isn't found at the scene, or there's no DNA evidence, or the body isn't found until weeks after the crime?

That's when the job gets tough.

"If you’re going to solve (the case) quickly, you usually have enough at the scene," Brewster said. "If you’re not going to solve it (at the scene), then you’re in for a long haul, a long haul. The worst calls you want to get are ‘I just found a dead body along the road.'"

In the cases of Lee, Freson, Sullivan and Fickel, Brewster has been in it for the long haul. He continues to work the cases, though not all of them every day, and continues to search for answers, and in two of the cases he may be getting close to finding the right answers.

Starting tomorrow, we'll look at each of these cases individually and tell you the latest information Chief Brewster has to share.

(Note: WBTA is running a parallel series this week based on our interview with Chief Brewster. It will air Tuesday and Wednesday.)

June 19, 2009 - 4:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, elba, elba robbery, Jerome Brewster.

mug-Wells-Michael.jpgThe suspects who struck the M&T Bank in Elba yesterday may have thought they picked an easy mark, but they over looked a few details.

Most importantly, they didn't even know the area. They knew only one route to and from the Thruway and under estimated the response times of local law enforcement.

"They were totally out of their element," said Chief Deputy Jerome Brewster of the Sheriff's Office.

(LISTEN, MP3s: Full audio of interview with Chief Brewster, Part 1, Part 2)

They didn't even know the difference between a field and a wooded area.

"When we talked with them, it had to be explained that a field is an open area and that woods is where trees are," Brewster said.

Brewster said the suspects, once captured, were quite easy to deal with.

"They were cooperative," Brewster said. "They did tell us what was going on and why they did what they did and why they chose that location and who did what inside the bank."

At least two of the suspects have no prior record.

"I think people from outside the area naively believe that because we're out in the sticks that law enforcement isn't on the ball like they are in urban areas," Brewster said. "It turns out it was just the opposite. These guys chose a bank that was probably within two miles of the state police and sheriff's barracks."

All of the money was recovered, and the gun recovered was loaded and had a bullet in the chamber.

The quick response and eventual capture of all three suspects could send a message to other would-be criminals, Brewster said.

"The message is out there, you're probably going to get caught," Brewster said. 

(Suspect Michael J. Wells pictured)

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