DNA links man to murder

Sarah White

Austin police are now considering a man whose body was found in North Campus on Jan. 12 as a suspect in the murder of Esmeralda Barrera and two other New Year’s Day assaults.

DNA reports on Wednesday confirmed a connection between 25-year-old James Loren Brown, who died by suicide in his apartment on the 3000 block of Guadalupe, and the man who assaulted a woman in her home in the 300 block of E. 31st Street on Jan. 1 at about 5 a.m. They are investigating his possible connection to Barrera’s murder.

Additionally, Brown’s DNA profile causes him to be a suspect in four assaults that occurred last July and one assault that occurred last September, all in South Austin.

APD Commander Julie O’Brien said Brown would have attacked these women from behind while they were walking. She said this formula of attack was very similar to the one experienced by the woman assaulted outside of Barrera’s home on the 3100 block of King Street about 30 minutes before Barrera was killed.

“The mode of operation in these four assaults was very similar to the mode of operation of the man who assaulted the woman walking on King Street [on Jan 1],” said O’Brien. “There is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but we are considering [Brown] a suspect in Barrera’s murder and in the earlier assault with injury on New Year’s Day.”

Homicide detectives responded to a deceased person call made by Brown’s roommate when he returned from winter break on Jan. 12, said O’Brien. Detectives could find no apparent reason for Brown’s suicide and noticed that photos of him in the apartment resembled the composite sketch based on the description provided by the first woman walking on King Street.

“It is important to note that while APD did not find [Brown] until the 12th, he had been deceased for at lease a week when we found him,” O’Brien said. “We are in the process of interviewing people who knew or were connected with him and are trying to connect him to any other cases that we can.”

O’Brien said APD detectives are asking anyone who had contact with Brown on New Year’s Eve or during the early part of January to contact the APD Homicide Tip Line at 512-477-3588. She also asked anyone who knew Brown to come forward, especially anyone who may have bought or received property from him, as a “significant electronic device” was missing from his apartment. O’Brien said Brown worked at a restaurant on Lady Bird Lake and, prior to moving to the apartment, Brown had been discharged from the military.

O’Brien said she and other APD officials, including Police Chief Art Acevedo, were grateful to the Austin community for their help in the case.

“So many friends of Esme and concerned citizens actively distributed that photo,” said O’Brien. “He probably would not have been able to leave his home without seeing his face.”

Natasha Ray, business and government sophomore and North Campus resident, said she can sleep a little easier at night now that police believe they have found the prime murder suspect.

“Ever since I heard so many stories about girls getting hurt I made sure I was with somebody at all times,” Ray said. “I have roommates and we always made sure we double-locked our doors, but we were definitely a little frightened.”

Brigid Abdenour, owner of Tom’s Tabooley restaurant, said Barrera was a regular customer, and the restaurant staff is relieved that police may have found her killer. “I’m sorry that it had to go the way it did and that she was a victim,” Abdenour said.

Abdenour said the Thursday afternoon self-defense fundraiser held at Tom’s Tabooley to raise money for Barrera’s family was a success, and the restaurant will continue to host the class once a month.

“Just because this guy’s gone doesn’t mean we don’t have to be vigilant and protect ourselves, especially all the young women on campus,” said Abdenour. “I feel like [the lass] really helped honor Esme. There’s so much strength in knowing that you can stand tall.”

−Additional reporting by Jillian Bliss