Hello Charlie: Letters from a Serial Killer


The 1991 abduction and murder of thirteen-year-old Heather Dawn Church baffled police for three agonizing years, and became one of the most infamous murders the quiet and scenic city of Colorado Springs had ever seen. It was legendary homicide detective Lou Smit who finally broke the case, sending Robert Charles Browne, a forty-three-year-old Louisiana drifter and career criminal, to prison for life.

But the savage saga of Robert Browne did not end there. In 2000, Smit, now ...

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Hello Charlie: Letters from a Serial Killer

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The 1991 abduction and murder of thirteen-year-old Heather Dawn Church baffled police for three agonizing years, and became one of the most infamous murders the quiet and scenic city of Colorado Springs had ever seen. It was legendary homicide detective Lou Smit who finally broke the case, sending Robert Charles Browne, a forty-three-year-old Louisiana drifter and career criminal, to prison for life.

But the savage saga of Robert Browne did not end there. In 2000, Smit, now retired, joined forces with Charlie Hess, an ex-FBI agent and former CIA operative, to reexamine the cold-case murder files of the local Sheriff's Department. With the addition of amateur forensics buff Scott Fischer, the Apple Dumpling Gang was born.

As their volunteer work continued, Smit, Hess, and Fischer came upon a taunting letter written by Browne, hinting that the death of Heather Church was only the tip of the iceberg. What other law enforcement officials had simply ignored, the Apple Dumpling Gang took on with single-minded determination. Charlie Hess began a correspondence with Browne in which, over the course of dozens of letters, the killer teasingly spun out the details of a horrific killing spree spread over thirty years and nine states. The tally, according to Browne: forty-nine deaths, making him one of the most prolific serial murderers in the annals of American crime.

Hess's unique insight into criminal psychology, honed over his years developing informants and working as a polygraph operator, made him uniquely suited to match wits with the cagey and canny killer. But Browne was every bit the retired cop's equal: quickwitted, mercurial, and charismatic, with a penchant for riddles and a lifetime full of grisly secrets.

A riveting account of the complex and chilling cat-and-mouse game Hess and Browne played over five years, Hello Charlie details Browne's bloody swath of murder — by strangulation, poisoning, and dismemberment — even as it explores the special bond forged between the cop and the killer, allowing Hess unprecedented access into the mind of a remorseless psychopath.

As compulsively readable as any crime novel, Hello Charlie picks up where The Silence of the Lambs left off, with the incredible true story of one man's search for justice with a murderer as his guide.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this chilling account, retired FBI agent Hess details his years of correspondence with serial killer Robert Browne, as he tried to coax out details of Browne's alleged 49 murders. Sentenced to life without parole in 1995 for the first-degree murder of 13-year-old Heather Church in Colorado, Browne began taunting investigators in 2000 with vague hints of other victims. Hess-a former FBI and CIA agent with years of experience as a polygraph analyst-had volunteered to investigate cold cases in Colorado Springs; assisted by homicide detective Lou Smit and former newspaper publisher Scott Fischer, Hess began writing to Browne in the hopes of uncovering (based on Browne's letters) clues to as many as 48 unsolved murders. The men traded letters for years, each one bringing Hess and his team one step closer to proving the murderer's grisly claim. In clean, vivid prose that avoids melodrama, Hess and Seay (coauthor, With God on Our Side) explore not only Browne's troubled Louisiana childhood and his string of abusive marriages but also the lives of the investigators. With Hess's first-person narrative and excerpts from his and Browne's letters, this is an unsettling account of a man who is possibly the most prolific and twisted of serial killers. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Ex-cops track a killer in Colorado. In 1995, Robert Charles Browne was arrested for the 1991 murder of 13-year-old Heather Dawn Church. Six years later, retired 70-something former FBI and CIA agent Hess was alerted to a note written by Browne in which the convicted murderer cryptically implied that Church wasn't his only victim. Aided by fellow septuagenarian law enforcer Lou Smit and local newspaper reporter Scott Fischer, Hess dove headlong into the case and opened up lines of communication with Browne, eventually (and inexplicably) becoming friends with the killer. Was Browne really as evil as his actions suggested? Did Hess break the case? If you care, stay tuned next week for a very special episode of . . . well . . . some cop show or another. A patently good public servant but an amateurish and plodding writer, Hess offers details galore about Browne, the case, Smit and himself, but his ornate descriptions of everything-people, places, case facts, etc.-slows the momentum to the point that by the time the story kicks in around chapter nine, the reader's interest will barely be flickering. Also problematic is the author's attempt to incorporate all points of view and include events that he wasn't privy to. Hess and co-author Davin Seay write in the omniscient third person, making the narrative imbalanced: The only "character" we ever truly get to know is Hess himself. While clearly a monster, Browne isn't as compelling a figure as, say, Ted Bundy; the book will certainly appeal to serial-killer buffs, but few others. Comes off as an R-rated episode of Cold Case.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416544869
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • Publication date: 4/2/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 339
  • Sales rank: 1,210,673
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Charlie Hess joined the FBI in 1952 and was subsequently recruited by the CIA to work on the supersecret Phoenix Program in Vietnam. In the 1990s, he moved to Colorado Springs and volunteered his services to the El Paso County Sheriff's Department. It was there he began his relationship with Robert C. Browne, and where he currently lives with his family.

Davin Seay is the coauthor of With God on Our Side and Al Green's memoir, Take Me to the River. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA Today, and elsewhere. He lives in Los Angeles.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note     ix
Part 1
Black Forest     3
Dead Man's Shoes     17
The Culvert     33
One Too Many     43
Coffee and Cigarettes     59
Part 2
The Lie Detector     75
The Traces     87
The Intruder Theory     97
The Apple Dumpling Gang     111
Part 3
"He Did It"     123
Miank     135
"Call Me When You Pull the Switch"     147
Closure     161
Part 4
86504     171
"What's Important to You Isn't Important to Me"     183
The White Grand Am     193
Derkesthai     201
Part 5
Flatonia     215
The Trip     225
"I Don't Do Names"     235
Rocio     245
Part 6
Snakes and Snails     257
Sugar Land     267
The Cowboy Lady     277
The Plea     287
The Way He Done Her     295
Epilogue     303
Acknowledgments     307
Index     309
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