Youth Cleared of 1940 Murders

01-18-01

OLIVER SPRINGS, Tenn. (AP) - A youth suspected of killing two women before committing suicide has been cleared more than 60 years later. 

Sixteen-year-old Leonard ``Powder'' Brown was found dead along with two middle-aged sisters in a sprawling downtown mansion in 1940. Now police say the black youth, who did chores for the white sisters, was framed and the 
case was really a triple homicide. 

``I am 100 percent sure that Powder Brown was a victim and did not commit suicide,'' Police Chief Paul Ray Massengill said Wednesday. 

The case was reopened in November after an unidentified witness told Knoxville radio station WNOX that he had new information about the case, Massengill said. 

Brown had been blamed for the slayings of Ann and Margaret Richards, the heirs of a once-prominent family that dabbled in coal and built a turn-of-the-century hotel. Brown cut wood, hauled coal and ran errands for the women, who were unmarried and in their mid-40s. 

The sheriff at the time, Bob Smith, had alleged Brown stole an antique revolver from a neighbor's house and shot the sisters to death before turning the gun on himself. A coroner's jury later ruled the teen hadn't killed the women, but Smith stuck to his theory, and Brown remained the official culprit for more than six decades. Smith theorized that Brown felt betrayed when the sisters took back an article of clothing they had given him. 

Massengill said the real killer or killers shot the sisters to death and then lay in wait for Brown for at least 90 minutes to kill the youth and frame him. The gun was found in Brown's hand. 

While he declined to name any potential suspects, Massengill believes he will eventually be able to offer an alternate theory about what happened. 

Massengill said he doesn't believe the real culprit or culprits are still alive, but said solving the case will ``bring closure'' to Oliver Springs, about 25 miles west of Knoxville. 

Through the years, the murders and debate over Brown's role became part of the town's folklore. 





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