COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Years ago, Vicki Woods felt comfortable leaving her young son and daughter with Robert Charles Browne. He baby-sat them, taught them to fish and held festive parties. Then, he suddenly vanished.
More than two decades later, Woods finally learned what became of him: Already serving a life sentence in Colorado for killing a teenager, Browne claims he killed an additional 48 people across the country, including three in Coushatta.
"I am so confused. I have no idea what's going on, except that I feel like I have lost a friend," Woods said.
Woods and others in this close-knit farming village in northern Louisiana where Browne grew up were stunned to learn of his confessions. If true, he would be one of the most prolific killers in U.S. history.
Browne said he shot some of his victims and strangled others, in one case with a pair of leather shoelaces. He knocked out one woman with ether, then used an ice pick on her. He put a rag soaked in ant killer over another victim's face and stabbed her nearly 30 times with a screwdriver.
Colorado authorities said Browne, 53, claimed to have committed the killings between 1970 and his arrest in 1995. Investigators so far have been able to corroborate Browne's claims in six slayings — three in Louisiana, two in Texas and one in Arkansas, Colorado authorities said.
The family of the Arkansas victim doubts Browne's claim that he found Lisa Lowe in a bar 45 miles from her home and paid her for oral sex before killing her. Lowe's body was found in a drainage ditch in 1991. The cause of death was never determined.
Lowe's family said they would have known if she was a prostitute and that she could not have been that far from home since she had no car or driver's license.
Her mother, Shirley Winfrey, believes Browne fabricated the story, gleaning details about Lowe's disappearance from the Internet while he was in prison, for his own amusement or to bolster his ego.
"This man is bringing up a lot of pain for a lot of people," Winfrey said. "Awful, awful pain. So actually he is harming families all over again, whether he did it the first time or not."
Court papers paint a picture of a predator who loathed women and thought he was justified in killing them because they were cheating on their husbands and boyfriends — in many cases, with him.
Browne, who has been married six times, said he has been disappointed with women his whole life. "Women are unfaithful, they screw around a lot, they cheat and they are not of the highest moral value," he told investigators.
Browne apparently had at least one close female friend in Woods, now 50.
Woods said she never saw a violent side in Browne, who lived around the corner from her in the 1980s. Woods said she remembered Browne as funny and caring, but with one strange habit: without warning, he would look deep into her eyes, and declare, "You're my friend."
"He always said it that way. It was so weird," Woods said.
Browne told investigators he rarely if ever planned a killing, choosing his prey at random. He met his victims in everyday settings — a motel bar, a convenience store where he worked.
In a Coushatta restaurant on Friday, waitresses and customers chatted about Browne and one of the killings he confessed to: the 1983 death of 20-year-old Wanda Faye Hudson, who lived in the apartment next door to Browne's, in a house owned by his brother.
Browne told police he subdued Hudson with a chloroform-laced pesticide, then stabbed her to death with a screwdriver.
Browne later moved into that apartment with his then-wife. His brother couldn't find any other renters because they'd been scared off by news reports about the slaying, Woods said. Blood stains in the room were never completely cleaned up, said Billy Bamburg, Woods' 26-year-old son.
When Browne was asked about living in a room where such violence had occurred, Woods said, Browne replied, "'Well, I'm not afraid of ghosts."'
For most of her life, Tiffany Ivy has often wondered about her mother, Fay Aline Self, who vanished from a Coushatta rental cottage in 1983, and why she left.
On Thursday, Ivy learned what could have happened. Browne claims he killed Self, 26, on a whim and dumped her body in a river.
"In the back of my mind, sometimes I thought, 'Well, maybe I don't want to know,' but now knowing, I can put closure to that, and I can finally say my goodbyes," Ivy, 24, now married and a mother, said Friday.