Berkshire

Joanna Brown trial: How husband turned into a killer

When Robert Brown rang police asking to make an appointment about a "serious incident" the call operator did not know he had bludgeoned his estranged wife Joanna to death with a hammer.

"You're both OK are you? None of you are harmed at all are you?", the operator asked.

"Well, one person is," Brown chillingly replied.

The British Airways (BA) pilot rang police the day after the couple's two children had heard him kill their millionairess mother at their home in Ascot, Berkshire last year.

He then put the children in the back seat of his car and dropped them off at his rented home before continuing, still with his wife's body in the boot, and buried her in a make-shift grave he had dug in the grounds of the Queen's Windsor Estate.

'James Bond vibe'

The 47-year-old's life had started to unravel three years earlier with the start of bitter divorce proceedings.

As a champion trail runner, he developed a competitive streak which was unwilling to let others win, including his estranged wife, who moved to the area from her original home in the Isle of Man.

Image caption Joanna Brown had recently opened a guesthouse at her cottage in Ascot

His job as a BA captain sent him around the world and it was at a 10.5 mile race in California in 2004 when American Scott Dunlap met him.

"He had a real James Bond vibe about him," Mr Dunlap told BBC News.

"He was handsome, even covered in dirt, charming, had a British accent, and then handily aced the challenging course like he had some special training.

"He was the talk of the town when he swung by.

"He was a very talented trail runner - top 2% easily. He had this incredible ability to descend a mountain trail quickly, putting faith that his steps would find their way."

Acrimonious divorce

But at home Brown's marriage had broken down in 2007 and a darker side to his personality was emerging.

He believed he had been "stitched-up" by a pre-nuptial agreement protecting his wife's wealth, part of which she had inherited from her father.

After years of disagreements over a settlement figure the couple were due to conclude their acrimonious divorce at the High Court in November 2010.

Image caption Robert Brown buried his estranged wife in a box in the grounds of The Queen's Windsor Estate

Their case had been delayed to allow a UK Supreme Court ruling on 20 October.

Judges concluded that a pre-nuptial agreement was binding in the case of a German newspaper company heiress.

Eleven days later Brown killed his wife.

The court heard Brown had already identified a burial site while out on one of his training runs.

In a secluded part of woodland on Windsor Estate, which was inaccessible to vehicles and off the main walkway, he buried a make-shift coffin.

Jurors heard during the trial that the box, in which his wife's body was discovered, was in situ for "at least a few weeks".

Brown called police the morning after the killing and was subsequently arrested.

'Had many friends'

He led officers to the body and admitted killing his wife but he has always denied murder, claiming he was under great mental stress due to the divorce.

The jury at his murder trial at Reading Crown Court agreed and acquitted him of murder.

One of Mrs Brown's closest friends, Belinda Skudder, said she always had concerns over Brown.

"From the beginning of our friendship, I knew that her marriage was not a happy one," she said.

Image caption Belinda Skudder (left) said her close friend was a "very warm, kind and extremely thoughtful person"

"Rob was moody, ignorant, rude and morose. He didn't appear to like any of her friends or family.

"She [Joanna] always tried to excuse his ignorant behaviour by praising the good things he did - such as playing with the children, or giving them a bath and putting them to bed.

"He rarely bought her birthday presents. She used to joke that she had to buy herself a present.

"She had many friends. People liked her, and there would be a constant stream popping into her house.

"She was a very warm, kind and extremely thoughtful person."

Mrs Brown, 46, had converted her Tun Cottage home into a four-star guesthouse and friends said she appeared to be starting a new chapter in her life before her death.

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