Originally published in The Rock River Times.

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Forty one years ago, on September 27, 1977, 17-year old Louise Betts was dropped off near a shopping mall by her mother, Nancy.  No one would ever see Louise alive again.  When Louise didn’t come home, her parents called the police to report her missing.  They could have no idea that the odyssey that began that day would continue for the rest of their lives. 

The authorities filed a missing person report and followed up with a few of Louise many friends.  Louise was a popular senior at Harlem High School that year.   But at this time in our city’s past, 100 to 150 people were reported every month.  Most of these missing people were found alive and safe.  The police received reports that Louise was spotted at a local party and even seen in Texas were her grand-parents lived.

Sadly, those sightings were incorrect. 

Art Hyland was 62 years old in 1978 and he owned a farm not far from the intersection of Spring Brook and Paulson Roads.  Hyland was stunned when he discovered a skeleton in his field on March 30, 1978.   Newspaper articles form the day of the discovery quoted Hyland.  “After I saw something yellow in the field, I investigated and found the body.  It really shook me up.”  Hyland went on to say that Louise’s body had probably been covered up by snow.

When the police were summoned to Hyland’s property they found a bundle of clothing with identification inside.   The long search for Louise had come to an end.

Though Louise’s body had been found in Boone County, the Rockford police department quickly became involved.  Within a few days, they had a suspect for Louise’s murder in custody.  He was Curtis J. Brownell, a 23-year-old who was married and the father of two children.  An anonymous tip had led authorities to Brownell.  Brownell was also wanted for the kidnap and rape of a pregnant woman that occurred on January 31, 1978.  This crime had taken place only a half a mile from where Louise’s body was located. 

The victim from that crime reported that she was at a laundry mat in the Rural Street Shopping center when Brownell entered.  He was there a few minutes before he approached her.  He hit her in the head with a pistol, forced her into his vehicle and headed to Paulson Road.  After assaulting the woman, Brownell pushed her out of the car.   The woman was helpless as Brownell then ran over the lower half of her body.  Miraculously, the snow cushioned the young woman’s body and she was able to flee toward safety at a nearby house.

Brownell later confessed to both crimes.  When speaking of the crime against Louise, Brownell said that he thought she might still alive when he left her lying in that field.  The feeling grew when nothing was reported.  Brownell stated that he was terrified at first but when the body wasn’t found, he began to think he might have gotten away with it.  He told authorities he had even driven out to the location with his young daughter in the car to check the area.

When the Louise was found, he knew that it was all over.  He confessed to his reverend and then his wife. 

During his trial, other victims came forward and it became all too clear that Brownell had all the makings of what we would now call a serial rapist and killer.

Curtis Brownell was found guilty of the murder of Louise Betts in a Boone County Courthouse on September 14, 1978.   One psychiatrist that testified stated that Curtis J. Brownell “could not identify with the human race.”

Brownell was sentenced to die in the electric chair on October 9, 1978. 

But that’s not what happened.  Brownell’s attorneys appealed and he was eventually sentenced   to 200 to 600 years in prison.   Now, because of the way the laws worked back then, Brownell is eligible for parole.  He has been up for parole 14 times at this point.  Every one of those times, the survivors, the prosecutors and the remaining family members of Louise have attended the parole hearings. 

Louise’s parents are both gone now, but her siblings have taken over their parent’s mission to keep Brownell locked away.  They have been able to keep the case in the public’s eye for all these years.  But it does take a toll. They have shared that it is like opening a wound and losing Louise all over again.

The family can’t do it alone and they are very grateful to the Winnebago and Boone County State’s Attorneys who have gone with them to these hearings.

This week on February 13, Curtis J. Brownell will appeal to the parole board for the 15th time.  Winnebago County State’s Attorney, Marilyn Hite Ross and Boone County State’s Attorney Tricia Smith plan to attend this year’s hearing and ask that people in both counties sign the petition to deny that parole.  There is some concern that because he has served over 40 years of his sentenced, that he will be released.

Gary Betts, Louise brother was quoted in a recent article.  ” It’s one thing to know the family is passionate, but to see the community involved also makes a profound statement to (parole board members),”  .

Rockford has come through already with over 6,000 people signing the online petition.  But there is still time to add to that number. 

You can find links by googling Brownell’s name or visit the following: https://www.change.org/p/illinois-prisoner-review-board-oppose-the-parole-of-inmate-curtis-brownell-convicted-of-murder-and-attempt-murder


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events