By Elissa Gootman, The New York Times
GREAT NECK, N.Y., June 10 - When Heyward and Ellen Brown were found
bludgeoned to death inside their ransacked Long Island home more than
five years ago, the police suspected it was a burglary. But almost
from the start, the pieces did not all appear to fit: the burglar
alarm had not been tripped, for example, and the middle-class
neighborhood was generally safe.
The case took an even stranger turn two years later. The couple's
younger son, Steven Brown, filed a civil wrongful-death lawsuit
accusing his brother, Harvey, of committing the murders, even though
no criminal charges had been filed.
Recently, the Suffolk County district attorney, Thomas J. Spota,
decided to take a second look at the case. But on Monday, before a
grand jury looking into the evidence handed up any indictments, the
mystery took an even more bizarre, and perhaps final, twist. Harvey
Brown committed suicide in Tampa, Fla., on his 39th birthday, his
brother's lawyer said.
At a news conference today in the Lake Success office of his lawyer,
Howard Fensterman, Steven Brown, 37, said he interpreted Harvey's
suicide as a long-delayed admission of guilt. He said he believed
that his brother had been on the verge of being indicted for their
parents' murder, and that he had chosen to die rather than face
"I do believe my brother did commit these murders," Steven Brown
said. "By him committing suicide, I believe it was evident that he
The suicide caps, albeit inconclusively, a tale with all the makings
of a made-for-television movie. According to Steven Brown and his
lawyer, it is the story of how a successful family business set off a
venomous case of sibling rivalry and, ultimately, murderous rage.
They also accused the Suffolk Police Department and the previous
district attorney of failing to pursue the case aggressively, and
they credited Mr. Spota for reopening it, based on evidence collected
during the discovery process for the civil lawsuit.
Today, Steven Brown acknowledged that his brother's death was a
bittersweet development. "Nobody wants to see their brother die, or
their parents," he said, his voice breaking. "But I guess he paid the
ultimate price for doing what he did."
Heyward and Ellen Brown's bound, bludgeoned bodies were discovered on
Dec. 19, 1997. Their home in Lake Grove, in Suffolk County, was in
disarray, the police said, and jewelry, including Mr. Brown's Rolex
watch and Mrs. Brown's diamond ring, was missing.
At first, Steven Brown said today, he did not suspect his brother.
But the clues started piling up. Harvey Brown kept changing his
alibis, Steven said. He refused to cooperate with the police by, for
example, taking a polygraph test or giving a blood sample. And two
weeks after the deaths, Steven said, Harvey hired a criminal defense
But no one was ever charged, so in December 1999, Steven Brown filed
a civil suit in State Supreme Court, seeking $17 million in damages.
At the time, Harvey Brown told a reporter he had "absolutely nothing
to do with" his parents' death. "This is all about money and greed,"
To hear Steven Brown and his lawyer, Mr. Fensterman, tell the story,
it was about money, but not just money. Mr. Fensterman said problems
started years ago, with tension that surfaced in the running of the
family's janitorial company. In 1989, Mr. Fensterman said, when
Heyward and Steven started another business, Eastco Building
Services, the father cut Harvey out, forbidding him even to set foot
Eastco became a success, and it showed. Steven Brown bought a new
house, Mr. Fensterman said, and his parents bought a vacation and
retirement home near a golf course in Delray Beach, Fla. Harvey, who
Mr. Fensterman said was working as a handyman, was jealous.
"He felt he should have been in that business," Mr. Fensterman said.
"And he was not permitted to because of his relationship with his
father, which was definitely one of hatred."
Mr. Fensterman said that after Mr. Spota became district attorney, in
January 2002, he gave him copies of depositions and other evidence
collected in the course of the civil suit.
In a written statement today, Mr. Spota said simply that the
investigation into the Browns' murders "allowed me to conclude that
their son Harvey Brown was complicit in these homicides." He said he
had instituted a grand jury proceeding but declined to comment
further, citing secrecy laws. His spokesman said the grand jury was
"We understand and empathize with the frustrations of a son whose
parents were brutally murdered, and whose brother has now taken his
own life," Mr. Spota's statement read. "Sometimes cases don't get
resolved as quickly as victims would hope for."
Mr. Spota defended the Suffolk homicide squad, which he said had
handled the case "with the highest degree of professionalism."