1.6 Joyce Ann Brown

In episode 6, we discuss the case of Joyce Ann Brown  who was tried & convicted in 1980 of aggravated robbery and murder of Rubin Danziger in Dallas Texas. If you enjoy this episode please visit our website bowtofate.com to stay up to date with current events and episodes

Show Script:

Hello and thanks for listening to Bow to Fate- a podcast focusing on true crime with an emphasis on the flaws in our justice system.  Today we are going to talk about Joyce Ann Brown, who was tried & convicted in 1980 of aggravated robbery and murder. The conviction and crime all took place in Dallas, Texas but this case will run us all across the United States in a story of just how wrong things can go when a prosecutor’s zest for a conviction raises to all new heights.    

On May 6, 1980 right after 1pm two African American women walked into Fine Furs by Rubin in Dallas, Texas.  One woman wore a pink jogging suit and the other a blue.  

Fine Furs by Rubin was owned by Rubin and Ala Danziger, they were holocaust survivors that had immigrated to the United States following the German invasion of their home country.  That day they were working alone in the shop.  

Rubin Danziger was showing the woman in pink some furs towards the rear of the store while Ala tended to the woman in blue up front.  All hell broke loose a few moments later. The ladies started yelling, and shouting for both Danziger’s to put all the furs in plastic bags. During the chaos, the woman in pink brandished a pistol and shoved Rubin against the rear wall.  While he begged her not to hurt his wife, she shot him in the head. His body fell to the floor…. She then turned the gun towards Ala, she fired one shot and missed breaking the front window of the store. Ala hit the silent alarm located under the counter so hard she broke her fingernails.  The woman with the gun moved closer to Ala while the one in blue continued to shove furs into the bags. She pointed the gun again directly at Ala Danziger’s head. Thinking quickly Ala begged the robbers not to kill her, saying that she had a terminal illness and would soon be dead anyways.  At that point the woman in pink pulled the gun back and said, “We’ll just let you suffer” she then ordered Ala to the rear of the store while they made their way out the front.  

Ala watched as they got into a brown Datsun with a person waiting inside and sped away.  She then made her way to her husband who lay bleeding on the floor. Rubin Danziger died that day waiting for help to arrive in the arms of his wife.  

Dallas PD responded quickly to the silent alarm they were on scene within minutes, with a description of the assailants and the car, the hunt was on.  It was not long before they found the brown Datsun abandoned on the side of a road a short distance from the store. In the front seat they found a rental receipt showing the car was rented in Denver, CO.  by Joyce Ann Brown.  

This is where our story gets interesting.  Back at the department a young vice detective remembered arresting a Joyce Ann Brown on suspicion of prostitution a few years back, they quickly pulled up her booking photo and showed it to Ala Danziger.  Ala confirmed that she was one of the women who burglarized her store, however she was not the woman who shot her husband.  

Other detectives were following up on the rental receipt, it was in fact rented by a Joyce Ann Brown who lived in Denver, CO.  (not the same Joyce Ann Brown who was arrested for prostitution in Dallas Texas). They confirmed that Denver Joyce, had rented the car and that she was at work on the day of the robbery in Denver CO meaning that she was not part of the robbery plot.  Denver Joyce told Dallas police that she had rented the car for a friend, Rene Taylor and she had not seen her since.  

A BOLO was placed for Rene Taylor and Dallas police made their way to her apartment with a search warrant in hand.  In the apartment, they found the pistol used to kill Rubin Danziger, furs from the store, and a pink jumpsuit matching Ala’s description to police, they still were unable to locate Rene Taylor though.  

Rene Taylor had a hefty rap sheet and was known to target furriers across the states.  She was wanted on several charges of robbery along with her suspected accomplice Lorraine Germany, who bore a striking resemblance to Dallas Joyce Ann Brown.  There were warrants out for both their arrests in Alburquerque, NM for a robbery of another fur shop that took place just two weeks before the Danziger Robbery.  The women in that robbery were also seen wearing jumpsuits, one pink and one blue. Just to show you how much Lorraine Germany looked to Joyce Ann Brown I have posted a side by side image of them both in the current events tab on bowtofate.com.  Please take the time to have a look. I believe after reviewing those images you will be able to understand how Ala Danziger could misidentify Dallas Joyce Ann Brown for this crime.  

Right here is where Dallas police could have recognized the coincidence they had on their hands and shown Ala Danziger a photo of Lorraine Germany and see if she would change her mind about the identification of Dallas Joyce. They knew that Germany looked a lot like their Dallas Brown and they also knew they had no evidence to tie Dallas Brown to Rene Taylor yet they decided to proceed.  

In the newspaper that Sunday an article reported they were looking for Dallas Joyce Ann Brown in connection with a robbery and murder at a furrier shop.  Brown’s mother called her and told her about the article. Joyce then went down to the store to get the paper and read the information for herself.  

In 2012 BET’s Vindicated complete 2 episodes about Joyce Ann Brown, here is a clip from those episodes, Joyce and her mother remember this fateful conversation in their own words

After reading that detectives were looking for her, Joyce resolved to go down to the station the next morning and clear this entire thing up.  Her husband, on the other hand, warned her not to walk into the station, recalling that he feared they would never let her go.  

On Monday morning, ignoring her husband’s warning, Joyce Ann Brown marched herself into her local precinct in order to declare her innocence and straighten out this entire debacle.  She was arrested that morning for the robbery and murder of Rubin Danziger.  

This is Joyce describing her first interaction with Dallas Police

Dallas police immediately applied for a search warrant for the home of Joyce Ann Brown.  They drove Ala Danziger by the Brown’s home, outside a neighbor was working on his truck, Ala Danziger identified him as the man driving the getaway vehicle.  Police took the man into custody, but later found that he had a solid alibi, he was picking up his wife for lunch at a dentist office where she worked. Several patients and the entire staff confirmed his presence meaning that there was no way he could have driven the getaway vehicle.  

The search of the Brown home, produced nothing at all linking our Dallas Joyce Ann Brown to the crime.  Dallas Joyce also had an alibi, she was also working at the time of the robbery.  

However in another unlucky coincidence for our Joyce Ann Brown, she was employed with a different furrier shop located a few miles from Fine Furs by Rubin and they just happened to be in direct competition with each other.  This led Dallas police to question whether she committed the crime due to a sorted form of loyalty. Joyce worked all day that May 6th, her time card showed her clocking in at 8:48am and clocking out at 4:12pm. She did not take a lunch that day, and confirmed that she seldom did, Joyce was the office operations manager and she had extensive knowledge of the office phone systems, that often went haywire.  She told police that she hardly ever left the office for fear that someone would have an issue with the phones and need her.  

Police went about interviewing people at her work in an attempt to break down Brown’s alibi.  They found that every minute of Brown’s day was accounted for aside for a 22 minute time period starting at around 12:55pm and running to 1:16pm that no one could recall seeing Brown at work.  Dallas police surmised that during this period Dallas Joyce had snuck out of work without being seen by anyone, changed clothes (because co-workers confirmed Brown had been wearing a white dress and red blouse that day, not the blue jumpsuit worn by the suspect), drove to meet her accomplices changed cars, rode with those accomplices to Fine Furs by Rubin, committed the crime, drove back to her car, changed clothes again, and then drove back to work again without being seen, and got back to her desk all in a short 22 minute window.  

Keep in mind that the the women walked through the door of Fine Furs by Rubin just a few minutes after 1pm that day, meaning Joyce would have had to meet her accomplices and change clothes and get to the Danziger store all in about 7 minutes, not to mention battle the Dallas lunchtime traffic, I cannot even get out of the parking lot in 7 minutes during lunchtime, I couldn’t imagine trying to do all this and then be part in a murder and return to work acting like nothing happened.  Joyce’s co-worker say that there was nothing out of the ordinary with Brown’s actions or behaviors following lunch.  

Dallas police proceeded with their investigation speculating that Brown feasibly could have committed the crime rather than believing Brown’s own account that she had simply stayed at work through lunch that day.  

This investigation was driven by tunnelvision.  From the moment that young vice detective remembered Joyce Ann Brown the case was built around the idea that she had committed the crime even when logic had to dictate that detectives were working on faulty information.  Detectives only paid credence to facts that would help to prove their idea that Joyce Ann Brown had committed this robbery. Beginning an investigation with an already assumed conclusion is very dangerous. Anything that can help support your foregone conclusion immediately gains the limelight where information that may lead to a more realistic accounting becomes overshadowed and obsolete.  

Police detectives are not the only people that do this, in reality we all do, it is how our minds work.  We form a hypothesis and then work to prove that hypothesis, the danger arrives when we ignore evidence to disprove our theories.  Such as in the case of Joyce Ann Brown.  

When detectives brought their case before Assistant District Attorney Norm Kinne, it was his responsibility to review all the information and make a decision whether or not to prosecute Dallas Joyce Ann Brown for the crime.  

So let’s take a look at what he had to work with…. He has the testimony of Ala Danziger, knowing eyewitness testimony is fickle, he understands he needs more.  Ala had misidentified the getaway driver, so there was room for error in her memory.  

He had the brown Datsun as well, they had fingerprints and physical evidence inside.  They matched fingerprints in the car to Rene Taylor, and found two other sets of prints, acumen would lead one to believe that these unidentified prints belonged to the getaway driver and the second culprit, but neither of the prints matched Dallas Joyce Ann Brown.

The search of Brown’s home had turned up no physical evidence of the crime, they couldn’t even find anything closely resembling a blue jumpsuit or any furs at all.  

Kinne has no proof that Dallas Brown knew or had ever met Rene Taylor before, nothing in their lives crossed aside from the fact that they were both African American.  

Rene Taylor is still on the run, and police have as of yet been unable to locate her, so Kinne knows there is no hope of using her testimony against Dallas Joyce.  

Kinne also had to deal with the other furrier robberies as well, Norm Kinne met with detectives from Albuquerque, New Mexico to ascertain the connection between the two crimes.  He traveled to New Mexico and reviewed the crime scene as well as their evidence. New Mexico detectives had recently taken into custody Lorraine Germany and were also on the lookout for Rene Taylor as well.  They shared that Germany had been caught with furs from various robberies and was in possession of a blue jumpsuit. They were getting ready to prosecute her for the robbery in Albuquerque and shared with Kinne the connection between Taylor and Germany.  The two were known across the midwest for committing furrier robberies together. It was at this moment that Kinne could have requested that the fingerprints found in the brown Datsun be tested against Lorraine Germany, but defying all sense of reason he does not do this.  Instead he returns home and decides to move forward with prosecuting Joyce Ann Brown for aggravated robbery and murder.

Since the day Joyce Ann Brown decided to clear her name by walking into a Dallas Police Precinct she had been in their custody.  She was housed at the county jail awaiting trial. Her cellmate was a woman named, Martha Jean Bruce. She was awaiting sentencing for attempted murder when Brown joined her in the cell.  In a true showing of hypocrisy she warned Brown, not to say anything to anyone because they would be the first person to go down to make a statement against you to the Dallas PD.  

Shortly before the trial began, Martha Jean Bruce did just that.  She supposedly told prosecutors that Brown had told her that she did in fact commit the robbery and explained how, a fact that Brown would not know until Martha Jean Bruce would take the witness stand against her.   

The jury selection began for Brown a few weeks before the trial.  A jury of one’s peers is a guaranteed right of criminal defendants, in which “peer” means an “equal.” This has been interpreted by courts to mean that the available jurors include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin and gender.  This however, was not the case for Joyce Ann Brown, an African American woman from the lower rung of the social classes her “Peers” that would decide her fate consisted of eleven men and one woman all white.  

On September 29, 1980 at 9am court was in session for the aggravated robbery of Fine Furs by Rubin and the subsequent murder of Rubin Danziger.  

Norman Kinne, the Assistant State Attorney, was a gifted orator and a fantastic storyteller.  He created a web that would tie all the loose ends of this case magically together.  

Kinne stood before a jury and created a story that was so unbelievable that it had to be true.  He put forth the theory that Dallas Brown and her husband, Lee Visor, were in cahoots with Denver Brown and an underworld acquaintance, Selman Fletcher.  Kinne surmised they all conspired to rent the car under Denver Brown’s name and then use Dallas Brown and Rene Taylor to commit the crime to throw off detectives.  He didn’t have a single piece of evidence to prove the theory, but that didn’t stop him from professing it over and over again to the jury.  

He cast doubt upon Joyce Ann Brown’s integrity and highlighted her conviction for prostitution two years before.  Kinne made her look like a sleuthing criminal who had evaded police for years in a scandalous prostitution ring before finally being caught.

Kinne called to the stand, Martha Jean Bruce, Brown’s cellmate in the Dallas jail.  Her testimony was vague and evasive, but she managed to testify to some details that she said Brown told her that only the robbers and the prosecutors knew.  Bruce met with Kinne shortly before her testimony to review the statements she would make to the jury. 

Bruce testified on the stand that she was not offered anything by the prosecution for her testimony.  She told the jury that over various conversations Brown had told her that she worked at a furrier store to learn which furs were valuable and had planned the robbery herself.  She also testified that Brown told her that she had driven to Denver and rented the car (which even the police knew to be incorrect) and that after the robbery furs were put into plastic bags and transferred to a truck driven by a man named Jerry. She went on to say that Brown had worn a blue dress and and black wig to commit the crime.   Martha Bruce told jurors that if convicted Joyce Ann Brown would tell on the others involved.  

Here is a clip of one of the jurors, Dan Peeler, reflecting on the testimony of Bruce

Kinne was dancing around the courtroom hiding the fact that the case had little substance with innuendo and double entendre.  Kinne’s timetable for the crime teetered on ridiculousness. There was no conceivable way Joyce Ann Brown would have had enough time to commit this crime.  

This was the point at which Ala Danziger took the stand, her testimony was hard for the jury to hear.  She was an emotional wreck, and rightfully so, her husband had just been murdered in a place that was meant to be safe.  The judge asked her several times if she needed to stop because her words could barely be distinguished from her anguished sobs.  At the end of her testimony, she looked right at Brown and began screaming, “Why did you do it? Why do you do it and took my purse with everything else, you ruined my life, you took my life.  My husband’s life and my life…..”

That was probably what clinched it for the prosecution, her raw unadulterated pain on that stand was so powerful, the jury had to believe her.  

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable and juries are left to judge the credibility of witness without having any experience ever doing so before.  Bias creeps into memory without our knowledge, without our awareness. While confidence and accuracy are generally correlated, when misleading information is given, like showing a witness a picture of a person who police suspect of committing a crime, witness confidence is often higher for the incorrect information than for the correct information. This leads many experts to question the competence of the average person serving on a jury to determine credibility issues in regards to eyewitnesses.  

A lot people believe that human memory works like a video recorder: the mind records events and then, on cue, plays back an exact replica of them. On the contrary, psychologists have found that memories are reconstructed rather than played back each time we recall them. The act of remembering is more like putting together a puzzle rather than pushing play on a recording.   Even questioning by a lawyer or detective can alter the witness’s testimony because fragments of the memory may unknowingly be combined with information provided by the questioner, leading to an inaccurate recall of the events.

Scientific America lists a number of factors that can reduce the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. Here are just a few of them:

  • Extreme witness stress at the crime scene or during the identification process.
  • Presence of a weapon at the crime (because they can intensify stress and distract witnesses).  Witnesses of course pay more attention to the weapon than the perpetrators 
  • Use of a disguise by the perpetrator such as a mask, wig, or in this case a scarf.
  • A racial disparity between the witness and the suspect.  There are studies that prove that identifications across race lines are especially difficult. Both Ala and Rubin Danziger were white while the assailants were african american.  
  • Brief viewing times at the lineup or during other identification procedures. (Dallas police showed Ala a picture of Dallas Joyce Ann Brown prior to making the identification)

All of these factors were present when Ala Danziger identified Dallas Joyce Ann Brown as one of the women who walked into her store the day her husband died.  We don’t get to blame Ala Danziger for her misidentification that day, she was a victim, investigators are responsible for recognizing these instances and properly investigating the crime without bias.  

The defense laid out their case in a less theatrical method, choosing reason and logic and pleading with the jury to listen and see the facts or lack thereof in this case.  They called many of Brown’s co-workers to the stand who testified not only of her actions and whereabouts on the day of the crime, but of her stellar character as well. Joyce Ann Brown had turned her life around after being prosecuted for prostitution, a path she had only taken to support her two young children.  The defense showed the jury how ridiculous it was to say that Brown was able to leave work, change clothes, change cars, commit the crime, change clothes, change cars, and return to work acting like nothing happened. It mattered very little however, the trial barely lasted a week.

During the trial, one of the members of the jury.  Both the defense and prosecution elected to continue with only eleven members of jury.  

In October 1980 the case was remanded to the jury, they deliberated just a few short hours, asking for the testimony of Ala Danziger to be read to them again.  They returned to the courtroom that same day with a verdict. The judge read their decision to the court.  

Joyce Ann Brown relayed her recollection of this moment in the BET television show VINDICATED

They found Joyce Ann Brown guilty of aggravated robbery and the murder of Rubin Danziger.  The judge sentenced her to life in prison. 

Brown was in shock and frankly, so were her attorneys they were sure that the testimony of Martha Bruce, the jailhouse snitch, swayed the jury towards the guilty verdict and they immediately started working towards an appeal.  

On March 23, 1981 police arrested Rene Taylor for shoplifting in Troy, Michigan.  She was extradited to Texas to stand trial for the murder of Rubin Danziger. Taylor worked out a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.  She pleaded guilty in exchange for life in prison, she refused to name her accomplice only saying that it was not Joyce Ann Brown.  

Brown’s attorneys working on an appeal found that Martha Jean Bruce had lied on the stand regarding previous convictions and also found that she had been convicted of give a false statement to police officers just 6 months before the trial. 

They also guessed that Martha Jean Bruce was given a deal in exchange for her testimony and went about trying to prove it.  Bruce was sentenced to five years in prison for attempted murder at the time she testified in Joyce Ann Brown’s trial. Just six months after the trial she walked out of jail a free woman.  Brown’s attorneys found that Henry Wade, Norm Kinne’s coworker had written a letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles requesting Bruce’s sentence to be reduced and commuted because of evidence not known at trial.  Wade who prosecuted Bruce for attempted murder now said that she was a victim of domestic violence and only reacted in fear of her own life. The board agreed with Wade and commuted Bruce’s sentence in a sweetheart deal that is reserved for politicians and their relatives.  

Despite the proof and clear Brady violations made by Norman Kinne by not disclosing integral parts of Bruce’s past, in December of 1984 the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals rejected Brown’s appeal stating that they did not believe knowledge of Martha Jean Bruce’s past or potential deal with the prosecutor would have changed the minds of the jury.  

Here is Brown’s reaction after reading the appeals decision

Despite all hope being lost, Joyce Ann Brown, did not give up.  After her appeal was denied Brown began writing to different organizations and individuals connected with wrongful convictions.  One of those people put her in contact with James McCloskey and Centurion Ministries.  

McCloskey got his hands on Brown’s trial transcripts and appeal documents and was easily persuaded that she was innocent.  McCloskey hired an investigator to follow up leads that the Dallas PD had ignored because they didn’t fit their account of the crime.  

They spoke with Rene Taylor, who still refused to name her accomplice.  She did however say that the woman that helped her in the Danziger Robbery was the same woman that pulled the job with her in Albuquerque, NM.  

Investigators then headed to New Mexico.  They talked with detectives there who pointed them towards Lorraine Germany.  Lorraine had been tried for the robbery in New Mexico, however she was acquitted after her father, a retired police officer testified that she was with him at the time of the crime.  New Mexico Detectives told McCloskey and his investigators despite the father’s testimony they knew they had the right woman.  

Investigators then headed to Denver, Colorado where they found Lorraine Germany, who was serving an extensive sentence for a slew of robberies in the area.  After realizing she could not be charged for the New Mexico robbery again due to double jeopardy she freely told McCloskey that she had committed the New Mexico robbery with Rene Taylor, however she would not admit to having any part in the Danziger murder.  

It mattered little however, McCloskey released his findings to the press, and news of a wrongfully convicted woman garnered a lot of attention.  Joyce Ann Brown was interviewed for 60 minutes and her case gained substantial notoriety.  

The press began to call for Prosecutor Norman Kinne to test the fingerprints found in the brown Datsun used in the Danziger murder and robbery against those of Lorraine Germany.  

Kinne finally relented and told the press that he tested the prints and they were not a match….here’s the thing though, he lied, he never tested those prints and in fact had never requested corresponding prints of Lorraine Germany to be sent to him, even though this phone call would have taken less than 5 minutes and caused him no trouble at all, he couldn’t even be bothered to make that call.  

By this time Joyce Ann Brown was a household name and her phone was ringing off the hook from attorneys offering her their service free of charge.    

They filed a writ of Habeas Corpus for Joyce Ann Brown alleging prosecutor misconduct by Norman Kinne who they accused of working in concert with the Dallas police department to suppress evidence favorable to Brown.  The writ also argued the Norman Kinne intentionally used testimony which he knew or should have known to be perjurious, and suppressed evidence that could have been used to impeach Martha Jean Bruce.  

For his part, Norman Kinne acknowledged that Bruce’s records should have been disclosed and did not strongly oppose a new trial, however he insisted that Joyce Ann Brown was guilty and he advised if overturned he would retry the case.  

On November 4, 1989 after serving nine and a half years in prison for a crime she did not commit  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned her conviction and released Joyce Ann Brown from prison.  

The case was never retried, after the publicity died down it was quietly dismissed and forgotten.  To this day Ala Danziger is sure that Joyce Ann Brown helped kill her husband, refusing to believe she could have identified the wrong person.  

Joyce Ann Brown spent more than nine years in prison during that time her step son had committed suicide, a fact that she blamed herself for.  She was sure that if she had been there, she could have changed something.  

Play clip PROMISE TO FIGHT FOR LESS FORTUNATE

Brown lived up to that promise.  After her release she founded MASS, Mothers (and Fathers) for the Advancement of Social Systems — which aids both wrongfully convicted prisoners and released convicts seeking to re-enter society.  She settled in Dallas and wrote a book about her experience called Justice Denied.

Here is a clip of Joyce Ann Brown explaining why she started MASS 

Brown was a staunch defender of injustice and held fast to her convictions.  She participated in Innocence projects across the country and was extremely critical of not only her prosecutor but the entire judicial system.  She once told a reporter that she was wrongfully convicted of killing a white man, by a white prosecutor, presided over by a white judge, defended by a white attorney trying to prove her innocence to a white jury.  And once convicted was taken by a white bus to a white jail and given white clothes. She suspected the justice system was intentionally trying to strip any color whatsoever from her life.  

Despite her anger Joyce Ann Brown said this of our current justice system

After her release, Brown refused to apply for a pardon, asserting that she had done nothing and that, if anything, the state should ask for her pardon. Her stand rendered her ineligible for compensation because a pardon is a prerequisite to payment under Texas law. She continued to campaign for compensation for her wrongful conviction that would not require her to seek a pardon, but her efforts were never successful.

On June 13, 2015, Brown passed away in Dallas after suffering a heart attack.  Brown’s case created the first real front page news of a wrongful conviction in Texas, it allowed Defense attorneys the chance to have juries actually believe prosecutors, eyewitnesses, or even detectives could be wrong.  It created the first real sense of reasonable doubt in jurors not just in Texas but across the country. In future episodes we are going to continue to review some of those cases of wrongly convicted so stay tuned.  

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