In 1985, 14-year-old Cinnamon Brown was ordered to kill her stepmother by her own father — so he could collect life insurance and marry his teenage sister-in-law.
Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions and/or images of violent, disturbing, or otherwise potentially distressing events.
In the early morning hours of March 19, 1985, 14-year-old Cinnamon Brown crept through her Orange County home into the room where her stepmother, Linda Brown, was sleeping. Standing over the bed, Cinnamon fired a single shot into her stepmother’s abdomen — followed by a second fatal one shortly afterward.
When Linda Brown was found dead later that day, Cinnamon, whose father David Brown had persuaded her that her young age would protect her from a jail sentence, readily confessed to the murder. Meanwhile, an apparently distraught David Brown claimed he had left the house that night to escape his wife and daughter’s endless bickering.
With all of the evidence against her, Cinnamon Brown was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison for her stepmother’s murder.
But little did Cinnamon know that her father and his secret lover, Linda Brown’s younger sister Patti, had since cashed in on his dead wife’s life insurance policy and were living the good life.
In time, however, Cinnamon Brown would tell the world the truth: that her father had been the one to plan his wife’s murder — and manipulated Cinnamon into enacting it and going to jail in his place.
The Manipulation Of Cinnamon Brown
In 1985, the Browns of Garden Grove, Orange County appeared to be a normal Californian family.
The family patriarch, 36-year-old David Brown, ran a lucrative computer data recovery business, according to The New York Times. He and his 23-year-old wife Linda had an infant daughter, Krystal.
Cinnamon, David’s 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, came to live with her father, too, and Linda’s younger sister Patti Bailey, now 17, had moved in with the Browns when she was 11.
But the family’s apparent happiness was all an illusion.
Over the course of two years, David Brown worked to turn Cinnamon and Patti against his wife. He told them, falsely, that Linda Brown and her brother were planning on murdering him to take over his business, and that to save him, they would need to murder Linda first.
He claimed he didn’t have the stomach to commit the murder himself. And Cinnamon seemed the best candidate to do it in his place.
“If you loved me, you would do this for me,” he repeatedly told Cinnamon, promising her that because of her age, she wouldn’t go to jail for murder and would instead simply be given psychiatric treatment and sent back home.
17-year-old Patti Bailey had her own reasons for wanting her big sister dead. Linda stood in the way of her marrying David.
Patti had had a troubled, poverty-ridden childhood. Raised by an alcoholic mother and sexually abused by her own brother, Patti believed she had escaped that life of hardship when at the age of 11 she moved in with her sister’s idyllic family. Instead, she fell into David Brown’s clutches.
Shortly after she moved in with the Browns, David began sexually abusing her. Thinking this behavior was normal, Patti soon fell in love with the man that in her eyes had given her “everything.”
“I just thought that’s the way it went . . . in a normal house,” she later testified, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Before long, a brainwashed Patti and Cinnamon Brown began plotting with David to kill Linda Brown.
David, meanwhile, was privately taking out several life insurance policies on his 23-year-old wife, including two policies purchased within the two months before her death. According to court documents, these would amount to a total of $842,793.
The Night Linda Brown Was Murdered
Past the midnight hour of March 19, 1985, Cinnamon Brown and Patti Bailey were abruptly woken up by David Brown.
“Girls, it has to be done tonight,” he told them, as reported by the Greensboro News and Record. Months of planning were put in motion as Cinnamon was handed a gun.
David also handed her the cocktail of pills that Cinnamon would take to fake her suicide afterward. David had previously coached Cinnamon on how to draft suicide notes, convincing her it would give her a more lenient punishment.
David then left the house and headed out to a local convenience store, making sure the clerk noticed him so he had an alibi. Later, he would tell the responding officers that he had left earlier that night, exasperated by the constant arguing between his wife and daughter.
Meanwhile, as Patti stood nearby holding baby Krystal, Cinnamon stood over her sleeping stepmother and, using a pillow to muffle the shots, fired a single shot into her abdomen. The gun’s hammer snagged on the pillow, and Linda Brown’s whimpers soon joined the cries of her baby. Cinnamon fired again. The second shot was fatal.
According to The Orange Count Register, when homicide detectives arrived later that day, they checked the family’s backyard, where they discovered Cinnamon Brown lying in the doghouse, covered in her own vomit and urine and clutching a ribbon-tied note in her hand that read, “Dear God, please forgive me. I didn’t mean to hurt her.”
Cinnamon had suffered a prescription drug overdose. Detectives believe that if Cinnamon had not vomited, she would have died — and provided her father with a convenient patsy.
The motive for Linda Brown’s murder appeared to be the endless friction between Cinnamon and her stepmother. And though she quickly confessed to killing Linda, Cinnamon Brown was shocked when, in 1986, she was sentenced to 27 years to life, despite her father’s promises that she’d get off easy.
Still, case investigators suspected there was something more sinister afoot. And soon they would discover the sordid truth.
Uncovering Her Father’s Crimes
After his wife’s death, David Brown took out enough life insurance payouts to buy himself a nice home in Anaheim Hills, as well as new cars. With Linda out of the way, he was also free to be with her teenage sister Patti. The two secretly married in 1986, and they had a daughter a year later, making up a name for the father.
Meanwhile, incarcerated in the California Youth Authority, Cinnamon Brown was gradually becoming disillusioned with her father and his lies. He continued to disappoint her through lack of visits, and Cinnamon’s parole considerations were denied because she continued to claim, as David had advised her to do, that she could not remember the murder.
Then, she learned about the life insurance policies, and before long, she also learned about her father’s relationship with Patti. Enraged, Cinnamon decided her father and Patti were equally culpable in her stepmother’s murder. She began working with district attorney investigators to bring the truth to light.
In August 1988, Cinnamon began secretly wearing a wire during visits with her father. David quickly incriminated himself by acknowledging that he’d mixed Cinnamon’s drug cocktail on the night of Linda’s murder. He told her she couldn’t tell the truth about that night because he couldn’t survive in prison, but promised her he would persuade Patti to confess to the murder so she could take Cinnamon’s place.
When David and Patti were arrested just a few weeks later, David denied everything. But when he learned that his conversations with Cinnamon had been recorded, he changed his story completely, admitting to certain elements of Cinnamon’s story while still pitting the blame on Cinnamon and Patti.
Patti, meanwhile, cooperated with the prosecution — and went on to testify against her new husband.
Cinnamon Brown Finally Gets Vindication
While being held at the Orange County jail ahead of his trial, David Brown continued to to scheme. He offered a soon-to-be-released inmate, Richard Steinhart, up to half a million dollars to murder Patti, as well as two members of the district attorney’s office, believing this would delay his trial and give him an advantage.
Instead, Steinhart met with the prosecution and agreed to tape his conversations with David. He called David, telling him, falsely, that he had committed the murders.
“Wonderful! You’re a good man,” David Brown replied, according to the Los Angeles Times.
At his trial in 1990, both Cinnamon and Patti testified that David Brown was the mastermind behind Linda Brown’s murder, and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. He eventually died in prison in 2014.
Patti’s case was heard in juvenile court, as she had cooperated with the prosecution and was 17 when her sister’s murder took place. She was sentenced to a reformatory.
Cinnamon Brown served seven years of her sentence, earning a high school diploma and completing an associate of arts degree before being paroled in 1992.
During her father’s trail, she told the court that it was her devotion to her father that led her to kill Linda Brown.
“I loved him,” she said, according to the Greensboro News and Record. “I didn’t want to lose my father… Why would he tell me to do something that wasn’t all right?”
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