Details of Disappearance
Amanda's mother, Kathryn Hartman, met Willie Seth Crain Jr. at a bar in mid-September 1998 in Tampa, Florida. A photo of Crain is posted with this case summary. Hartman told authorities that she and Amanda visited Crain's trailer during the evening of September 10, 1998, and they watched the movie Titanic.
Hartman stated that she caught Crain alone in his bedroom with Amanda. He was apparently intoxicated at the time. Amanda was sitting between his legs and he was showing her how to use the remote control. Hartman said that she separated her daughter from Crain and drove to their own mobile home in the 10900 block of Old Hillsborough Avenue.
Crain followed them inside and drew some pictures with Amanda. She took a shower and changed into her nightgown, and he insisted on drying her hair before she went to bed. Hartman invited him to stay the night and sober up.
Amanda did not go to bed until approximately 2:15 a.m. She went to sleep in her mother's bed, and Hartman joined her at 2:30. About five minutes later, Crain got into bed with them, still dressed and wearing his shoes, and the adults fell asleep with Amanda between them.
Hartman told investigators that Crain had given her five tablets of Valium, a strong sedative, during the evening. Hartman was addicted to prescription painkillers and it wasn't unusual for her to take this amount. She didn't wake up until 6:00 a.m. the following morning, September 11. Hartman stated that both Amanda and Crain had disappeared by that time. Nothing else was missing from the home.
After she searched the trailer and couldn't find Amanda, Hartman called Crain to ask what he had done with her. Crain said he had nothing to do with her disappearance and suggested Hartman call his daughter, who was her friend and had introduced her to Crain. He said he had to go and would call her back, but he never did. Hartman called the police after she spoke with Crain. Amanda has never been heard from again.
Amanda's father, Ron Brown, was briefly considered a suspect in her disappearance. He and Hartman never married, and he lived with his wife in Lakeland, Florida in 1998. He saw Amanda on a regular basis; the last time was the day before her disappearance.
Ron's relationship with Hartman was contentious. Hartman had accused him of molesting the child and the police investigated, but no charges were filed. She had also accused him of threatening to kidnap Amanda. Very quickly Ron was cleared of suspicion in Amanda's disappearance, however, and the investigation focused on Crain.
Crain has a criminal history dating back to 1969. In 1985, he was convicted of three counts of sexual battery on a child and served six years of a twenty-year prison sentence; his victims in that case were all girls under the age of eleven, some of them relatives and some of them neighbor children. Due to his criminal history and the circumstances, he was considered a suspect in Amanda's disappearance from the beginning.
He told his family he'd left Hartman's house at 2:30 a.m. and Amanda was sleeping in Hartman's bed at the time. When interviewed by law enforcement, he had several scratches that he couldn't explain. He gave the police permission to search his trailer in the 10600 block of Leanne Drive.
Crain had washed his rugs and cleaned the bathroom floor with bleach, but authorities discovered blood on his toilet seat and bloody tissue in the bowl. Blood was also found on Crain's boxer shorts. The blood matched Amanda's DNA. When police sprayed the bathroom with Luminol, a chemical which lights up when it detects blood traces, it lit up all over the room, including on the floors, walls and bathtub. It should be noted, however, that Luminol also reacts with bleach, which Crain admitted to using in the bathroom.
The Brown case was covered extensively in Florida newspapers and on television. A week after she vanished, two women came forward and said Crain had sexually assaulted them repeatedly between 1965 and 1971, when they were children. Police arrested Crain on rape charges as a result. A short time later, he was charged with Amanda's murder.
Investigators believe that Crain, who was a commercial crab fisherman, dumped Amanda's body in one of his frequent fishing areas after sexually assaulting and murdering her. Another crab fisherman who knew him saw him launch his boat at the Courtney Campbell Causeway on Tampa Bay early on the morning of September 11.
The witness said Crain was wearing dress clothes, not the jeans he usually wore, and he wasn't wearing rain gear or a slicker to protect his clothes. Crain also backed his truck much deeper into the water than usual when he launched his boat. The same witness stated he'd heard Crain boasting, about eighteen months prior to Amanda's disappearance, that he would be able to get rid of a body so no one could find it.
Crain denied the charges, but was found guilty in 1999 and sentenced to death. His victims from the 1985 cases were allowed to testify at the penalty phase of his trial. Because he had been convicted of murder and given the most severe possible sentence, he was never prosecuted for the old rapes. He is presently on Florida's death row, but he is suffering from colon cancer and may not live long enough to be executed.
Amanda was a second-grade student at Lopez Elementary School at the time of her disappearance. She has never been located.